Business_news Samsung’s sponsorship of a controversial Instagram influencer highlights the risk of misaligned partnerships (SSNLF)


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Yesterday Taylor Lorenz — former reporter at The Atlantic covering internet culture, soon to join The New York Times — tweeted out a screenshot of a Samsung-sponsored Instagram post from the influencer known as GirlWithNoJob (GWNJ).

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The sponsored post and accompanying Instagram story were part of Samsung’s ongoing campaign to defend Android messaging against iMessage on iOS. As part of the campaign, Samsung has reached out to Instagram meme pages, one of which is GWNJ, asking them to share the brand’s custom GIFs.

But GWNJ has previously earned a reputation for racist comments and tweets, particularly against the Muslim community. And after publishing an article last year exposing her racism, Lorenz herself tweeted that GWNJ had “ viciously harassed” her via a Facebook fan group. For now, this “scandal” is relatively contained, but it has the potential to spread.

Lorenz’s thread on Twitter has started to gain traction among her nearly 100K Twitter followers. While some have expressed intense disappointment in the brand for partnering with a “racist,” a few users are further claiming intent to boycott Samsung products — with users saying they would not only avoid the smartphones, but TVs and other appliances like washing machines and refrigerators. And while the conversation began on Twitter, users are now likewise commenting on GWNJ’s Instagram profile to call out Samsung.

Given that brand reputation is highly linked with brand purchase, the reaction is unsurprising: 81% of consumers say a deal-breaker or deciding factor in their brand buying decision is whether they can trust a brand to do what is right, per Edelman. For its part, Samsung hasn’t publicly taken action on the issue yet, but it appears that at least one Samsung exec is aware: Bo Ren, ecosystem director at Samsung NEXT, tweeted in response to Lorenz and Samsung that they were “on it.”

The snafu highlights how crucial it is for brands that partner with influencers to do their research — or hire an agency to do it for them — before entering into a relationship. The influencer ecoystem can be difficult to navigate, given the nuances of online communities and specific personalities, and that creates real risk for brands. Bad partnerships can not only waste money and effort, but also alienate loyal or prospective customers and damage long-term business as a result, as I highlighted in our Influencer Marketing 2019 report.

While some brands will hire agencies to help them identify and vet appropriate influencers, even a minimal amount of research by Samsung could likely have prevented this backlash. GWNJ’s personal brand may have superficially aligned with the overarching ethos of Samsung’s campaign — and she’s reportedly claimed to have a higher engagement rate than Britney Spears — but there were also plenty of red flags.

Even in situations where brands feel it’s unclear whether the negatives of an influencer relationship outweigh the positives, walking away might be the smarter decision. That said, some brands might choose to take risks on controversial influencers, like PewDiePie or Logan Paul, as they typically drive the most engagement. In those cases, controversy is a built-in trade-off. But brands also risk being dragged through “ scandal and redemption cycles” in a way that can become tedious — and even more so if brands didn’t intentionally accept that risk.

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