What brands should learn from Logan Paul’s Suicide Forest video

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Brands should do thorough research on influencers before starting a partnership

If you haven’t heard about the latest YouTuber controversy that is Logan Paul (prank culture vlogger with +15m YouTube subscribers), you probably should follow more influencers. Even if you don't work with influencers, you should care about it because of brand safety and human decency.

Somewhere in the Venn diagram of Logan Paul’s desire to get views, he created one of the most repulsive pieces of content out there. He and his friends, in an effort to create engaging and viral content, thought it was ok to head out to Japan's Aokigahara forest (known throughout the country for the suicides that happen there), go off-piste and ‘stumble’ across a dead body and film it.

This latest controversy will no doubt strike fear into the hearts of brand managers. So how can we ensure the social media stars we want to work with to promote our brands don’t end up being a Logan Paul and by proxy, damage our reputation?

Due diligence during selection

A surface check isn’t good enough; be it you, your agency or your legal team, someone needs to go back and thoroughly assess with a human eye as much content created by the influencer over all of their channels across the last year, minimum. This can be time-consuming and costly. But it’s worth it. If they have an agent, get it in writing that the creator doesn’t have any previous PR disasters, lawsuits (pending or past) or controversy. Find out what they did before they were social famous.

Get sight of their pipeline

Most big creators have content plans and roadmaps just like brands do. Get a copy of it. Ask questions about who they plan to work with in the future (other brands), get non-compete clauses in your contract for at least three months either side of your partnership with them (three months is a long time in social remember), make sure your contract states that if they divert from their content roadmap they need to make you aware of it and that you reserve the right to terminate your partnership if you don’t agree with the new content.

I know, we want to keep some authenticity in our relationships with creators… I’m not talking about when you’re working with a 50,000 follower influencer, I’m talking about when you’re working with big creators. Treat them the same way you would a celebrity partnership.

Have a morality clause in the contract and consider timings

You can ask creators to remove content after the campaign period. In fact, most creators do this themselves and take down their sponsored content afterwards. They do this to try and keep their authenticity perceptions – they don’t want people to scroll through their profile and be able to count up how many paid for partnerships they’ve done (which is why it’s so important to ensure you get sight of their past work – it won’t always be easy to see). It’s both a good and a bad thing. On the one hand you want the content to stay there and be seen for longer, but on the other, should a creator fall into disrepute later down the line, at least your brand isn’t on their profile anymore. Regardless of whether you add a time-sensitive clause for the content, make sure you reserve the right to have the creator remove it at your request should the worst happen.

Some brands even stipulate their right to a ‘refund’ in their morality clauses if a creator falls into disrepute within a certain period – personally, I think this is a step too far. The damage will be done to your brand regardless of whether you get the fee back a year later.

Leverage your power with the platforms

When something like this happens, all brands and agencies should be prompting their account handlers at the platforms to respond immediately with their position on what happened and assurances as to how they'll ensure it doesn't again, regardless of whether or not you have worked or were planning to work with the influencer in question.

We all need to be good citizens of the world and the internet by being more responsible human beings. We have spending power as brands, media buyers, and agencies. Pull your advertising when platforms don't take action and do their own due diligence at times like this. Be responsible for who you will and won't pay for brand partnerships and do your diligence.

Leverage your spending power. Not just to protect brand reputation health, but to protect society and make the internet a better place.

Michaela MacIntyre is business director at Gravity Thinking.

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