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Modern Marketing

Molly-Mae comments prove cultural incompetence is biggest threat to influencer marketing

By Zoe Osinnowo | Head of influencer marketing

January 11, 2022 | 4 min read

After a public backlash against two prominent influencers, FCB’s Zoe Osinnowo weighs up the risks for brands working with social media stars.

Why do we see influencers continue to get it wrong? Within the last week, influencer headlines sparked debates around lackluster apologies for racist posts (Elle Darby) and a shortfall of cultural awareness (Molly-Mae Hague).

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With influence comes responsibility, and that cannot be ignored

I’m not a perfectionist – I realize an expectation of perfection from individuals is futile as we all have room for progress, especially when many influencers are young. That said, acknowledgment of the need for growth and accountability are key, whether you are a brand or an influencer. Through these traits, we can learn to increase our cultural awareness and competence to cultivate a more meaningful, accessible and equitable dialogue. That is what will stop the online dramas and start progressing our industry forward.

The word ‘influencer’ is widely attached to terms such as ‘authenticity’ and ‘relatability,’ so much so that we see national headlines when they fall short. And why wouldn’t we see this? These topics spark important conversations. With influence comes responsibility, and that can’t be ignored – especially when holding a sizable online following. But while there is room for learning, bullying and taunting are always inexcusable.

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The lack of representation in both the advertising industry and influencer campaigns is often palpable, which is particularly notable to me as a mixed-race woman. This shortfall makes it even more important for individuals to acknowledge privilege.

Everyone’s level of privilege is unique, and we cannot progress without recognizing how this impacts ourselves and those around us. Although sometimes a difficult conversation to broach, failure to appreciate such advantages and disadvantages creates a blind spot that can be damaging for anyone – particularly individuals with widespread audiences.

Notably, refusing to listen to those calling for positive education and change is damaging when in a position of influence, as it has the potential to enforce negative behaviors with potentially impressionable followers. This is even more apparent when we see hollow apologies that aren’t supported by an actionable commitment to learn.

How can we move forward? Through an ongoing dedication to listening and learning.

Although social media platforms can foster negativity, we see many positive influential figures such as Gina Martin or Kenny Ethan Jones using their platforms to raise awareness of important causes, highlighting the value of being an ally while in a position that can drive impact.

When working with influencers, it’s important to dedicate time upfront to carefully select those who align with the values of a brand/campaign. Looking beyond followers and engagement levels, societal and political opinions are also key to explore. Effective checks prior to initiating partnerships can uncover the probable suitability and effectiveness of a collaboration.

As marketers, we can drive positive change through continuing to learn and by holding ourselves and each other accountable. This will allow us to foster more inclusive working environments and create more equitable campaigns.

Zoe Osinnowo is head of influencer marketing at FCB Inferno.

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