Social media influencers have become the darlings of the branding world and PR companies are in heated competition to woo them for their clients. With declining print numbers, decreasing broadcast reach and the slow death of traditional advertising, brands are turning more and more to social media to win fans and influence consumers. But, just as social media can make influencers, it can also be the instrument of their destruction.

SA celeb Shashi Naidoo recently found herself in the social media spotlight for all the wrong reasons. After writing a lengthy post on Instagram about the Israel-Palestine conflict, which included referring to Gaza as a ‘sh*thole’, she received multiple death threats and lost many endorsement deals, including those with GlamPalm Africa and horse racing company, Gold Circle. Shashi even held a press conference to explain her post, and talk about how she was going to make amends, but the damage to her brand had been done. Just last week Shashi went to Palestine as part of her attempts at reparation but was refused entry into the region.

In my work as an Influencer Relations Specialist for Hill+Knowlton Strategies, I’ve been able to see the brand relationship from the perspectives of both the influencer and the brand, and witnessed how this relationship can go wrong. Here are a few guidelines for budding influencers to bear in mind to ensure they can remain authentic but still stay on the right side of the public.

  • Develop your own social media policy – It always surprises me when influencers take a very casual approach to posting. If social media is your business, and it’s a means of earning income, then you need to take every precaution to protect that income, and your reputation. A good way of addressing this is to develop your own social media policy, just like companies do. Write down what you want to steer clear of, such as religion or politics, and remind yourself of what you want to communicate and be associated with. Think of this policy as a personal bible of sorts.


  • Think, check and check again before posting – This guideline might sound obvious, but if everyone really did follow it, then social media scandals would be non-existent! Read your post at least twice before you click on ‘tweet’ or ‘share’, especially if the post refers to one of the brands you want to promote. Check each post against your personal social media policy. It’s also a great idea to get ‘final signoff’ from a trusted friend on each of your posts. A second eye not only helps you pick up careless errors, but also gives you an objective perspective on what you’ve written. Also, unless your primary purpose as an influencer is to continually court controversy, think twice before posting something that could be offensive, especially if it is in the heat of the moment. Social media is a breeding ground for kneejerk reactions and heightened emotions, making it the ideal platform for ruined reputations.


  • Stay true to what you stand for – The primary reason for influencer marketing being so popular is that what influencers post really resonate with their fans. Your followers may value your wacky take on fashion trends, or love your tongue-in-cheek cooking videos, or relate to your posts on life as a twentysomething in Cape Town. Remember, then, that authenticity is key. The content you post and share should reflect who you really are, so don’t support products or people you don’t believe in. Your personal social media policy should be a good guideline here. Also, always remember to acknowledge when a brand has sponsored your post.


  • Take ownership of your mistakes – You can’t please everyone, and there will always be haters. However, one day you may post something that will attract lots of criticism and offend more people than usual. Unless this post is something you feel very strongly about, you should acknowledge your error, take down the post, and apologise to your followers. If you think it’s important that you explain your behaviour, then do so, but be as brief as possible. It’s no longer about you; it’s about the people who you offended, and they don’t want to hear lame excuses. Ensure that your subsequent posts prove that you have learnt from that particular experience and will not be repeating that mistake.