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

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By Michaela Macintyre - Head of Social

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If you haven’t heard about the latest YouTuber controversy that is Logan Paul, you probably should have. Especially if you work with influencers. And if you don’t, you should still care. Because humanity & decency etc.

Logan Paul, prank culture vlogger with +15m YouTube subscribers and a host of brand partnerships behind (and presumably in front of) him headed out with his social entourage to Aokigahara forest (unfortunately renowned the world over for the +100 suicides that happen there every year). They went off-piste and “stumbled” across a dead body and filmed it and posted it to YouTube. You read that right. Somewhere in the Venn diagram of Logans desire to get views, need to create content and, as he awfully puts it in his apology video, ‘push boundaries’, he created one of the most repulsive pieces of content out there.

They filmed close-ups of the victim, joked between themselves about how ‘f*cked up’ this was, disrespected and humiliated the man, his family and anyone with a mental health issue. He even began the video telling viewers he felt that this was a ‘defining moment in YouTube history’. WTAF?

But what really blows is that the video stayed live for an entire day (Paul took it down himself under pressure) and it hit the trending videos on YouTube despite the overwhelming outrage. Exactly what kind of Mickey Mouse operation is YouTube running? How did this content stay live as long as it did and why did it trend? How has Pauls account not been suspended?

It’s worth saying that Paul did demonetise the video, so no ads were served around it but I can’t imagine being a brand manager who recently worked with him as an influencer or, worse, has a project in-progress with him.

Brand Safety on YouTube was a hot topic last year and they’ve done some sort of a job of trying to convince us that they’re on it, but confirm, we are still nervous and aren’t quite convinced? 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?

1 – Due diligence during selection. A surface check isn’t good enough. You/ your agency/ your legal team/ SOMEONE needs to go back and thoroughly asses 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 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.

2 – Get sight of their pipeline – brand partnerships AND always-on. 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 3 months either side of your partnership with them (3 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 50k follower influencer, I’m talking about when you’re working with big creators. Treat them the same way you would a celebrity partnership.

3 – Have a morality clause in the contract and consider time the content is live for. 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.

4 – 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 or were planning to work with the influencer in question.

5 – What we ALL need to do to be good citizens of the world and the internet. We need to be more responsible human beings. We have spending power as brands, media buyers, and agencies. Leverage it. Not just to protect brand reputation health, but to protect society and make the internet a better place. Pull your advertising when platforms don’t take action and do their own due diligence at times like this. Be responsible about who you will and won’t pay for brand partnerships and do your diligence. Be clear with creators about what is and isn’t acceptable not just for your brand but for society.

Without getting too worthy, what can we do to be additive to the world and the internet? Never before has it been so needed than in 2018. Everything from your brand’s mission in the world and business objectives to the kind of content you create and the places you are promoting can make a difference.

Let’s make 2018 not just about views, engagement and clicks but let’s all try and do better and be better with how we do our day jobs.

If you want to talk more about working with influencers and how we can be better humans and marketers, slide into my DMs and let’s discuss over a unicorn frappucino. On twitter: @ThisIsKays

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