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Influencer marketing can be effective, but there are some serious risks involved. If you don’t do your due diligence before partnering with an influencer, you can be vulnerable to disappointing results and even bad press by association. Here’s how to properly vet influencers that seem like they might make a good fit with your brand.

Data Collection: Looking at the Numbers

Data is an important factor in vetting influencers. You want hard numbers to determine whether your efforts will actually pay off in increased exposure and sales. This includes basics that you can glean just from looking at an account, like follower or subscriber counts. But it should also go deeper than that.

At the very least, your team should run a check to see how many of the influencer’s followers are real. To really get an idea of what an influencer can offer your brand, look at what kind of engagement this person gets.

Likes, retweets and other forms of showing approval can be important, but you’ll also want to look closely at comments. If all of an influencer’s comments seem to come from other influencers looking for content sharing, or from spam accounts, that’s not a good sign. Ditto for influencers who get a lot of critical or otherwise negative comments — engagement can be important in any form. However, followers tend to take product recommendations only from influencers they actually like.

You can use influencer marketing tools to dig deeper and automate some of this effort. The right tools can also tell you important demographic information about who follows the influencer so you can be sure you’re reaching the right audience. Some of these tools may have additional features that allow you to search for the most popular users for specific topics and keywords. This can be useful for finding influencers to work with.

Don’t Forget the Human Side of Things

One thing that can go forgotten among all the data points you’ll consider during the vetting process? The influencer’s personality, values and brand can matter just as much, if not more, than their reach and engagement quality. Just one PR disaster from a careless influencer can leave you scrambling to disassociate your brand and clean up proxy mess.

It’s not hard to find examples of influencers dropping the ball with their public image. It makes sense, in a way, that this would be so common. Influencers usually don’t get popular for their maturity and discretion, but rather for their willingness to put themselves on display. An influencer who has a tendency to put their foot in their mouth is a risky partner for a brand.

That’s not to say that all influencers are ticking time bombs of bad publicity. There are far more influencers who keep their heads down and stay professional than those who do the opposite. You don’t need to be able to predict the future to see trouble on the horizon for an influencer, either.

Starting the Vetting Process

Engage with the influencer’s content going back a few years and see what their personality is like. Do you see them espousing objectionable views, even as a joke, or otherwise trading childishness and edginess for popularity? That’s probably not the kind of person you want to partner with.

Scandal avoidance aside, it’s also a good idea to make sure that influencers are actually a good fit for your brand. Popularity and high engagement numbers aren’t the only things that’ll make a brand deal work in your favor. Say your company produces organic baby food, for example. It doesn’t make much sense to partner with an influencer who doesn’t have children and doesn’t really talk about green living, either. Their audience probably isn’t going to be interested in what you’re selling, even if the influencer does well with their side of the campaign.

Your influencer marketing tool should be able to help you determine what topics the influencer’s posts cover. That makes it easier to tell whether their interests align with your brand.

A good fit is about more than just finding someone with promising numbers. Don’t lose sight of that—it’s easy to get excited about a potential partnership that looks great on paper, but influencers are people, not products. Even virtual influencers can pose their own problems, so it’s not just an issue of control and autonomy. Associating your brand with an independent third party means taking on some risk. But the more careful and methodical you are in vetting, the less you leave yourself open to potential harm.

What to Do After Vetting

After you’ve gone through the vetting process, it’s time to either come up with a pitch or move on to someone else. You can use the human-focused research you did to craft an appealingly personal pitch email to influencers who seem like a good fit. Highlight the things you like about them and their content and why they’re a natural match for your brand. You can use the data-focused information you gathered in the vetting process to help guide your strategy and KPIs, too. This helps ensure that your influencer partnership is a success.