In an effort to reach consumers via social channels, in recent years a growing number of brands large and small have embraced influencer marketing.

But as evidenced by Essena O’Neill, a popular 18-year-old influencer from Australia, influencer marketing has a dark side.

That dark side was on display for all to see recently when Scott Disick, a television personality best known for his relationship with reality TV star and socialite Kourtney Kardashian, was caught posting an ostensibly paid promotion for Bootea protein shakes.

As the screenshot above demonstrates, Disick’s Bootea Instagram post was about as far from authentic as is possible and not surprisingly, Disick was subsequently teased and lambasted for his embarrassing faux pas.

Brands should take note and heed the following advice to ensure their influencer marketing campaigns don’t become a joke.

1. Align your brand with the right influencers

With 16.4m Instagram followers, Scott Disick’s ability to reach a large number of people is hard to dispute.

But why would Bootea, a health and wellness brand, align itself with a celebrity who is known for his hard-partying ways and who has made headlines for his struggles with drug and alcohol abuse?

While Disick shouldn’t be shamed for those struggles, it’s hard not to think that Bootea would have been better off aligning itself with influencers whose lifestyles are more consistent with its values.

Long-term, that is a much safer bet.

2. Think bigger than paid posts

For obvious reasons, paid posts are not going away.

But any good influencer campaign should be more thoughtful and comprehensive than paid posts that are the social web equivalent of product placement.

The reason for this is that paid posts alone are probably not going to move the needle, especially if those paid posts are not compelling and not clearly aligned with the influencer’s persona. 

3. Trust your influencers

If a brand can’t trust an influencer to write his or her own 140-character tweet or caption for an Instgram post, the influencer relationship needs to be reassessed.

Influencer content, even when paid for, should at least appear to be somewhat authentic.

Here, an influencer was directed to publish a post referencing a morning protein shake in the afternoon. #fail

4. Co-create, and demand more

Naturally, brands are going to want to have some say in what influencers post.

But a brand shouldn’t have to direct an influencer to write something as simple as “Keeping up with the summer workout routine…”

Instead, they should co-create content with their influencers to ensure that they stay on message without compromising the influencer’s authenticity and creativity.

And they should demand the latter to ensure that they don’t get lazy, uninspired content like the above, which is another paid post Disick published for Bootea several weeks ago.

Note the similarity to the botched paid post, and the fact that neither post even suggests that Disick is actually using the product. There isn’t a glass in sight in either photo.

5. Don’t ignore the rules

Although Disick fixed his Instagram faux pas and included the hashtag #ad to identify his post as a paid advertisement, brands looking to ensure their influencer marketing campaigns don’t fail should remember not to ignore the guidances provided by the Federal Trade Commission vis-à-vis advertising disclosures.

While the FTC obviously can’t take action against every violator, the agency recently settled with Lord & Taylor after alleging that the retailer, among other things, paid Instagram fashion influencers to post pictures of themselves wearing a dress it sold.