How to win social media followers and influence people while still remaining authentic | Social

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 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.


It is with great humility that I step forward and not only accept, but again, sincerely and deeply apologise to all that I offended and hurt for my post in regard to the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, and my lack of understanding in my initial apology to the Muslim community. This should of been to the Palestinian in the first instance, and broader society as a whole. I apologise unconditionally, but I would also like to this opportunity to explain what happened with regard to my recent Instagram posts. I posted a picture with a DJ recently in Ibiza and the post attracted commentary from another Instagram user because he had played in Israel. In what I believed was defense of him, I reached out to a friend to help articulate a response and offer a secondary point of view, as to be honest, I didn’t know much about the situation (although it sure must have looked otherwise). I stupidly copied and pasted the response verbatim in a feeble attempt to appear smart on social media without reading it comprehensibly (I know), thereby entering an issue of world importance, I had no real fundamental understanding of – my biggest mistake. There is no spin. This is the truth. I expressed his worldview as my own, and for that I will forever live with the consequences. I agree with the commentary that it not only highlighted my ignorance on the issue and the way it was handled, but also made me seem uncaring and indifferent to the suffering of any human on this planet. I in no way wish to make excuses or expect people to forgive me at this time. I messed up. I know that, and I take full accountability. All that I hope to achieve is to convey that I am sincerely sorry, and in a way thank every one who called me out, as I have learnt from this. No matter what ones beliefs are, there is always room for empathy and compassion. The last couple of days have shown me that there is a larger education that I need to undertake on issues facing humanity. I have read the commentary and will further not only educate, but re-educate myself . Words will never be enough to express how truly sorry I am. It will be in my actions going forward that I do better.

A post shared by Shashi Naidoo (@shashinaidoo) on

In my work as an influencer relations specialist, 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 as 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.

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