One of the downsides of social media is the way it acts as an archive for every stupid or offensive thought a person may have shared online. Most people aren't actually stupid or offensive, but we all have our moments. And if we choose to have those moments on social media, they become a part of the permanent public record.
But there's also an upside to this dynamic. For brands who want to work with influencers, the permanence of the internet means they can find the unseemly things influencers may have said or done in the past and avoid tainting their brand by working with them—and yet it happens. Because, while it's not that hard to uncover the dumb or offensive things an influencer might have said on social media in the past, it’s nearly impossible to search the histories of hundreds or even thousands of influencers as you're trying to scale up a campaign to reach millions of people. And that's when the stakes are highest.
A handful of platforms that we’ve reviewed over the years include something like a “brand safety” score. The names differ from platform to platform, but they all generally work the same way. You'll see some metric that gives you a quick yes-or-no determination as to whether hiring a given influencer might be harmful to your brand. These are good features to have on an influencer marketing platform, but they often don't go far enough. And for some companies, they go too far—one brand’s trash is another brand's treasure. These tools lack nuance and configurability, and that one-size-fits-all approach almost makes them more hassle than they're worth, but it's better than nothing.
Viral Nation, the influencer marketing agency that's been at the forefront of the industry since their founding, developed VN Secure—a new platform that addresses all this. Though primarily known as an agency, this is not Viral Nation's first foray into building its own software. The in-house system they developed to manage their own influencer talent pool and campaigns, Influsoft, is now one of the most highly-rated platforms on our site. When we reviewed it after its initial launch we noted that Viral Nation’s “thing” seemed to be including “features that you’ve seen elsewhere and taking them further.” Well, in the case of VN Secure, they went even further, taking a familiar feature and making a standalone solution out of it.
At first blush, you might wonder why VN Secure isn't just included with Influsoft. Well, it was, once: VN Secure began its life as a plugin for it. When a customer of theirs suggested there were a lot more use cases for such a tool than just influencers, VN Secure’s journey to become its own platform began. You don't have to think very long or hard to see other, off-label uses for this. Police departments and military organizations could use this technology to supplement background checks, empowering them to make better decisions about new recruits. It would also be helpful in identifying people who would be a risk to sell a gun to. It'll be interesting to see the ways in which using the “social media background check” will evolve.
But, for now, VM secure is available for use by brands to manage their reputations online, by better knowing who their influencers are.
VN Secure is software-as-a-service, so you'll access it through the web and pay a subscription fee like you would with any other SaaS platform. Because it's purpose-built to do one thing, there aren't different plans or levels of subscription that get you more features the more you pay. You either use VN Secure, or you do not.
Pricing is customized for each client, based on the size and scope of their business and marketing.
The basic premise of VN Secure is a simple one. It enables you to go through the entire social history of a potential influencer to find out if there's anything in there that I'll make you look bad by association. To do this without software would be, in a word, impossible. Here, you just create a profile for someone in the software, feed it links to their social accounts, and wait for the AI to do the rest. it will consume, digest, and analyze every single post made by this person on Instagram, Twitter, Youtube, and Tik-Tok—from their very first to their most recent. The process takes roughly 12 to 24 hours—it's analyzing tens of thousands of posts for each profile —and at the end of it you'll get a report highlighting all the ways, if any, that this person went too far and posted something questionable.
But who decides what’s questionable/offensive/inappropriate? With VN Secure, you do. Viral Nation seems to understand that different brands have different thresholds for moral pain. Disney couldn’t be associated with Pewdiepie after his antisemitic comments in 2017, but it didn’t hurt Gfuel to sign him to a contract a couple years later. It’s all relative. With that in mind, Brands can define their tolerances in VN Secure’s settings. These settings cover a range of categories, from flagging violent content to sexual content to bad language and more. When the analysis is complete, you'll get a report listing every violation of your standards.
The AI doesn't just get its information from the text of captions, comments, and bios. The image recognition built into it means it can also see and understand the visual elements of a video or still image. Speech recognition allows it to hear and understand what’s spoken in the audio. So even if your caption is something wholesome, an influencer isn’t going to sneak one past the AI if they’re, say, ripping a bong hit in a video and cursing up a storm as they cough it all up. For every red flag raised in the report, you're able to click through and look at the content and judge for yourself. And what if the system flagged something that you’re fine with? You let the system know, it clears the flag, and the machine learning notes this for future decisions.
While looking through a list of content warnings is helpful, it’s also good to get a more holistic view of the situation. Within the report is a summary view of all the profile content, which gives you a more complete picture to take in all at once. You can see how many posts were flagged, a listing of the offenses, and a word cloud like no other you've seen. Seeing it all aggregated like this is very helpful for understanding the scope of someone’s darker side.
What’s also cool is that, while the software is only flagging and showing you offensive posts, it still went through and indexed everything in the profiles it analyzes. There's a search bar within the reporting page that allows you to look for literally anything that may have appeared in a person's post. If you were a marketer for Coke, you could run a search for Pepsi and find out if your influencer is a no-good backstabber with a bad taste in soda. What's more, Viral Nation can customize the software for you, so that these “off-label” uses can be built into the reporting, and incidents of “Pepsi” show up automatically.
Finally, VN Secure shows itself as a kind of crisis communications tool, with its real-time monitoring. In addition to being able to dig up any skeletons from the past, you can have VN Secure be on the lookout for any future skeletons. Brands don't stop caring about what an influencer says once they've signed the deal. Quite the contrary, it's even more important that the influencer behaves. With the monitoring, VN Secure alerts you within 15 minutes of a red flag going live, giving you the ability to get out ahead of the issue.
Up until now, Brands really haven't had a reliable way to make sure they weren't getting into bed with bad people. They could do their own research, but that essentially amounted to scrolling through the recent past and looking for obvious signs of questionable content. Or, they could rely on some kind of safety score from whatever software they were using to know whether or not a partnership would be a good idea with someone. But those only tell you if there's a problem, they don't tell you what the problem is. And they're certainly not on the lookout for any issues in the future.
VN Secure sounds all these problems oh, and is the first platform to do so that in and of itself is impressive. That they did it with such attention to detail, and with such thoughtfulness, is even more so. But if we're being honest, we're not surprised by any of that. We saw what Viral Nation did with the idea of an agency, and we saw what they did with the idea of an influencer marketing platform. VN Secure it's the latest edition to a long line of successes. We’re looking forward to seeing what they come up with next.