The media landscape has been changing for many years. COVID, however, has acted as a catalyst of this change – just as it has done for countless other sectors and industries. From 2019 to 2021, print subscription circulations fell by 7%, and single-sale copies by 11%. Put simply: when it comes to building reputations, shrinking media pools are becoming a bigger problem.

This places pressure on PR professionals  and journalists alike. On the journalist side of the aisle, they are thinly spread – often juggling multiple beats at once and increasingly being judged against engagement and click-through metrics. Adding to this, they’re completely inundated with emails and pitches.

On the PR agency side, the shrinking media pool has an obvious effect – it’s harder to secure the coverage our clients want. It’s harder to get in front of the right people, harder to build relationships, and harder to have our pitches seen and phone calls answered.

Without wishing to state the obvious, a change in landscape requires a change in approach. Of course, a big part of the solution is for PRs – and our clients – to be more creative and thoughtful in how we approach media. Having our finger on the pulse of changing markets and cultural moments, and tying our clients’ messaging into these in an authentic, interesting and valuable way for journalists, is crucial. Being more selective is also important – not every press release is relevant  to send to nationals (or anyone, sometimes!), and it’s important for PRs to be honest with our clients about this.

But there are numerous other ways to shape an organisation’s reputation, aside from media relations. Here’s just a few ways:

  1. Website content: This encapsulates a lot – resources such as blogs, customer case studies and testimonials, and the quality of the copy across a company’s site. Websites should showcase a brand and its purpose, as well as be a source of information – both for the service/product being offered and the wider market the organisation operates within.
  2. SEO: Tying into the above point, nailing search engine optimisation (SEO) is crucial. It’s all well and good having strong, informative content on a website, but if it’s never actually seen its value is somewhat lost. Perfecting an SEO strategy to give a company’s website the right exposure completes the formula.
  3. Social media: It’s near impossible to have a strong brand reputation in today’s world without some form of social media presence. Cultivating this presence through a strategy that involves consistent, on-message posting is key. Social media offers a way to showcase almost everything about a company – from its offering and resources, to its purpose, company culture and even job openings.
  4. Internal communications: A company can be offering the best service ever, but if it has eye-wateringly high employee turnover, low workplace satisfaction, and poor reviews on Glassdoor, its reputation is going to be impacted. Working on effective communication with employees with the goal of improving workplace happiness and culture, is at the heart of internal comms.

For us PRs, making clients aware of the many ways of building reputations, and ensuring that we ourselves are experts in these, is a non-negotiable. PRs, and the organisations they work with, need to begin thinking broader and deeper than media relations. Every company should now be thinking about the range of possibilities for PR, rather than gazing through the single lens of media coverage. Shaping a reputation that will carry a company forward is much more than a media profile alone.

It is estimated that there are between 3.2 and 37.8 million social media influencers. That’s millions of individuals relying on their personal brand to gain followers, secure brand deals and increase engagement on their relative platforms. Although many choose to turn their nose up at those who label themselves as ‘influencers’ and ‘content creators’, we can’t deny that those who are doing it right are reaping the rewards.

Logan Paul, for example, started making YouTube videos from the age of 10. His success on YouTube and Vine has since catapulted him into fame and he is now worth $35 million at the age of 26. Not too shabby for a few videos and a strong personal brand, right?

With the age of digitalisation upon us (any one fancy a virtual beer after work?), perhaps companies could learn a thing or two from those that have had such success with their online personal branding. Personal brand upkeep isn’t so dissimilar to maintaining a strong company brand after all; it’s about keeping up with trends, keeping content relevant, and appealing to your target audience.

In fact, if we take a look at some of Forbes’ golden rules for personal branding:

  1. Have a focus
  2. Be genuine
  3. Be consistent

It’s clear that there are many similarities  between those individuals trying to monetise their online presence, and a company seeking to establish a strong online brand. Although technology has revolutionised marketing, companies must be aware of how they sell themselves online and what their messaging is truly saying.

Influencers have always seized the opportunity to glamourise their realities, editing photos and posts to make their lives seem perfect and unattainable. While these posts may be nice to look at, they can actually alienate your following into a sense of ‘me’ and ‘them’. If what you’re posting is entirely unrelatable, you can only really achieve a surface-level connection with your following.

Recently, we have seen an influx of influencers who are doing away with filters and photoshop, and instead portraying an honest representation of their lives, good and bad. These more genuine posts create instead a notion of ‘us’. Followers are able to relate to the posts, inspiring open discussions and driving engagement.

So, what can brands learn from this?

That honesty is the best policy. If a brand is not transparent, customers will be hesitant to take the risk that comes with giving the benefit of the doubt to an unfamiliar company. As much as aesthetic and image hold a great deal of importance, companies shouldn’t rely solely on looks to engage their customers.

As we transition into this digital future, it seems that companies could have a lot to learn from influencers and content creators. Companies and individuals alike must keep their brands focused, genuine and consistent – you need to know who your target audience is and how to appeal to them. So, why not hold a mirror up to your brand and see what it is you’re really saying? And if you’re falling short, it might be worth heading to the wonderful world of influencers for some creative inspiration!

It’s fair to say that there’s a lot going on at the moment and it may be hard to keep up with the news – especially if you’re also trying to scour online for last-minute Christmas presents. So, in case you’re busy concentrating on getting that perfect gift or what size turkey you’ll need for your Christmas bubble, we’ve rounded up the biggest news in tech to be keeping an eye on.

With Covid vaccinations now underway, there could be some more good news on the horizon for the UK tech scene. British mobile networks are hoping to take up a leading role in emerging radio technology, OpenRan, which could be worth up to $21bn. The Daily Telegraph has the full story.

The end of the year is also set to mark a bumper month for tech IPOs. As a household name now, everyone has been watching Airbnb closely as it continued to raise the price of its shares ahead of its IPO on 10th December, making it one of the largest US IPOs of the year. Head to the Guardian to read more. The Guardian also covered food delivery company DoorDash’s huge IPO.

We’re also one step closer to landing on Mars, with SpaceX undertaking its first suborbital flight test, continuing plans to take that giant leap onto Mars in four years. Want to find out more and where to watch the live stream? Head to the Independent.

However, it’s not all good news for everyone. The future may not be looking so rosy for the big players of Silicon Valley, as the UK Competition and Markets Authority is asking for more powers to crack down on tech giants. You can find out more about what the CMA is proposing and what new regulations could look like on the Daily Telegraph.

Tech giants are also facing additional challenges. Google is currently coming under fire and receiving employee backlash after sacking leading AI ethics researcher Timnit Gebru. To read the whole story of what happened and the response from other Google employees, head to BBC News.  Uber has also announced that it’s putting the brakes on plans to create its own self-driving car, putting a stop to the ambitious initiative by transferring its autonomous vehicle tech to rival Aurora, according to the Financial Times.

UK fintech and challenger banks, such as Monzo and Revolut, may also be in for a rough ride in 2021, as a new Accenture report has found that UK consumers are uncertain about their ability to survive long-term. CityAM covers the full report and analysis.

Following huge disparity revealed across different parts of the UK, leading industry body, TechUK, is also calling for the UK government to address the “Local Digital Capital gap” in the coming year. CityAM has more on this and the call to digitally level up.

Hopefully you’re a little more clued up now on what to watch out for in the world of tech as we move into a new year. But if you’re still struggling to find that perfect gift – or aren’t sure what to gift yourself from Santa – as a little Christmas gift from us, here are some of the best tech gifts and gadget round ups from GQ, Metro, The Sun, Glamour and the Guardian. Some of these are certainly on our Christmas wish lists.

Over two decades ago, my late husband said sign up to ‘Friends Reunited’, you’ll enjoy it. Unfortunately, I’d misheard. I went online to Friends United which was a Swingers Club. I wondered if this is really what social networking meant? After a few weeks of awkwardness, we realised the misunderstanding. 

When our PR agency Firefly was born, I could not have imagined the mere existence of social media, let alone the impact it would have. Fast-forward to today and social media is not only dominating the world around us but playing an active role in the comms world too. From the first days of sites like Friends Reunited, social media is now capable of helping people start businesses, helping to drive revenue and humanise brands. But in line with these positives, social media also has a darker side of skewed political influence and spreading misinformation.

Does social media actually have too much power and influence?

Many claim that social media currently holds too much power and influence. Some would argue that social media’s ability to self-regulate elevates this sense of power. Twitter recently started to ban users for hateful content, and some claimed this to be a violation of freedom of expression. As a private body, with its own rules and regulations, Twitter is perfectly within its rights to set conditions within its own ecosystem – but when there are more people on Twitter than living in the US, do social networks need different rules?

Furthermore, does this mean that they have too much power over our ability to speak freely? In short, no. Not only is Twitter’s hateful speech policy in line with the official hateful incidents criteria, but the decision is also legally sound. According to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, legal immunity is granted to online platforms protecting them from liability for their users’ posts. This allows them to moderate users’ content without being treated as a publisher.

However, in terms of influence, social media quite clearly dominates. The average person in Europe will spend around 75 minutes a day on social media and lockdown has most likely increased this. With Instagram influencers encouraging people to buy products or services, Facebook allowing misinformation to be published regarding big issues like voting and coronavirus, and the recent emergence of cancel culture, social media is a very powerful and influential place to be right now – and this is both a brilliant and a terrible thing.  

What does this mean for comms?

Whether or not social media has too much power and influence, it is not going away and it’s going to continue to make a huge impact on the world around us, especially within PR and comms. The boom of social media has made comms a much more challenging environment, but it has also opened a world of opportunities, both good and bad. If something catches the attention of the right people on social media, it can spread like wildfire. This is brilliant if you’re trying to promote a campaign, and terrible if one of your spokespeople has commented on a contentious issue and there’s been backlash. The smallest move can amplify or destroy reputations in a matter of minutes, so preparing for all situations is key.

And to put this in context, this primacy is no different to the time when the UK had just four television channels. Advertising on just one channel could easily garner the reach of a huge proportion of the population – the only difference is that social media is global, and unlike television adverts, has relatively little regulation compared to its power.  

On the flip side, getting the attention of audiences is even more difficult. You aren’t just battling with other companies for a share of voice in your market, you are battling with the rest of the world talking about these topics too. This means that content needs to stand out more than ever, it needs to have that competitive edge and needs to be tied into something relevant.

Furthermore, communicating on your client’s ethical and political standings is so important now. Staying silent in troublesome times can be just as damaging as taking risks on making statements. These are the things that really matter, especially to younger generations. Millennials, in particular, believe that businesses should mainly focus on producing high-quality products and improving society. Communicating about company ethics can seem daunting but staying silent can be even more damaging – of course, it is essential to live up to the statements and do something too! In the long run, taking the plunge can also help to build a company’s reputation in line with its purpose. 

Top tips for utilising social media in your comms programme

Social media has undoubtedly gone from a nice-to-have to a business necessity. But it can be both a blessing and a curse for comms programmes, and to ensure you are prepared for both possibilities, here are a few things you can do to make the most of social media.

  • Embrace change and try something new – The world is changing, and you shouldn’t be afraid to change with it. Even if your previous approach to comms was seemingly perfect, staying ahead of the times and capitalising on the power of social media is key to increase reach, stay relevant, and ensure you are always developing.
  • Choose your channel – If you’re targeting consumers, understand your audience demographic and choose your channel carefully. TikTok and Instagram are great for reaching younger audiences, whereas Facebook is better for over 30’s. If you’re looking for professionals, LinkedIn is the network of choice in the UK, with Xing climbing fast in Germany, for example.
  • Always have a crisis plan to fall back on – One word out of place can land you in some pretty hot water, so ensure that you have a crisis plan in place for when situations may go wrong. Part of this will include media training any spokespeople before they begin posting on a social platform.
  • Ensure coverage is shared on social channels – Especially for great hits, social media is a great way to reach more people – and with paid social, you can even target the right kind of audiences, significantly amplifying the impact of the coverage. 

Social media can be scary and right now, it can feel like it has too much power and influence. But not jumping on the trend could be a terrible decision further down the line. Securing a social presence will be key to companies doing well and can work as a tool to increase the reputation of both brands and individuals.

It’s worth mentioning that in researching this piece, I was googling Friends Reunited and also Friends United swingers club, both since closed. However, at that precise moment, having been on my own all day, someone walked in behind me and saw my search for a swingers club. “It was research for a blog post” I pleaded to deaf ears as they stumbled away laughing hysterically. So, the curse of my misunderstanding lives on, 20 years later.  

This is going to be the BEST blog piece EVER!!!!! Did that make you want to read on? My guess is probably not, or perhaps only those who know me and would be wondering why I seemed so desperate. This is exactly the point I wish to make. Capital letters and exclamation marks are not compelling. There are better ways to draw attention to your point.

Why do communicators use superlatives?

The frenzy and excitement (or stress) of Christmas is now far behind us and everyone is settling into a new routine. Some people start the year feeling a little lacklustre due to shorter days, cold, wet weather and January being such a slog. Unbridled fake shouty enthusiasm could be irritating and this is just as much a challenge in our written content. But it can be done, there’s just a right and wrong way to do it.

I’ll admit being a little too liberal with the use of an exclamation mark now and again – it’s an easy trap to fall into, especially for those of us with endless positivity coursing through our veins. However, overusing dramatic punctuation means that you won’t get the right message across and this is particularly a challenge for those of us working in marketing and comms. Adding an exclamation mark, some over-the-top adjectives or dropping in some superlatives won’t magically make what you’re saying compelling or important.

Before you start shouting about your brand and what you’re doing, here are five questions you should ask yourself first:

1. Is it important or exciting, really?

The exclamation mark has become the general signal of importance and we all dread that little red exclamation point next to an incoming email. But does it actually need your attention? Just as many people will simply ignore that email, so your clients, customers or prospects will do exactly the same with your content if you’re trying to make something more important than it is.

The same applies to trying to generate excitement. As Scott Fitzgerald once said, “An exclamation point is like laughing at your own jokes.” You may think you’re great but no one else will. Instead, you’ll put them off.  If something really is exciting or important, you don’t need punctuation to convey that, words should suffice.

2. Is it the right time?

When approaching a serious issue, distributing your latest company financials or putting out a formal company statement breaking some bad news, you should refrain from using any sort of unnecessary punctuation, especially exclamation marks. This would undermine the power of what you’re showing or saying, and no one will take you seriously.

Also, bear in mind who’s speaking. Is this a statement from your company CEO to your stakeholders and customers, or a blog from an employee about a great company day out? Punctuation can completely change the voice and tone of a piece, and exclamation marks do not equal serious and credible. Not to name any names but a certain US President is quite a fan of the exclamation mark and I’ll let you make your own decisions about the extent of his credibility…

3. Is it the right place?

Social media is a punctuation minefield – and when it comes to an exclamation mark, be wary.  You don’t want to accidentally start a potential debate when you’re talking about something great you’ve done. If you’re replying and engaging with customers or prospects online, you also don’t want them to get the wrong impression.

For LinkedIn, an exclamation point is generally seen as unprofessional but on Twitter and Instagram they can have their place.  An exclamation mark here or there can inject a little bit of emotion and help your brand seem more human. Still, take heed. Does an exclamation mark generally match the style and tone of the rest of the feed? And what are you saying around that exclamation mark? Going back to my first point, you need to come across as genuine, conveying real shock or excitement. And remember, one exclamation mark is enough, overuse them and you’ll seem insincere.

As for capitals on social media – don’t even think about it. Proper nouns and beginnings of sentences only please. Nobody likes a shouter, especially when you’re shouting about yourself.

4. Are you being honest?

We’ve all seen numerous news announcements and press releases claiming to be ‘world-first’ or ‘most innovative’. But being honest, is this really the case? Do your research and digging before making a bold claim. These phrases are a huge turn off for the media, and even more so, if not wholly true.

It also won’t sit well with your customers. If everyone claims to be the first to do something then in the end no one will be believed. It’s a little bit like the boy who cried wolf.

If you aren’t the first, though, don’t worry, you can still talk about how you’re doing it better.

5. Are you saying anything at all?

Adjectives, as we are taught at primary school, are describing words, and they can really help build up a picture, but not always. Too much can dilute rather than strengthen what you’re trying to convey. Reflect on whether you do need multiple adjectives, if any at all. Moreover, while social media is no longer so restrictive with word limits, unnecessary words take up precious space. Better to stick to the point and keep it punchy.

Most importantly, with all that additional punctuation and superfluous content, you’re likely not giving away any of the information or details your customers or audience actually need.  Take the beginning of this very blog – did you have any idea what it would be about? Absolutely not. Always have in mind what you’re actually trying to say.

 

Of course, if your answer is yes to the above then please do go ahead, add in that punctuation mark, multiple adjectives and superlatives (maybe even capitals) but hopefully this will help make you think before you write.

The European Union is in the process of finalising new copyright rules which could see Google pull its News service in Europe. The details have yet to be finalised but currently Article 11 would require aggregators like Google to pay when an article ‘snippet’ is featured. You’d think that there are ways around this for Google, but going by past behaviour, this could mean the death of Google News in Europe.

In 2014, the Spanish newspaper publishers’ association (AEDE) lobbied for a new law which would require news aggregators to pay for the right to use story snippets. Rather than amending the delivery of news articles, for example adding adverts in Google News to cover costs or not featuring a full snippet, Google shut down Google News in Spain. This has lead the industry to question how important Google News is to Google. Given that Google doesn’t make money from the service, removing it in Europe won’t lead to a financial hit, simply disappointment from users.

Assuming then that Google removes Google News in Europe, the impact to marketing and communication professionals will be huge. Google News is an invaluable tool to follow hot topics, track the development of stories and to be informed when firms are looking to add their view to a topic. Sure there will be ways around it, but it will impact the speed and quality of story development.

It is also wrong to assume that publishers will simply gain from these new rules. Many publishers that rely on traffic from Google will lose eyeballs, and lost eyeballs is lost revenue. A study in 2017 by the Spanish Association of Publishers of Periodical Publications found that the Spanish law caused publishers to lose 13% of their web traffic, resulting in a nine million Euro loss. A ruling that aims to help could end up hindering publishers, particularly the smaller players.

There are commentators in the media industry who are convinced Google will come up with a solution. I wish I was as optimistic as them! One for PR and marketing professionals to watch closely.

If you’d like to read more from Firefly and stay in touch, please click here to sign up: https://fireflycomms.com/newsletters/

Here’s a test for you. Open Instagram and go through the first 10 posts. How many of them are people you know and how many are brands, influencers, ads or celebrities? I just tried this and to no surprise, only one post out of the 10 was from someone I know. Among the other content, I had two paid ads, one celebrity, five influencers, and one brand.

For some this realisation is old news, but recently I’ve become increasingly aware of just how much social media content I consume isn’t actually from my friends and family. While not all celebrity, influencer, or brand content is ad related, I think (as a PR person particularly) it’s easy to get hyperaware and hypercritical of these often perfectly curated posts. I tend to find myself keeping an eagle-eye out for sneaky product placement in influencers’ and celebrities’ posts or trying to guess what they’re promoting before reading the caption (which as many of you know, is often totally unrelated to the picture’s content). Like many others, I’m also guilty of occasionally comparing myself or my life to those I see on social media. Most of the time I can roll my eyes and scroll past another run-of-the-mill ‘attractive woman holding product she probably doesn’t use’ picture, but of course from time-to-time I’m jealous of someone travelling to an amazing country, who looks fantastic, or appears to be super successful.

I’m not alone in this. In fact, research published by Mary Sherlock and Danielle Wagstaff in the journal Psychology of Popular Media Culture recently showed that for women there’s a correlation between the frequency of Instagram use and depressive symptoms, self-esteem, general and physical appearance anxiety, and body dissatisfaction. But of course, social media often presents things that aren’t really as they are in reality – it’s a highlight reel, stylised with the perfect filter to show off people ‘living their best life’. But what toll does this have on influencers?

The toll of the influen-cycle

Social media influencers are in a true popularity contest, played out in front of thousands of followers. They need to have the most appealing content for their medium, post constantly, and essentially open the door to their whole lives (and in turn people’s comments on their lives – positive and negative) in order to build their following and maintain their place. It can be a pretty vicious cycle, especially since a social media hiatus will be negatively punished by social media algorithms – something that was the case for young YouTuber Soy Jessi who took a break from YouTube when her mum passed away.

The pressure to push out so much content and present a perfect life can take a serious toll on influencers’ mental health. YouTuber Bobby Burns describes himself as the ‘poster child for internet burnout’. He says influencers know the lifestyle is bad for them, saying they create a fake personality that faces constant public judgement – but yet they keep going because it’s addictive. Another Instagram influencer, Ruby Matthews, recently spoke out about using cocaine, coffee and cigarettes to maintain her figure and said this is common practice in the influencer space, while the infamous Zoella has also admitted to feeling ‘suffocated’ and ‘disconnected’ from too much social media use.

The ethics of influencer PR

This presents an ethical dilemma for PR people. Influencer PR is, of course, very common and effective these days across various platforms, despite speculation rising on whether the influencer bubble is bursting. The way in which we use it is changing to increasingly prioritise ‘microinfluencers’, but this change is mainly about getting the best return on investment from the influencer you choose to work with.

When searching for an influencer, there’s generally a sweet spot on who you’re trying to find: it’s someone who has a following that is largely made up of people you want to know about the brand you’re representing, who comes at a fair price point, has other content relevant to the brand on their channel, and can speak to about the brand in an authentic and trustworthy way. It can be difficult to hit this sweet spot with all four of those, but it’s interesting that there’s little consideration for who the person really is behind it all. That aspect does come into the ‘authentic voice’ and ‘relevant content’ pieces, but that’s more about how they present themselves – not who they are in reality.

Think about how many generic Instagram pictures you’ve seen of an influencer doing something hyper-stylised with a caption like “How cute is my new floor mat? Love having this under my feet every day, and it’s now 25% off | AD” (Okay, but I’m exaggerating, but I’m sure you get my point).

So how can PR people better support influencers’ well-being? While it’s not our responsibility (or qualification) to manage their mental health, there’s ethical considerations we can keep in mind before working with an influencer that will help protect them accordingly.

How can we do better?

The PRCA Code of Conduct and CIPR Code of Conduct both give great guidelines that can be applied to influencer work. Here’s some steps with these codes in mind:

  1. Both codes have clear sections on acting honestly and not knowingly disseminating false or misleading information. For influencer work, you need to seek out a truly authentic person who actually would use your product (if they aren’t already), were they not being paid for the opportunity. While some influencers might take any or many opportunities to keep up their clout and income, if it’s not something true to their actual selves, it may only alienate them more from their reality.
  2. The codes also say PR people should conduct professional activities with proper regard to public interest. This is really a catch all for ‘don’t take the mick’, but it’s a good one. Controlling the message while also subtly inserting the brand into influencer work is important in PR, but you also have to be transparent. Make more use of content like video, where the influencer can speak honestly about the brand, perhaps by testing a product or giving a demo of how the service works as they go through the process. This is more authentic and more trustworthy for consumers and they’ll also gain a better understanding of what the brand does. At the same time, your influencer doesn’t become a robot reeling out approved copy for the sake of the sponsorship – they can be true to themselves.
  3. Most of all, trust your gut. If deep down the partnership or the content being produced for it feels too commercial or just not ‘right’, don’t do it. It probably means there’s something wrong and you aren’t actually hitting the sweet spot or keeping the best interests of the influencer in mind.

With all this in mind, take another look at those top 10 posts that come up in your Instagram home feed and get analytical. Do they actually feel authentic? Do they really seem like they use that brand? Are they a trustworthy source on this product or service? This isn’t to make you think badly of the influencer – it’s to help you remember there’s a person behind it and to help you better target your next campaign.

Innovation. The introduction of something new and a word we hear about all the time in the creative industry. It can be crucial to the initial and continuing success of a business, but also crippling if you don’t commit to it and give consumers exactly what they want.

Customer service is often considered to be the key to a brand’s reputation, but part of keeping the customer happy and loyal, is to bring something new and exciting to keep them engaged. And that’s where individuality and innovation come in, because people will get bored easily. Remember how popular HQ Trivia was only a few months back? Now, the novelty of potentially winning £500 at 3pm and 9pm everyday has worn off, so people simply aren’t bothered by it anymore. Consumers are more intrigued by the concept of HQ Trivia, rather than the brand itself and frankly, the game became more of a trend than a sustainable brand.

A recent study revealed that UK CMOs are almost half as likely to see innovation as the primary role of the marketing function as their US counterparts – only 25% of UK marketers identify “leading disruptive innovation” as a core functional priority. Surprising, since you only need to Google “innovation” to see all the articles that express the importance of innovation in business. So, why are marketers so resistant to prioritise it?

Engaging with the right crowd

Understanding exactly what consumers want when it comes to new innovations can be tough, especially when there are so many other brands competing for the same crowds, and it can seem difficult to get noticed by anyone. In recent years, brands have attempted to create new marketing techniques, particularly on social media, to try and break through the noise. But some of these actually have a very minimal effect on the relationship between the brand and consumer.

Awareness day campaigns are obvious examples of this. “National Avocado Day”, “International Sloth Day” or “Bring a Potato to Work Day” are just a few of the many examples of this kind of activity that are constantly popping up and trending on social media. And brands are quick to seize the opportunity to create extravagant campaigns, even if the topic has no correlation with their brand. But because it’s trending and popular, they want to be in on it. Whilst some brands are capable of pulling something off – like Aperol giving out free Aperol spritz on National Prosecco Day (yes please!) – for others, the buzz and engagement only really lasts for the day, so is it really worth it?

Similarly, brands who jump on the clickbait-, relatable-type Facebook posts, like the “Tag your friend so that they have to look at this pickle” or “Share if you think XYZ” posts, among others, will only ever get lots of likes, shares and comments on that post and that tends to be where the engagement with the user stops. Consumers are only liking, sharing and commenting because they can relate to the content, not because they want to engage with the brand. Converting leads is said to be a top priority for 70% of marketers, but jumping on social media trends won’t always deliver the best ROI.

Perceptions of innovation

Churning out new products or coming up with big, extravagant marketing campaigns is what most people expect when they think of innovation, and what brands think will gain them more customers. But innovation doesn’t have to be as big as that. In fact, small, more focused approaches to innovation can be more beneficial to the brand. Micro influencers, for example, are more focused than a huge, celebrity influencer because they have followers who are genuinely interested in the content that they post.

Likewise, engaging with consumers in a way that’s meaningful will be much more valuable for your brand in the long-term. Challenger bank, Monzo, has a community forum where its users can chat to each other about Monzo products and interact with a team of Monzo employees to discuss new ideas. It allows Monzo to properly listen to what their customers are thinking, and the customers really feel like they are part of the Monzo brand.

Jumping on the bandwagon of novelty marketing trends is easily done, especially when you see every other brand taking part. But it’s important to stay in-line with business values, making sure the customer is front of mind and asking yourself “will this really benefit my business and gain me loyal customers?”

Every brand has something unique and interesting which makes them who they are – otherwise they wouldn’t be a brand. Finding what makes a brand unique and exploiting that, instead of jumping onto current, popular trends, will be much more valuable in the long run – just because everyone might be talking about one thing one day, doesn’t mean they’ll be talking about it the next.

You may have started to hear about a new social network called Vero. The self-described ‘relationship-first social network’ had a surge in popularity recently after saying its first one million users wouldn’t have to pay for a subscription in future, causing mass sign ups, a lot of press headlines about how this may be ‘the next Instagram’, and ultimately creating major service interruptions for the app due to the influx of users.

But why all the fuss? Do we really need another social network? Probably not, to be honest, but Vero’s supposed USP over other networks is a non-algorithm-based feed and a paid subscription model (eventually), meaning it won’t rely on ad revenue and serving users content they don’t necessarily care about. In its own descriptors, it aims to align physical world relationships to the online experience, providing a seamless way to share content with your network. You can read its full manifesto here.

That’s a nice proposition if they can make it work, but whether this will be enough to surge it to mainstream adoption and popularity remains to be seen. For now, here’s my first impressions to help you can decide if this is the network for you.

No advertising and a chronological news feed

It’s hard to judge this yet since I’m not following nearly as many people on Vero as I am on Instagram (and very few of my friends are on it), but the ad free and chronological news feed is definitely a plus for the platform. It’s frustrating to miss a post from someone you genuinely you want to see content from just because they don’t post often and therefore are ruled out by the algorithms, or to have a post from six days ago coming up at the top of today’s news feed. This ‘old-Instagram’ feature will be a winner but be aware that a clause in its privacy policy suggests the company may still use your data for advertising in some capacity. This excerpt from the policy says:

Not just visuals

Vero allows users to post photos, links, and recommendations for music, films, TV shows, books and places, and the news feed actually looks a bit more like Twitter than Instagram or Facebook to me. There’s no option for a free-text post, which suggests you might get less Facebook-esque rants from friends and more ‘meaningful’ content. This could be great for businesses, as it will help the spread of more natural word-of-mouth recommendations but is less good if you happen to follow anyone who starts sharing ‘Fake News’ links. Perhaps it’s just my PR cynicism, but I also think this kind of sharing just encourages more Instagram-influencer style posts that are clearly advertising rather than genuine expression, and if there’s too much of that, I suspect people will tune out.

Prioritise your connections

In line with it’s chronological news feed, Vero helps you prioritise your connections. You can choose to ‘follow’ or ‘connect’ with people, and when you connect with them you can specify if they’re a ‘close friend’, ‘friend’, or ‘acquaintance’. The default setting for a new connection is ‘acquaintance’ and only you can see how you’ve classified connections, which is handy. When you share content, you can also choose who will see it – be it close friends, acquaintances, everyone etc.

Poor identity verification

Vero does use verified ticks for high profile users, but it doesn’t have usernames. It strongly encourages people to use their real name when creating their profile (a la Facebook) and does ask for your phone number and email upon sign up to help verify you, try and prevent false identities, and help you find connections. However, it’s a bit simple and there’s no reason why someone couldn’t make a fake profile – and it seems there’s already plenty on there (here’s looking at you ‘Taylor Swift’), as with other social networks.

Confusing interface and functionality

This is the most annoying thing about Vero for me. It’s a bit hard to use, I don’t like the colour schemes, and it’s just not as intuitive as other social networks (yet). In many ways it is like a re-skinned Instagram, but the explore page (pictured below) makes it hard to find the kind of people I’d want to follow (or perhaps they aren’t on it yet) and I’m finding myself darting between different parts of it trying to work out where to go. The collections section could be useful for curating content once you’re following the right people, but right now the whole thing is a bit of a turn off. I also read that pictures sent to you in private conversations will appear in your news feed (albeit only visible to you), which has a bit too much disaster potential for my liking!

You’ll have to pay for it

Vero users will eventually have to pay a yet to be specified ‘small annual fee’ to join, and Vero will also take a cut from businesses that sell via its ‘buy now’ feature. While constant advertising on other social networks is frustrating, Vero will surely have to knock other networks off their pedestals in order to make its paid subscription model work. Why would I pay to speak to my best friend when I can WhatsApp her? Why would I pay to see content from my favourite musician when I can follow them on Instagram and hear their music on Spotify?

I suspect that Vero may argue that through its app you can do that all in one place, but multiple platforms for this don’t bother me enough right now to be switching entirely.

My Vero verdict

Vero definitely has some positive aspects, but I’m just not sure we need it. I already see the same content from friends on Instagram and Facebook in particular, so I don’t need to like the photo a third time on Vero, surely?

I can see the opportunity for aspiring businesses and influencers – particularly creative artists, musicians, and retail sellers to have another means of selling to consumers, but when Vero doesn’t want to be filled with advertising, this opportunity is unlikely to pay off unless consumers are willing to see all that brand-filled content.

All that said, I’m not going to knock it until I’ve tried it more, and it’s worth a go while it’s free anyway – even if you delete it soon after!

This post originally appeared on LinkedIn

We already showed how you can make yourself into an emoji and now we’ve found you can create emoji graffiti too.

Before you ask, no we do not mean grabbing a can and spray painting the local park with your favourite smiley, rather we have been playing around with the AR app Mirage.

Mirage allows users to (legally) graffiti 3D emojis, texts, drawings, hashtags or animated GIFs to any location in the world. Simply take a picture of the object, building, or whatever you wish to use as your canvas and create your masterpiece. Once completed, all mirage users will be able to view your mirage through their phone for twenty-four hours before it disappears back into the ether.

All mirages also appear as glowing orbs on Google maps, helping to direct you to the virtual graffiti in your area. Hoping to help this secret world intertwine a bit more with reality, tapping on a mirage with a hashtag will also take you straight through to Twitter.

You certainly can’t quite produce anything that will rival Banksy, but it does a little extra curiosity and mystery to your day (even if you do just find a 3D emoji poo).

Just to make it more exclusive, Mirage is only available on iOS, so apologies to Android users, you will just have to remain locked out of this hidden world… at least for now.

Is it time to shape your reputation?

We operate in London, Paris and Munich, and have a network of like-minded partners across the globe.

Get in touch

Sign up to Spark, our newsletter

Receive thought pieces from our leadership team, views on the news, tool of the month and light relief for comms folk

You can unsubscribe at any time, please read our privacy policy for more information