Social media marketing is an essential string to any comms professional’s bow in today’s industry landscape. Increasingly, B2B and B2C businesses alike are engaging with influencers as part of their social media marketing strategies, and this means managing influencer relations.
Influencer relations is a relatively new concept, meaning that global regulation is far from aligned. When working across Europe, it is therefore important that communications professionals know how to navigate the variety of legal restrictions they may encounter.
Influencer relations is about more than relationships with influencers
As comms professionals, relationships are our bread and butter. When brands engage with a comms agency for their social media strategy, they expect the agency to have great connections with relevant influencers in their sector.
Relationships are crucial, but they’re only one piece of the overall pie. Looking at this from a traditional media relations perspective, we can see why. Yes, it’s important to have that close connection with a journalist to secure press coverage, but comms professionals also need to be excellent content creators, top-notch organisers, and events management afficionados. We’re constantly wearing different hats – and we must do the same when developing an influencer relations programme.
Influencer marketing has legal implications
When scrolling through Instagram or TikTok, you will likely have noticed your favourite creators adding ‘#ad’ to the captions of their posts. This isn’t just a gesture of transparency, but a legal requirement for anyone creating content online in the UK.
In the UK, influencers are regulated by the Competition and Markets Authority. They have a handy guide which sets out how influencers can promote brands and products online. This helps both companies and influencers alike to comply with consumer protection law. Rules are similar in Germany.
Seems simple, right?
Ensuring compliance across borders is crucial
Influencer relations vary significantly across Europe. For example, in France, social media regulation recently shifted. Previously, influencers were not legally bound to signal product placements in their posts, but this is set to change to a more UK-style approach.
How can brands ensure they have an effective influencer relations strategy across Europe?
Thinking of boosting your influencer relations strategy in Europe? Get in touch!
Most of us who frequent social media platforms will have probably given in to the recommendations of an influencer in one way or another. Whether it be an Amazon gadget or a new trending celeb recipe, influencers have the power to impact decisions of consumers across all age groups.
Over the years, influencer marketing has been on the rise. In 2021, 44% of B2C brands in Europe said they planned to increase their influencer marketing budget. What was a $1.7 billion industry, in 2016 has since grown to become worth $16 billion in 2022, with expectations for it to grow to $21 billion this year. But with all the emphasis put on these influencers to build a brand’s reputation, what are the implications if this falls apart? The new ‘de-influencer’ trend might be the first sign of cracks in the influencer world.
So far, the de-influencing hashtag has garnered 180 million TikTok views since the trend began in January this year. De-influencing is when content creators uncover the truth about products consumers have been pushed to purchase, all in a bid to address overconsumption.
Like consumers, businesses face difficulties in the current economic climate. Layoffs have continued to dominate the headlines, putting the decisions of business leaders centre stage – they’re not only being judged by their employees but the general public too. In a similar vein, the de-influencer movement gives consumers the ‘right information’ they need to make better decisions with their money. Society craves authenticity, and with ‘cancel culture’ still present, no brand or business is safe from judgment. The jury is fierce and they take no prisoners. Now more than ever, shaping reputation is crucial.
This isn’t the first sign of consumers becoming savvier to how and where they should be spending their money. During the last decade we saw a huge rise in the importance of a business having the right ESG credentials, driven not only by government regulation but also investor and stakeholder demand. However, ESG’s critics believe that companies are using the loosely defined term to “greenwash,” or make unrealistic or misleading claims, especially about their environmental credentials.
As B2B marketing strategies look to use business influencers on TikTok to complement product content on LinkedIn, they must ensure they know exactly who their audiences are and more importantly use the right influencers. After all, partnering with the wrong influencer can dramatically affect a brand’s credibility and ruin its reputation.
Whilst the de-influencer movement isn’t completely exempt from its own criticism of its authenticity, it’s brought up some really important conversations. It’s provided us with the space we need to stop and think about our decisions more closely, focusing on becoming better humans overall. As consumers, investors and end users are all focused on making the right decisions – whether it’s buying a dress from an environmentally charged retailer or investing in the most ethical AI driven product – businesses should focus on creating clear and concise messaging and communicating through the most effective means possible.
Zooming out of the detail of these trends to looking at a company’s reputation as a whole, it’s important for leaders in comms to build meaningful relationships based on trust. This trust influences more than just purchasing, permeating all aspects of the company. There’s nowhere for organisations to hide, and any step of the way there’s judgement, so shaping a reputation in this new era, is about gaining trust through a comms strategy that puts transparency and authenticity at the forefront.
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:
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.
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!
January has long been known as the time for creating new plans and pushing for change in our personal lives. The same goes for our professional lives, as we set new priorities by embarking on new projects as much as driving forward older ones.
2022 is set to be a unique year in the comms world, as after two years of riding the wave of the pandemic, we are finally starting to see light at the end of what has been at times an incredibly dark tunnel. Although, that light is not the ‘normal’ pace of business as we experienced it pre-2020, nor should it be. We should celebrate the developments that have come out of this difficult period, taking what we have learned from a moment of crisis to put our best foot forward for our campaigns in 2022.
Some things to consider in your comms planning.
Investing in sustainable climate action
As consumers and investors alike increasingly value strong action when it comes to the environment, brands can no longer afford to announce a climate target and call it a day. Businesses are being scrutinised more than ever for their action on climate change and must therefore ensure that their operations are consistent with what is being communicated externally.
To put it simply, a climate-centric PR campaign will not work unless it’s authentic. However optimistic your external communications, if these are not backed up by a firm commitment which can be measured regularly and fairly, external stakeholders will easily see through the mirage. Today’s consumers and investors are used to seeing companies take misguided, vague climate action, and demand more as a result. Businesses that have little-to-no experience in this area should see this period of mounting pressure as an opportunity to possibly seek expert counsel from consultants, start building a narrative that is relevant to their business and back up their decisions with concrete action.
Navigating the waves of social media regulation
Social media has progressively become a core part of any good communication strategy, but as its use becomes more widespread, so does its regulation. Facebook whistle-blower Frances Haugen’s testimony before the US senate in 2021 shed light on the damage that has been caused by the social media giant to its users, leading to legislation such as the Online Safety Bill in the UK being strongly considered by lawmakers.
The bill mandates that social media platforms have a duty of care towards their users in protecting them against potentially damaging content, which is absolutely a step in the right direction when it comes to more responsible social media usage. Companies must ensure that they keep their finger on the pulse when it comes to regulatory changes, as increased legal scrutiny often results in new user guidelines. Businesses not only need to ensure that social media as a communications channel is integrated into their overall communications strategy, but also need to comply with new guidelines.
Maintaining synergy through employee comms
Hybrid working continues to be favoured by the vast majority of businesses, having taken on board the benefits of a blended model over the past two years. Most companies are putting trust in their employees to choose the approach which works best for them, whether that be coming into the office every day, or on a less regular basis. As a result, teams are often working with a mix of colleagues dialling in virtually, and physically present in the office.
Hybrid working allows staff to fit their work around their lifestyle more than ever before, which can lead to increased productivity and certainly boosts employee wellbeing. But, at the same time, it can naturally lead to a fracturing of teams. Any divide is certainly not the fault of the business, nor the individual staff involved, but rather a natural progression brought on by inconsistent face-to-face contact. But the response is not necessarily to revert to mandated physical working, which is not always possible these days. Companies must instead focus on improving their internal comms strategies, ensuring that messaging is clear, and any change is regularly and effectively communicated to staff. This will be more important than ever in 2022, as hybrid working is solidified as part of our reality, and no longer is acting as a temporary measure implemented during the pandemic.
A New Year is the perfect time to reconsider your comms campaigns and building your brand’s reputation. Want to learn more about how you can shape your greatest asset? Download our guide to reputation management here.
It’s almost time to turn back the clocks and put pumpkins out on our doorsteps as October draws to a close. It’s been a busy month in the tech world, with a balance between the war on social media raging on and some brighter innovations that aim to make our daily lives easier. If you missed anything, here’s our tech news roundup to get you up to speed.
One thing almost nobody missed was that Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram experienced an outage that lasted almost six hours. The company blamed an internal technical issue, that on top of affecting the functioning of Facebook’s platforms, resulted in issues with internal employees’ work passes and email. The event provoked questions about our reliance on social media, forcing people around the globe to rethink their relationship with these platforms.
This outage occurred within the context of additional bad press for Facebook as whistleblower Frances Haugen testified before US Congress. She explained that the social media giant has repeatedly prioritised profit over reining in hate speech and misinformation, as its AI systems only catch a tiny minority of offending content.
Nevertheless, numerous social media giants fought back against this mass denunciation. Facebook introduced new measures which attempt to push teens away from harmful content. Similarly, Twitter is testing a warning for users which will appear before they engage with heated conversations on the platform. These may be small steps but represent a move in the right direction to a safer social media world.
In lighter news, October saw a number of innovative developments in the world of tech. Royal Mail has been trialling drone deliveries in Scotland’s Orkney Islands to better connect remote communities. Google Maps is set to show drivers the lowest carbon route for their journeys in a drive towards more environmentally friendly policies. That’s not all for Google, as its experts have also developed an AI-based system to accurately predict if it will rain in the next 90 minutes, which will certainly be useful here in London!
That’s all for our October roundup. Want to receive a daily news roundup of the biggest tech stories? Sign up to our Firewire here.
Summer is around the corner, and much of the goings-on in the tech space gives us that warm and comforting feeling. There’s innovation, there’s growth, there are moves in the right direction which are responding to societal needs. It’s very exciting! Here’s the roundup of the main stories.
The UK tech industry has grown tenfold in the past decade. In fact, London leads in Europe and is picking up the pace on Silicon Valley. British unicorns grew from eight in 2010 to 81 in 2020 – incredible! CityAM has all the stats from the government’s Digital Economy Council and Dealroom on the strength of the British tech industry.
Meanwhile, Google and Instagram have been making moves to improve diversity. Google added a feature to its Google Docs which suggests alternatives to gendered words in a move to help improve inclusivity. The idea is to use non-gendered language to not inadvertently offend colleagues or friends. The Daily Telegraph covers the news. Instagram’s move is slightly different, not removing gender from words, but adding the right gender terminology to profiles. The social network plans to offer users an easier way to specify their gender identity. The pre-approve list of common pronouns includes she, he, they, ze and others. This Guardian article has the details.
In the other corner of social media land you have Twitter, which launched a paid subscription service with some interesting new features. Twitter Blue – the name of the new service – will allow users to undo tweets and better curate tweets through a feature called ‘Collections’. The Independent reports that this service will cost $2.99 per month. Any takers?
Now, this next innovation I am definitely a taker. US researchers have found a way to turn thoughts into text. Just think, you’re on a refreshing lunchtime walk and you have a great idea, you just have to write it out in your head and a ‘brain-computer’ captures the mental handwriting. It involves having a brain implant, the size of an aspirin pill, according to the Daily Mail.
And finally, global vaccinations are going well but there is more to be done, especially to fight misinformation. YouTube, in collaboration with the National Health Service (NHS) in the UK, has launched a vaccination ad campaign, primarily targeted at younger people. The campaign is paid for by YouTube and comes after it was criticised for being slow at halting untrue content about Covid-19. BBC News has the full story.
All this positivity really gives us a real spring in our step ahead of summer. This May rain won’t dampen our spirit!
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.
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.
It seems like a lifetime ago that we saw a wave of ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ memes sweeping the UK. However, many of the communications from Boris Johnson and the Queen have had a decidedly wartime tone, so it seems fitting to bring them back into the spotlight again.
During the ‘Great Pause’ we’ve ‘Kept Calm’, and now there are mutterings of ‘A Gradual Return’ which won’t be big and won’t be fast. The worst thing that you can do is ‘Carry On’ as you were, and pretend that nothing changed.
Because at the risk of sounding like one of the glib ‘experts’, a lot has changed, and perhaps most importantly, people have changed. On the flip side, change is stressful, and people hate uncertainty, so many communications leaders (and I daresay our PM is included in this group) have been struggling to strike a balance between keeping plans flexible and presenting a stable vision of the future.
So how can (and should) you change your plans and recast your thoughts, being mindful of everything that has happened? It would be wrong of me to offer ‘concrete’ answers, because every single person’s experience will be different, and every organisation has adapted in varying degrees – but at the same time, we’re also conscious that during stressful times, it can be hard to see the big picture, so here are some prompts to help you keep your thinking straight.
Planning from the End
Boris Johnson’s announcement on the 10th of May left a lot of room for manoeuvring, especially if the UK sees a ‘second spike’. However, with the news that some of the technology giants will be working from home until Christmas, it’s fair to say that it’ll be at least Q4 before we see a return to anything resembling what we’d usually call normal.
However, this does give us a firm timeline; marketing and communications staff should plan for a linear return to (a new) normal over this period. Of course, there will be spikes and dips – especially if or when we see another outbreak – but you can plan for that too.
And before you think of what to communicate, it’s important to think of who you’re communicating with. To help keep your thoughts in order, here are a few starters for ten.
Your staff and partners are the single most important group to communicate with, and they will have had a very broad base of experiences during lockdown. From parents caring for children, to new recruits working in small flats, everyone has been managing differently. However, there are a few constants in what they’ll be looking for.
– Clarity: Although government guidance may be less than crystal clear, there’s still time – and a need – to give concise, well-reasoned guidance to staff about working patterns, support during work hours, and an anticipated timeline for any changes. With the furlough scheme potentially extended until September, now is the time to plan how to communicate with staff, as well as making sure that non-furloughed employees understand where they stand, and also feel appreciated.
– Plan from the end: You also need to plan back from the end of the lockdown; as my colleague Charlotte said in her ‘Communicators dealing with Sudden Change’ Playbook, people might not remember what you did, but they’ll remember how you made them feel. Were you inspiring, honest and did you treat them fairly? Or were you indecisive, secretive and sneaky? How will your current communication plans make them feel – and how do you need to plan for this? It’s perfectly acceptable to be firm and fair, but do be realistic: you may need a plan for re-hiring if a number of staff decide to leave, for example.
Customers, Prospects and Partners:
Covid-19 will undoubtedly have affected your customers, whether that’s the general public or other businesses. Unless you’re the likes of Zoom or a hand sanitiser manufacturer, experts like Sir Martin Sorrell have advised that you can’t ‘spend [on advertising] your way out of a recession’. Similarly, a number of pieces of research have suggested that whilst consumers don’t want brands to stop advertising during this time, they do want brands to be more sensitive to their needs – in some cases, switching to advice and wellbeing messages, rather than offers and promotions. With that in mind, it’s important to consider:
– New priorities: Many customers will have shifted to what’s truly important – for example, essentials and products that can be used at home, like family technology, loungewear and indoor sports equipment. It’s important to remember that this won’t last forever, but making it easy for customers to find what they need will absolutely be remembered post-Covid.
– Content consumption: Customers may well have changed how they consume content – for example, not many of us are commuting past billboards anymore! At the same time, with general stress levels higher than before, it’s important to be concise, clear, and unless it’s constructive and necessary, not present overly negative views – we’ve all heard them on the news and social channels!
– Reassurance: Many customers, prospects and investors will also want to know that if they’re buying from you – whether it’s products or shares – that you’re a stable provider. What has Covid-19 done to your 3-year plan, for example? Does your company roadmap still feature the key products and services that you promised last year? Is your company financially stable, and what are your ambitions? Staff may be blindsided by these questions during sales or marketing meetings, so it’s important to be prepared for them.
Where do we go now?
Coronavirus has meant a significant rethinking of business plans and processes, but now that a phased return to ‘normal’ is in sight, it’s time for you to keep calm and to get back to planning, working out what your phased return to normal will look like.
And whatever you do, remember our two principles of good communications during Covid-19 – be kind, and remove uncertainty where you can. If your communication ticks these two boxes, you’re safe to proceed, but if not, it might just need a fresh pair of eyes or (better yet) a fresh brain.
We have a wealth of assets that can help you set out your communications plan, whatever the audience. So regardless of the audience and the changes you’ve been through, we’ve got you covered – and if you’d like to discuss further how you can keep calm and carry on (differently) please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us on firstname.lastname@example.org.
What are the most annoying elements of social media? Trolling, definitely. Boast posts, absolutely. How about when you see a post – perhaps a video or a recipe – that you want to look at again later, but then you can’t find it again when you want or need it? Infuriating!
A new app has been released that lets you save content from all major social channels in one place, to look at again whenever you want. Videos, GIFs, memes, music files, notes – you can collate them all on Figgle. It’s like a digital pinboard for your favourite content – so no more trawling through your social feeds searching for that content you wanted to forward to colleagues or friends.
The app is available on all iPhones free of charge – check it out here.
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