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.

As the nights draw in and Christmas approaches, thoughts of 2019 planning are well underway but instead of looking to the future, we’re going to take a look back over the past year and highlight some of the key trends and events that have taken place in world of communications to give us some inspiration for the year ahead.

A lesson in ethics

Although it began in 2017, the fall of Bell Pottinger shocked the communications industry. The ill-advised campaign that led to a host of troubles in South Africa highlighted the need for proper ethical standards in the comms industry. In response to the Bell Pottinger downfall, the International Communications Consultancy Organisation (ICCO) launched the #PowerofEthics campaign this year to encourage comms professionals to promote ethics in PR.


GDPR, the acronym you cannot escape. The General Data Protection Regulation can into force in May of this year and certainly shook up the industry. Despite knowing about the upcoming deadline for two years, businesses were still unprepared for the legislation. GDPR touched every industry and marcomms was no different. To prepare for the changes, we held a session on GDPR and what it meant for marketing data, to ensure industry experts were up to speed and in the know.

The rise (and fall) of the YouTube star

Celebrity YouTuber, Logan Paul, sparked outrage this year after posting a disrespectful video. After the event, the discussion around social media influencers and the monetisation of videos rippled through the industry. Social media influencers are growing and becoming more popular, perhaps in 2019 we’ll start to see some regulations surrounding them and their content?

The pace of growth

The industry is changing at a rapid pace, and the growth of digital channels has profoundly changed the way we work. New technologies, tighter budgets and politics are all major drivers of change and the changing media landscape is just another hurdle that marcomms professionals have to deal with. In 2018, PR professionals said they need new expertise in social media, data and analytics and multi-media content development to ensure they stay relevant in the ever-evolving world of work. It looks like we’ll all need to be comms chameleons.

A big tech crisis

For much of this year, Facebook and its owner Mark Zuckerberg, were in crisis mode. The revelations that Cambridge Analytica gathered the personal data of millions of Facebook users sent the company into a mass PR crisis. Facebook’s reputation was on the line and they suffered some serious damage. However, there was some light at the end of the tunnel, for us at least. Although this was of course, an incredibly serious case, we did enjoy the hilarious memes that were created off the back of the hearing.

The Christmas countdown

And of course, to wrap up how can I forget to mention this year’s Christmas adverts? Here at Firefly, we love an emotional advert and Iceland’s ‘Rang-Tang’ certainly tugged at the heart strings. Although it was pulled from TV for being ‘too political’, it became viral across social media with nearly half a million views on YouTube. Similarly, the long-awaited John Lewis advert returned this year with the legend that is Sir Elton John and the premise of their advert ‘Some gifts are more than just a gift’, captured the hearts of British viewers. If you want to take a look at more of these powerful PR campaigns, check out this roundup of 2018’s festive ads.

There we have it, a look back at the big marcomms industry trends and events that occurred in 2018. As we reflect on the past year, there are certainly some lessons to be learned and, as the pace of change continues to grow in our industry, we as comms professionals need to ensure that we can keep up. So, as the festive season gets into full swing, start looking ahead to next year and see how you can focus and improve your marcomms strategy — who knows what 2019 has in store?

I was reading the story about advertisers beating the fast-forward button on TV that got me thinking about the future of TV advertising. With more and more of us taking control of what we watch (we pre-record, we go online, we download episodes and films on iPlayer), are we also increasingly reluctant to be ‘forced’ to watch adverts? Advertisers seem to think so, and have taken the reins to ensure their adverts are seen… but will it last? And could this mean more emphasis is placed on other communications channels, such as social media?

Consumer habits – and the types of information they are happy to digest – are constantly changing. Brands should be – if they aren’t already – looking at alternative approaches for mass dissemination of their messages. You may remember back in 2007 the Cadbury Gorilla ad which went viral on YouTube and to-date, has near to five million hits. This was a great success story for brand that saw an increase is sales as well as positive brand perception.   

In the constantly-moving B2C world, PRs also need to be ready to evolve with changing times. In our industry, force-feed tactics have never worked; so will 2011 see a smorgasbord or fine dining approach to serving up great content? Watch this space.

This post was written by Charlotte.

Furthering our case for developing client content in video format, we were pleased to see that the number of online videos viewed in the UK has risen by 37% over the last year.

The research, undertaken by ComScore, labels YouTube the most popular site for Brits to view videos, with a whopping 2.5bn videos being viewed in February alone! Interestingly the BBC was the second most popular video destination reaping in 140m views.

Our video of Phoenix Trading’s founder discussing the benefits of direct selling for mums made it onto The Independent’s website as ‘the editor’s choice’.  We’re also filming PR video content involving Xerox tomorrow so watch this space…


Why would companies and brands NOT want to engage in online conversations with their customers?  Well, to be honest with you, I’m not really sure.

I can only really think of three reasons why companies would not want to engage in social media:

1)      They have something to hide, or are scared of opening up channels to public scrutiny.

If you are listening, you’ll spot and solve the problem quickly before it bubbles up like lava – too hot to handle.

 2)      They believe their audience is not using that platform. Which could just be a gut feeling, for how could they know for sure?

 This is changing as the younger generations grow older. My 87-year old grandmother is on Facebook! Generations use social media differently but all generations are engaged.

 3)      If it’s neither of the above, then maybe it’s because social media has not yet entered their lives.

Yes, it’s maybe new and difficult to grasp for some. You can’t understand what you don’t know. Be inquisitive.  Facebook is not just for your teenage kids. Join in?

Is it time to shape your reputation?

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