Pavlina Micha, Account Assistant in our London office, pens a piece around influencer marketing. Pavlina hails from Greece and has been with the team for six months, following completion of her Master’s degree in PR and Digital Communication. She also completed a dissertation on the topic, and so, in this piece takes us through her viewpoint and research around the emergence of influencers and how social media platforms impact the PR landscape today.
Public relations is connected both to social media– which is used as a tool– and influencers, who are validated third parties. The word influencer refers to people who have a strong impact on influencing others’ behaviours. Influencers are opinion leaders and mediators of information in digital communities. The democratisation of technology gave the space to those influential people to become famous on social media and utilise this fame for commercial purposes.
In 2010, Instagram was born, and during its first five years it became the first social media platform on which users could create content and have significant media influence. The digital community saw many young people, specifically female bloggers, start having many followers and interact with them. Gradually, women interested in fashion, beauty and parenting started posting and communicating, hoping to attract engagement and be influencers. Then this group extended to men and younger people, who posted exciting content on social media and managed to draw their audience’s attention.
The emergence of influencer marketing in PR strategies
By 2017, influencers have become trendsetters whose recommendations were significant and attracted brands and collaborations, driving engagement and sales. Marketers started using social influencers as mediators to spread word of mouth about brands on social media, creating a new ground for the world of public relations and marketing. Marketers assigned the role of brand spokesperson to influencers, taking advantage of their power to influence the purchase behaviours of a broad audience.
Public relations started using influencer marketing as a third-party endorsement method. This has been proving to be a really successful strategy, as influencer endorsement adds value to the brand and, depending on the trustworthiness of the celebrity endorser, the product acquires credibility and equity.
The power of influencers is based on transparency
However, identifying the right influencer for the right campaign has been proving challenging as the audience is educated in paid partnerships and sponsored content might negatively affect consumers’ perception of both the influencer and the brand.
Some influencers tend to post too much ‘sponsored content’ and give their audience more quantitative than qualitative content, making them tired of skipping through marketing Instagram stories. As a result, consumers have lost their interest in influencers who use the platform, which initially promoted sharing, creativity, and socialisation, for advertising purposes.
In the public relations industry, many experts know how to identify credible and influential third parties. Hence, the trustworthiness for influencers derives from the strong relationship they have built with their audiences and their feeling that they are relatable and credible personalities.
For this reason, the public relations industry has seen brand ambassadors and famous advocates of big brands driving more easily their audience in sales and consumer behaviours as they base their relationships with them on trust and transparency. Moreover, social media influencers have conformed to tag the sponsored content as #ad or #sponsored to eliminate this dispute and reinstate transparency.
Instagram vs TikTok in PR campaigns
Instagram, considered one of the fastest-growing platforms to date, is based on someone’s identity, and has enhanced people’s self-promotion, while it was the platform that first initiated the aesthetics and many trends to thrive and go ‘viral’. The transformation of Instagram as a marketplace for influence made available more direct and socially integrated ways of commerce.
Even though Instagram remains the first social media platform for influencer marketing activities, the presence and the increase of users during the pandemic of TikTok has started changing the landscape of social media. TikTok began as an app for users to share hilarious comedy sketches, lip-syncs, and get involved in viral dance trends, but it has become home to many world-famous social media influencers, overthrowing Instagram as the most popular favourite app among Gen Z (people born between 1997 and 2012).
Since TikTok’s significant break, Instagram has been continuously changing its capabilities, becoming less a photo-sharing app and more video a content app to surpass TikTok’s preference among younger users. Recent reports have shown that teenagers prefer using TikTok as they perceive it as a platform where they can express themselves creatively, and these users are the next target audience for public relations practitioners. In addition, TikTok is known for its virality and one-of-a-kind content, making it unique and impactful for influencer marketing.
Which path should PR take in the future?
Digital and social media are constantly changing, providing more and more strategic opportunities to marketers and public relations professionals. With differing audiences and a completely different offering in content, TikTok and Instagram are great for influencer marketing campaigns for their own unique reasons.
Social media created a democratic environment for the content in media, giving people a voice and involvement in public relations campaigns. People are part of influencer marketing, and without the target audience, there would be no significant impact from any of these strategies. Now is the time for public relations to move forward into digital and move from its traditional ways of approaching campaigns. Young people have been showing the way of change, and it is for public relations to follow and grow into this path. In this world of development and change, professionals and brands should remain alert and focused on the latest trends and capabilities of social media platforms in order to keep targeting the right audience.