Wallets Open: Social Media is Becoming a Creator-Heavy Space

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[Editor's Note: During the start of day two of the Social Shake-Up earlier this month, we staged a brief roundtable with a trio of speakers: Eugenia Johnson, senior PR and engagement strategist, Brunet García; Joi Light, internal communication manager, Georgia-Pacific and an influencer; and Kelly Nelson, social media and influencer relations manager, Holiday Inn Club Vacations.

One of the roundtable's and Shake-Up's takeaways was the emerging dominance of paid creators on social platforms. In a wide-ranging discussion, we covered topics ranges from crisis communication to the metaverse and authentic social campaigns for Juneteeth and Pride Month.

Responses were lightly edited.]

PRNEWS: Was there anything that you've heard in the last day that surprised you?

Eugenia Johnson, senior PR and engagement strategist, Brunet García

Eugenia Johnson: I wouldn't say surprised. But I would say the most interesting thing so far were discussions about minimizing brand risk and crisis communication. I don't think there's a lot of space to have conversations specifically around crisis communication and risk

So, especially from a social media perspective, it was interesting to hear such conversations because so many PR crises begin on social. It can be like a wildfire out there. There should be a lot of consideration regarding crisis and social. It’s good to see people talking about it.

PRNEWS: Same question, Joi.

Joi Light: Crisis communication actually stuck out to me too, but for a different reason. I heard a discussion today about things going viral…But what really stood out to me is that not everything [that goes viral] warrants a response.

We've been in crisis mode since like, 2020. It's just always something every week, and it's not easy having the energy to respond to everything. I think companies have grown tired of trying to respond to everything at this point. And they recognize that their employees are drained too. So, knowing which moments you want to be a part of is going to be key.

PRNEWS: Kelly, anything surprise you?

Kelly Nelson, social media and influencer relations manager, Holiday Inn Club Vacations

Kelly Nelson: There was a big common theme in the power of influencer marketing. And it surprised me that it trickled into a lot of different sessions that weren't about influencer marketing. It shows that social media is shifting to a very creator-heavy space, on all the platforms.

With brand storytelling and building your brand purpose and communities around your brand, there's a lot of power that comes with influencer marketing. So, I was happy to see that that really trickled across into a lot of the different discussions.

PRNEWS: It sounds like people are no longer using the word influencer. Now, it's all creator, isn't it, though we still use influencer marketing?

Johnson: Yes.

Nelson: Agreed.

Light: Well, anybody can be an influencer, really. You don't have to be an official [influencer] with thousands of followers. Somebody could share the latest shirt they got from Target and influence somebody to purchase it. Even if you just influence one person, you're still an influencer.

But now, it’s kind of going into a situation where now as a creator you actually have to put work in behind the scenes. And now creators are looking to get paid for that.

Monetization is definitely going to be the focus going forward for any platform. If you are looking for something from somebody, you're gonna have to pay them for that.

PRNEWS: During Day one, we've not heard anyone advocating non-monetary deals with creators.

Johnson: People don’t see themselves as influencers anymore. Instead, they're doing all this packaging on their page. But, now the conversation is content creation. It's something everyone does, regardless of whether you have a platform to be an influencer or not, you're still creating content, whether behind the desk or behind the camera.

And people can see themselves in that a little bit more. In that content creation is something influencers do; it has given people more range to tap into content creation, whether or not you see yourself as an influencer.

PRNEWS: Someone said that “content without context is a waste of time.” And that a lot of social media impressions may come from bots or trolls. So, that leads to the next question, about disinformation. Is disinformation something that you worry about?

Johnson: Definitely. It’s related to the work we do because we work with a lot of federal agencies and public awareness campaigns. And especially around public health and COVID-19, there’s a lot of misinformation and disinformation.

So, we have to do our due diligence to go beyond just the regular social listening, but also looking for the misinformation pieces. And that's an entirely different platform and software that we use for that. And we can use that insight to then create the content and the different engagement activities. And that information helps guide how we're engaging with audiences.

Joi Light, internal communication manager, Georgia-Pacific

Light: It's a concern from the aspect of sourcing influencers…because fake numbers can artificially increase [followers] substantially. You can buy followers; you can even buy engagement now. You can join engagement clubs where people are supportive of your content, and they don't even follow you or know anything about your content.

PRNEWS: So, what do you do?

Light: We pay more attention to the actual content [of an influencer]. Do you actually produce content that we can reuse and repurpose? Do you have the photography skills? The writing skills that [can produce content] we can utilize on our platforms?

Nelson: I'm gonna take a turn here and say that my biggest concern with disinformation across social media is how users are now interacting with social media. There’s awareness that consumers want to be spending less time on social media.

And so, the market for your content is becoming more and more competitive as time goes on. As such, brands need to be more flexible and take a very authentic approach and truly take steps to be more transparent.

You need to build trust to get people to interact with you on social media, because it's just so widespread and well-known that there's so much disinformation. There’s much less credibility with social media, and a lot of distrust out there right now. That's my biggest concern.

Johnson: I would add that there is the fine line between platforms wanting to have more responsibility around [disinformation]. And then the line between filtering conversations and people are feeling that, you know, that's impeding upon their freedoms and expression of voice and such.

So, I think it's a fine line that we're navigating where platforms want to protect accurate information, but not inhibit free speech.

Platforms are really recognizing now that the bots are out of control.

Light: Well, I think that's why creators are taking off.

PRNEWS: When you're at home, and you're off the clock, you're looking at social, which I'm assuming, you do, just a little bit. What makes you cringe? 

Johnson: My number one would be companies that are just commercializing different social impact campaigns. So, with Juneteenth coming up you see it and you see it with Pride. It’s just not authentic. It's like, we know, yeah, right. We see you.

PRNEWS: Is that because [a communicator] is not in the room when decisions are made on content? Or perhaps it’s a creator who’s not overseen?

Light: It’s not just a creator, but someone in a leadership role needs to be there. And, yes, we need more diversity at those tables.

There are some people who give their social media departments free rein. And then there's a lot of companies where things have to be approved before they go out.

But diversity is important, from the smallest level to the highest, because you never know who's in charge of making those decisions.

Companies would not have to overexert themselves during special holidays or special months or social initiatives, if they took the time to do the work throughout the rest of the year. And that includes being diverse when it comes to recruiting talent. That includes being inclusive all year round. So that it doesn't appear that oh, now it's June now. Now we care about people.

If you spent the rest of the year contributing toward diverse initiatives it wouldn't seem like it was so disingenuous during one month.

Nelson: A lot of brands try to overcorrect. We saw that recently…with Disney and all the controversy they faced. They made a mistake. And then immediately started pumping all these different donations into different organizations.

And I think a lot of people saw that as not genuine. They felt like [Disney] was just trying to correct a wrong that they had made.

So, there's a balance. Yes, you should correct those wrongs. But there's a time and place to do it. And it needs to be done over time, instead of immediately after your brand faced this big [issue].

Light: You know who does a good job of not [overreacting to themed holidays and months]? Target. It does a fantastic job of making sure it’s inclusive year-round. And then when things come around, like Juneteenth or Black History Month, or LGBTQ Pride Month…

Johnson: They're not changing their logo.

Light: Right. Instead, they're partnering with brands that know a little bit more about the topic than they do. [In addition,] Target partners with small Black businesses during this time to highlight them and bring them up. Their year-round initiatives always match up with these special holidays. They get it right every time

Johnson: In addition to the diversity aspect, teams and companies could use some education in empathy. Having sensitivity on different issues can help be that barrier and guardrails on some issues.

So, you can say, OK, this looks performative, this feels a little bit more organic. That level of compassion, that sensitivity and you know, just that that level of empathy, kind of helps be a guiding light for your conscience.

Light: Yes.

Nelson: Right.

PRNEWS: A quick exit question. If we get together here next year, and I hope we do, what are we going to be talking about?

Johnson: The recession. At least the shift in the job force. We've gone through a lot of shifts, whether it is the Great Resignation, working from home and now this influx of content creators. We’ll be talking about shifting and navigating So, what’s your job journey? Career journey? And what does that look like from a mid-level to senior-level perspective?

Light: This came into my head from a question that someone asked me on a panel yesterday, How do I separate being an influencer and working in corporate? And I don't anymore, because I don't have the energy. [Laughter]

But I think that if we talk more about how people can integrate their personal brand into their corporate brand, especially with LinkedIn taking off with being a little bit more personalized than it used to be. People are now showing more of their personal lives on LinkedIn, some more than I care to see. [Laughter] But, we're here now.

So, I would like to see more people mixing the two and then talking about the best ways to do that. And as we talked about before, people are influencers and they don't even know it. So, if you have your own social channels, how does that correlate to your branding as an employee?

PRNEWS: Kelly, you get the last word. What do you think we're gonna be talking about a year from now?

Nelson: This is still kind of new, but I'm interested to see how it continues to play out. And that is the role of things like cryptocurrency and NFTs and social media.

I recently watched the head of Instagram [Adam Mosseri] do a TED talk about how they are going to build a creator community on Instagram. And I think that is really going to affect social media marketing and the way that we as brand marketers do our jobs.

So, I think in the next year, it's gonna be crazy. The metaverse and NFTs, Bitcoin, the whole world is going completely virtual and digital. And it's going to really affect our business.

Seth Arenstein is editor of PRNEWS and Crisis Insider. Follow him: @skarenstein