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Are Influencers the Escape Social Media Wants During Coronavirus?

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Influencers, too, are navigating the coronavirus’ new norm.

Self-quarantining during COVID-19 has caused some, especially those in the travel industry, to take a bigger hit than others. Those who usually work from home have had to make less of an adjustment, though booking paid partnerships is a struggle industry-wide.

As a result, many influencers are getting creative with their social strategies. Those who are multiplatform and have more than one revenue stream are coming out on top.

Influencer agency Fohr, which works with nearly 100,000 influencers, saw its lowest number of sponsored content two weeks ago, said James Nord, Fohr’s founder and chief executive officer. That week, Fohr published about 35 sponsored posts, a steep decrease from its usual 200, but things picked up last week, when its sponsored content count climbed back up to 85.

Conversely, influencer monetization platform RewardStyle noted a 40 percent year-over-year increase within the commission on sales side of its business, said cofounder Amber Venz Box. RewardStyle has also seen a 30 percent increase in paid campaigns since the beginning of March. Within the Liketoknow.it app, conversion and sales are up.

That increase, said Venz Box, is due, in part, to RewardStyle’s use of “rationalized campaigns,” in which brands compensate influencers only if and when they drive sales.

“You do hear elsewhere in the influencer industry that campaigns are drying up,” said Venz Box. “That’s because those are the types of campaigns that are around reach or branding and alignment.”

Still, she said, “it’s definitely the time for creators.”

Generally, social media engagement is up. Users are left to their mobile devices while self-quarantining at home, driving Instagram engagement up by 20 to 50 percent, according to some influencer agencies. When Fohr polled its 100,000-member influencer pool — which includes Grace Atwood, Tiffany Benson and Sarah LouWho — 76 percent of respondents said their audience is engaging more with their content right now.

In the U.S., Instagram Live views have increased more than 70 percent in the last week, according to Facebook. Influencers have begun programming their feeds with Instagram Lives and takeovers, hoping to capitalize on users’ increased screen time. Some are even asking their followers directly whether they are open to seeing brand partnerships on their feed, said Reesa Lake, executive vice president of brand partnerships at Digital Brand Architects.

Influencers asked, followers answered: Social media seemingly still wants to see #SponCon during the coronavirus.

“The audience looks to [influencers] for entertainment and an escape from the heaviness,” said Lake. Brooklyn Blonde and Color Me Courtney were among those who polled their followers to gauge whether they want to see sponsored content, said Lake. In both cases, the majority of followers — 85 percent and 96 percent, respectively — responded yes.

“The root of social media was to connect and engage with people. We’ve always thought of it as an escapist platform,” said Jeffrey Tousey, founder of creative collective Beekman Social. Over the past couple of weeks, the collective has been helping brands re-allocate production budgets for influencer initiatives.

“In social, a constant funnel of content needs to be produced,” said Tousey. “We can lean on influencers to create content at home that can be repurposed on brands’ owned channels as well as the influencer channels.”

Allison Statter, cofounder of Blended Strategy Group, said she initially saw a “big decrease” in paid partnerships, but anticipates they will “slowly” come back.

“The reality is that social media is the main tool to drive any messaging right now,” said Statter.

BSG has helped Olly Nutrition adapt its social media strategy. This week, the vitamins brand unveils a six-week Instagram Live yoga class series, hosted by influencer and Olly brand ambassador Justine Marjan. Marjan’s husband, practicing yoga instructor Yoni Berk, will lead the series.

Olly’s digital initiative is in line with those that gyms, spas and salons have also enacted, as they have been forced to close temporarily due to coronavirus-induced government mandates. Influencers are doing the same, going live as a means of escape and entertainment for their followers.

After all, as Nord put it, “How much terrifying bad news can a person consume?”

Like Beekman Social and Blended Strategy, Fohr has been helping brands pivot to more relevant and appropriate tactics. One influencer campaign meant to highlight work attire is now a campaign featuring at-home loungewear. Another involving an alcohol brand has been altered from in-person happy hours to ones held over Zoom.

Fohr also asked its influencers whether previously scheduled brand partnerships have been paused due to the COVID-19 pandemic, to which 20 percent of respondents said all of their partnerships had been paused. Nearly half of respondents said they are reducing their rates temporarily, and about 75 percent said they are posting less sponsored content on their feeds.

Nord has advised influencers to expect to make 30 percent less this year than last.

“Everyone should be assuming they’ll make 30 percent less and adjusting their lifestyles accordingly,” said Nord. “Those influencers who have product lines [should] see them as something to continue to cultivate.”

Across industries, influencers are leaning into existing product lines as a mode of revenue. Amber Fillerup Clark of Barefoot Blonde brought her hair-care brand, Dae, to Sephora last week, and will soon launch it with RewardStyle and on the Liketoknow.it app, said Venz Box.

Influencer Rachel Parcell launched her clothing brand with RewardStyle last week and has already seen “high double-digit increase” in sales driven through the platform’s partnerships in promotion, said Venz Box. RewardStyle is moving up its launch of IVL Collective, the activewear line by influencer Emily Jackson (who is Parcell’s sister), as searches for loungewear within the Liketoknow.it app have increased by 1,030 percent.

Cala, which works with influencers and celebrities to create merchandise, has seen “a dramatic increase” in interest, said Andrew Wyatt, the platform’s ceo and cofounder. Cala’s average influencer has around 3 million followers, but the company is seeing interest from those with even higher followings in recent weeks. Already, it has signed three new clients and has added 30 influencers to the pipeline.

“Some of the biggest agencies are advising their talent to hold off [on launching merchandise] until the fall so that there’s more time for the consumer market to rebound,” said Wyatt. “What we’re advising is: to do a strong launch, you need three to four months. So if you start now, you can have everything ready to go late summer. But if you wait until late summer, when it’s certain that everything is improving, then you’re not going to be able to launch until probably Black Friday.”

Merchandise can be highly profitable for influencers, pending follower count and engagement rate. Influencers with more than 1 million followers and an engagement rate of 3 percent or higher can expect to bring home anywhere from $70,000 to $150,000 in revenue for their first collection, said Wyatt. The second drop is even more profitable: Influencers often take home between $150,000 to $400,000, said Wyatt.

Overall, influencers and influencer agencies are getting creative in order to sustain their businesses during the ever-evolving coronavirus.

“I do think COVID-19’s going to have a lasting impact on our industry. Overall, it will be positive,” said Venz Box. “Influencers are being challenged now to expand their content cross-category and lean into performance-based compensation as a safer foundation for them. We’re seeing that those influencers who are multiplatform, multicategory and multirevenue stream are the ones that are thriving.”

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Google Outlines Ongoing Efforts to Combat China-Based Influence Operations Targeting Social Apps

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Google Outlines Ongoing Efforts to Combat China-Based Influence Operations Targeting Social Apps

Over the past year, Google has repeatedly noted that a China-based group has been looking to use YouTube, in particular, to influence western audiences, by building various channels in the app, then seeding them with pro-China content.

There’s limited info available on the full origins or intentions of the group, but today, Google has published a new overview of its ongoing efforts to combat the initiative, called DRAGONBRIDGE.

As explained by Google:

In 2022, Google disrupted over 50,000 instances of DRAGONBRIDGE activity across YouTube, Blogger, and AdSense, reflecting our continued focus on this actor and success in scaling our detection efforts across Google products. We have terminated over 100,000 DRAGONBRIDGE accounts in the IO network’s lifetime.

As you can see in this chart, DRAGONBRIDGE is by far the most prolific source of coordinated information operations that Google has detected over the past year, while Google also notes that it’s been able to disrupt most of the project’s attempted influence, by snuffing out its content before it gets seen.

Dragonbridge

Worth noting the scale too – as Google notes, DRAGONBRIDGE has created more than 100,000 accounts, which includes tens of thousands of YouTube channels. Not individual videos, entire channels in the app, which is a huge amount of work, and content, that this group is producing.

That can’t be cheap, or easy to keep running. So they must be doing it for a reason.

The broader implication, which has been noted by various other publications and analysts, is that DRAGONBRIDGE is potentially being supported by the Chinese Government, as part of a broader effort to influence foreign policy approaches via social media apps. 

Which, at this kind of scale, is a concern, while DRAGONBRIDGE has also targeted Facebook and Twitter as well, at different times, and it could be that their efforts on those platforms are also reaching similar activity levels, and may not have been detected as yet.

Which then also relates to TikTok, a Chinese-owned app that now has massive influence over younger audiences in western nations. If programs like this are already in effect, it stands to reason that TikTok is also likely a key candidate for boosting the same, which remains a key concern among regulators and officials in many nations.

The US Government is reportedly weighing a full TikTok ban, and if that happens, you can bet that many other nations will follow suit. Many government organizations are also banning TikTok on official devices, based on advice from security experts, and with programs like DRAGONBRIDGE also running, it does seem like Chinese-based groups are actively operating influence and manipulation programs in foreign nations.

Which seems like a significant issue, and while Google is seemingly catching most of these channels before they have an impact, it also seems likely that this is only one element of a larger push.

Hopefully, through collective action, the impact of such can be limited – but for TikTok, which still reports to Chinese ownership, it’s another element that could raise further questions and scrutiny.

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The Drum | Trump’s Instagram & Facebook Reinstatement Won’t Cause Marketers To Riot Yet, Experts Say

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The Drum | Trump's Instagram & Facebook Reinstatement Won’t Cause Marketers To Riot Yet, Experts Say

While the reinstatement of Donald Trump’s Twitter account in November had some advertisers packing up in protest, many will strike a different tune with Meta-owned Facebook and Instagram, experts predict.

Meta Wednesday announced that it’s lifting the ban on a handful of Facebook and Instagram accounts, including that of former US president Donald Trump – who was suspended nearly two years ago following the January 6, 2021 riots at the Capitol.

In a blog post yesterday, Nick Clegg, Meta’s president of global affairs, explained the reasons for the company’s decision, saying that it “evaluated the current environment” as it pertains to the socio-political landscape and security concerns and determined that “risk has sufficiently receded.” As a result, the company will welcome Trump back onto Facebook and Instagram.

The former president will be expected to comply with Meta’s user policies, but, considering his past violations, will face “heightened penalties for repeat offenses,” Clegg explained.

While it’s unclear whether Trump will become an active user on either platform following the decision, media and marketing experts are already sounding alarm bells at his potential return.

In particular, experts are cautious considering recent developments at Twitter. Elon Musk’s turbulent takeover – which has included mass layoffs, dramatic platform changes and the decision to reinstate the accounts of controversial figures like Trump and Kanye West (whose account has since been re-suspended) – has led to an exodus of advertisers. Could Meta’s decision to reintroduce Trump invite a similar fate?

‘Fear, frustration and protest’ could catalyze drawback

Concerns regarding brand safety and suitability on Facebook and Instagram are piquing among marketers. Trump’s presence on social media has long proven to exacerbate the spread of misinformation online. The risks of a potential recession, paired with new political tensions spurred by the 2022 midterms and the anticipation of the 2024 presidential election, may only up the ante.

“Misinformation on Meta’s platforms was an issue prior to Trump’s ban, during the ban and will likely continue to be an issue, even with the new [policies that] Meta has put in place,” says Laura Ries, group director of media and connections at IPG-owned ad agency R/GA. In light of this fact, Ries says, “Advertisers will need to continue to consider the type of content they’ll show up next to when evaluating whether or not to advertise on the platforms, especially as we march toward the 2024 election.”

She predicts that Meta may see some advertisers leave Facebook and Instagram “out of fear, frustration or protest.”

Others agree. “I suspect advertisers will not be pleased with this move and might make reductions in spend as they have done with Twitter,” says Tim Lim, a political strategist, PR consultant and partner at creative agency The Hooligans.

Although some advertisers are sure to pull back or cut their investments, the number will likely be low – largely because the scale and reach promised by both Facebook and Instagram will make it hard for most advertisers to quit. Smaller brands and startups in particular often rely heavily on Meta’s advertising business to spur growth, says Ries.

A ripple, not a wave

Most industry leaders believe Trump’s reinstatement won’t cause anything more than a ripple in the advertising industry. “Marketers who advertise on Facebook and Instagram care about their own problems, which generally [entail] selling more products and services,” says Joe Pulizzi, an entrepreneur, podcaster and author of various marketing books. “If Meta helps them do that, they don’t care one bit about brand safety – unless this blows up into a big political issue again. It might not, so marketers won’t do a thing.”

The sentiment is underscored by Dr Karen Freberg, a professor of strategic communications at University of Louisville, who says: “Facebook and Instagram are key fundamental platforms for advertisers. Marketers may … be aware of the news, but I am not sure if it will make a drastic change for the industry.” She points out that Twitter’s decision to lift the ban on Trump’s account in November caused such a big stir among marketers advertisers that Meta’s decision to do the same may come as less of a shock.

Trump’s return may even benefit Meta’s ads business by giving the company new opportunities to serve ads to Trump devotees, says Pulizzi. Ultimately, he says, Meta “needs personalities like Trump,” who, whether through love or hate, inspire higher engagement. “With Facebook plateauing and Instagram now chasing – and copying – TikTok at every turn, Trump’s follower base is important to Meta, which is hard to believe, but I think it’s true.”

But while some users may be energized by the former president’s return to Meta platforms, others may be outraged – even to the point of quitting Facebook and Instagram, points out Ries. In this case, she says, “advertisers will need to follow them to TikTok, Snap or other platforms where they’re spending their newfound time.”

R/GA, for its part, which services major brands including Google, Samsung, Verizon and Slack, will work on “a client by client basis” to address concerns about Facebook, Instagram or any other platform, says Ries. “R/GA recommended pausing activity on Facebook and Instagram after the insurrection and won’t hesitate to do so again if another incident occurs.”

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Snap Launches New Ad Campaign to Showcase its AR Offerings

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Snap Launches New Ad Campaign to Showcase its AR Offerings

Snapchat has launched a new promotional campaign which leans into the uniqueness of its viral AR trends, with a showcase of bizarre effects, as a means to present people with a different perspective on the real world.

Pretty trippy, huh?

As explained by Snap:

At Snap, we celebrate the joy, irreverence, and spontaneity of communicating with your real friends in fun, unexpected ways. Over the years, we’ve pushed the boundaries of how people see and experience the world through augmented reality. AR makes conversations and experiences better, and unlocks new ways to connect with others, learn about the world, shop, and more. [Our new campaign] shows you what it’s like to see the world the way Snapchatters do.”

It’s pretty weird, but will that get more people using Snap?

Certainly, the campaign will grab attention, and with 72% of active Snapchat users already engaging with AR elements in the app every day, there’s clearly a lot of interest in these types of weirdo activations that provide a new way of seeing the familiar.

Maybe that’ll prove to be a good lure to get people into the app, and broaden its user base. I mean, at the least, it’ll spark intrigue, which will likely get at least a few more people downloading the app to see what they can do.

AR is a key focus for Snap, and despite operating at a much smaller scale than Meta and Apple, which are both also investing big in AR projects, Snap has continued to punch above its wait in this area, by continually coming out with AR content that grabs attention, and engages audiences.

Meta is still struggling to maintain relevance with younger audiences, a key element that could de-rail its metaverse vision, while Apple has actually leaned on Snap to help showcase its advanced AR tools over time.

If nothing else, Snapchat has its finger on the pulse, which is why virtually every AR trend – from anime filters to baby faces, from crying faces to vomiting rainbows – all of these have originated from Snapchat, and that’s remained consistent over time, even with newer platforms like TikTok entering the same realm.

Snap is very in-tune with its user base, which is also why its Snapchat+ subscription offering is already doing better than Twitter Blue, even with the addition of tweet editing verification ticks (Snapchat+ has over 1.5 million paying subscribers, versus an estimated 325k for Twitter Blue).

That community sense has helped Snap maintain growth and relevance. But it also needs to expand – and maybe, through a bizarre showcase like this, that could help to make more people aware of the things that they can do in the app.

And this is how Snapchat Lenses tend to be shared. Somebody uses it, then they just have to show their friends.

In this respect, it seems like a good initiative, which could help Snap spark more interest and engagement.

It also serves as a demo of scanning in the Snap camera – if you want to try out any of the Lenses featured in the ad, you can scan the screen in the Snap camera, which will then open up whichever Lens is featured at that moment.

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