The age of the influencer may have dawned, but does it help or hinder PR?

When I started out in public relations, I felt like I'd snuck a peek 'behind the Wizard's curtain'.

The age of the influencer has dawned but is it a help or a hindrance to PRs, asks Alicia Melish
The age of the influencer has dawned but is it a help or a hindrance to PRs, asks Alicia Melish

I now understood the mythical machine driving the world’s media; the careful curation of brand messaging, disseminated from PR to journalist, and beyond.

From politicians to rock stars, Scotch whisky to soap powder, it didn’t matter what ‘brand’ you were pushing, PR was about communicating a narrative in order to build audience trust, advocacy and, ultimately, loyalty.

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The media channels that PRs had at their disposal were limited, and the gatekeepers (journalists) clearly defined. Controlling the message was "relatively" straightforward (she says)!

But then something revolutionary happened…

The digital era dawned and with it unchartered territory was revealed – public communication channels were no longer the playground of the privileged few within media.

Now, everyday people embraced a world of interconnectivity and supercharged self-expression.

Social media platforms meant that all (at least all in the UK) could broadcast, free from geographical boundary, censorship and, in some cases, reproach.

Fast forward ten-odd years and what has developed as a result of that dawn can been seen as both a help and a hindrance to the PR’s job.

The hindrance? Today, consumers and brands alike are creating, sharing and consuming unprecedented quantities of ‘content’.

But, where once we believed knowledge was king and the key to determining truth (and building trust), today there is an argument that we’ve reached a tipping point.

We, the everyday people, are fatigued with opinion masquerading as fact and beginning to adopt a default position of distrust of information in the public arena.

This cynicism extends beyond the distrust of fat-cat corporations or brands and advertising, to the abandonment of faith in the very pillars that western society had previously deferred – governments.

This new norm is summed up in the buzz phrase: (yup, you guessed it), "post-truth".

But, despite my continual surprise at the lengths to which Truthsayer-Trump takes his attack on the media, I’m less interested in debating what will win back our trust in today’s political system.

Instead, I’m fascinated as to the effect our increasing distrust of society’s leaders is having on us as a brand-consuming nation.

After all, constructing a narrative to engage and persuade a consumer of their need for my client’s product is my craft.

Which brings me on to the ‘help’?

While brands and PRs were working on engaging audiences through social, a few trailblazing everyday people were mastering the medium for "brand-me".

They thought and communicated like consumers, not like brands broadcasting with the use of a brand architecture. And this was the key to their success.

You know those trailblazers as digital influencers, of course.

Today, as the general populace searches for clarity and truth amid constant media noise and from a position of distrust, a shift away from "traditional authority figures" and towards "everyman" affirmation is occurring.

Ideal conditions for a PR professional to set to work.

The digital era hails enormous change for marcoms as a whole, but unprecedented opportunity for public relations.

With an eye on brand collaboration and the ear of the brand-consuming nation, the digital influencer is a powerful tool in the modern PR arsenal.

Alicia Mellish is managing director of Stir PR

Read next: 'Give the influencer wriggle room' - social stars talk brand tie-ins 


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