Stop Hitting Pause

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Social media guru on the creative landscape ahead

Stacy DeBroff, Founder and CEO, Influence Central

From attorney to Mom to blogger and now CEO and social media specialist, Stacy DeBroff is constantly looking ahead at the next trends that will impact the marketing world. As the founder and CEO of Influence Central, a leading Influencer Marketing agency, pivoting to the challenges of life—including the pandemic—are just another day in the life. Started in 2007, Influence Central remains privately owned and has been named 5 times as one of Inc.’s fastest growing privately-held companies since 2011. The company was born out of her passion for parenting and publishing. After four highly praised books, she took her expertise online to blogging, which grew into Mom Central Consulting, and later delved into other niches that morphed the company into the success it is today. Influence Central works with over 300 brands a year and has joined a community of nearly 10,000 vetted Influencers across all demographics and verticals—women, men, moms, lifestyle, fashion, wellness, foodies, celebrities and more. We sat down with DeBroff to get her thoughts on the creative landscape today and moving forward.

What does the current social media marketing landscape look like amidst the pandemic?

Many overlapping events have contributed to a profound shake-up in the social media landscape right now, in addition to the coronavirus pandemic having a long-lasting effect on social media marketing spends.

Facebook, and Instagram (which it owns), have come under intense fire for tolerating hate speech, with more than 750 national brands pulling their advertisements through the summer, and many until the end of this year. In doing so, these brands threaten a total $70 billion advertising juggernaut of annual ad buys. The boycott starting in early July has already cost Facebook an estimated $150 million, which will grow exponentially through the rest of 2020.

Next up is the recent U.S. government scrutiny and potential shut-down of Chinese-owned TikTok. TikTok with its surging users and video-sharing views during COVID-19, especially among Millennial and Gen Z audiences, has proven an up and coming choice for brand campaigns, especially as it has just now developed more sophisticated metrics and ad buying options. The publicly shared reasoning for the intense scrutiny of allowing TikTok to operate in the U.S. centers on its Chinese ownership and potential vulnerability to data accessing by the Chinese government. But the larger impetus behind this had been the growing hostility in U.S. Chinese relations, both over COVID-19 handling and trade imbalances.

Social media content has morphed from aspiration to relatable. Prior to COVID-19, Instagram feeds featured perfectly manicured images of life. As we emerge from a world of stay-at-home orders and quarantine, brands and influencers are faced with the reality that aspirational doesn’t equal perfection. Brands will play a big role in getting back to authentic storytelling by loosening their requirements to allow for more organic presentation and description of their products.

Consumers—with travel shut-downs, no large gatherings and other ongoing quarantine restrictions—have been spending dramatically more time engaging with social media content than ever before. Social media also offers up a form of escapism from the day-to-day reality and creates connectivity to the people you cannot see in person, which also leads to increased audience tune-in to both influencers and brand influencer campaigns.

What do you think will be B2B companies’ biggest issues in the near future? How about B2C?

Trust and reputation will be twin pillars defining B2B marketing. Companies today face tremendous scrutiny to hold not only their products and services to a high standard, but also how their vendors and employees get treated during economic uncertainty and downturn.

For B2C brands, shopper marketing, competitive pricing and brand safety will be key priorities to consumers. With many brands facing supply-side shortages, consumers are becoming untethered in their brand loyalties. If they cannot find their favorite products in shelves or via easy e-commerce, they’re switching based on prices, deals and discounts.

The financial stability of both businesses and consumers will also play a key role in both B2B and B2C planning. The pandemic will have lasting effects on the economy that trickle down into individual consumer spending habits. For some, the closures and lack of ability to get products and services they once were accustomed to, will forever change their shopping habits and what they value as worth the spend.

In your opinion, what does the future hold for marketing’s role?

What I call “Pause Marketing” kicked off with the emergence of COVID-19 and has remained a consistent factor in brand’s budgeting and willingness to take risks. Marketing budgets got cut, and now more than ever C-suite leaders want proof as to how marketing efforts contribute from an attribution perspective to the company’s bottom-line profitability. Marketers face the challenge to create proof points that their efforts ladder up to sales, as well hold loyal customers close.

As brands navigate consumer’s fears, financial crises, and needs, working with a trusted marketing partner allows for peace-of-mind and more diligent research of potential marketing opportunities, especially in working with influencers. Many national brands have turned to consultants such as ourselves at Influence Central, to help them navigate turbulent waters in a uncertain future that will at least stretch to the end of this year.

Influencer marketing is situated in a particularly interesting position. While working with an individual with their own opinions and business goals holds risk, that same first-person, authentic voice behind your brand can’t be replicated through an advertisement or other forms of marketing. Brands are realizing the value in agency partners to make this process seamless and significantly reduce the risk of reputation damage or inaccurate content. In order to benefit from this tactic, internal marketing divisions will need to power through the current restraints on marketing funds and continue to prove value both within and with their agency partners.

Has social marketing been misused in any respect? How does it need to evolve?

It’s not necessarily that social media marketing has been misused, but more about the current mindset of the consumer you’re trying to reach. As platforms scramble to monetize, boost and support their creators, the creators themselves must pivot back to the basics of passionate storytelling and first-person product experiences. The value of brand “authenticity” has never been higher.

What advice can you offer?

First: stop hitting pause on marketing. It has never been easier to lose customers and harder to gain them back. Remaining top of mind, as well as ensuring your consumers and partner companies that your values align is incredibly important. In many cases, customers and consumers misconstrue silence as not caring or taking the easy road.

Second: maintain your relationships with experts in social media marketing, regardless of the marketing route you’re taking. They are your biggest ally in navigating campaigns during times of uncertainty and can serve as a sounding board outside of your organization itself.