Promotion vs Promoter the advertising & pr industry in a social media landscape

Social media has changed the advertising/public relations (PR) industry into a dynamic and ever-changing business model. Traditional forms of media once heavily relied on by the advertising industry have been superseded by these new-age forms of technology, which allow the everyday user to become an integral component of the production and distribution process. The advertising/PR industry has embraced social media and its affordances by utilising the participatory culture of these interlinked networks, embracing prosumption and allowing networked identities to form. These developments offer mutual gain for businesses and individuals by raising the profile of both the product and the promoter, and positively contributing towards the new media economy. These developments will be discussed through the analysis of ‘insta-models’, models and promoters on Instagram and a case study on YouTube make-up ‘gurus’. These examples will illustrate how the advertising industry has adapted and changed in this new media landscape.

Rise of the 'Insta-model'

As technology develops the world has moved into a ‘mediapolis’ environment, whereby media has begun to transcend and filter into everyday life. As Dueze (2011) indicates, media is no longer consumed in isolation at designated points in time. Instead, media is filtered into every aspect of human life with developments such as the smartphone creating collapsed contexts between ‘on’ and ‘offline’ environments (Marwick & Boyd, 2011). Such interconnectivity has transcended business industries and is evident in the current advertising landscape. This industry traditionally relied on television, radio and print-copy advertisements to raise awareness and build the profile of brands (Jaffe, 2005). The advertising industry has embraced the participatory nature of these networks and harnessed the unique following of individuals on Instagram for product promotion. Evident in the large social media following of ‘insta-models’ such as Skye Wheatley, Davina Rankin and Michaela Wain, these local Brisbane women have used their Instagram profiles to build their own personal brand and networked identities which can be harnessed for advertising and PR purposes.

ModelCo used ‘Insta-Models’ in their 2015 campaign. The total amassed following of these models was more than 1 million Instagram users (B&T Magazine, 2015)

The participatory nature of these online environments allows these individuals to become key stakeholders within a business due to their promotional abilities (Fuchs, 2014). Today, 'insta-models' can publicly share pictures and images of themselves promoting certain products and gain both social and capital gain, in the form of more followers and business profits respectively (McGregor, 2016). Within this industry many promoters are now incorporating their job into everyday life, taking pictures and videos for social media and integrating product placement. These developments provide mutual beneficial gain by increasing the promotor's brand identity and raising bottom-line profits for companies (Abidin, 2016).

Gold Coast 'insta-model' Gabby Epstein says she makes "thousands of dollars a week" posting photos and product promotions on Instagram (Dang, 2015)

As new media industries adapt and change in the social media environment, the line between active user-participation and exploitation continues to blur (Shefrin 2004, 277). As the example in class of Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choir (2010) shows, people were willing to contribute content free-of-charge to become part of the online experience. However, this video resulted in financial gain and new career opportunities for the Conductor, Eric Whitacre but not the individual choir members. Compared to members of the Virtual Choir, 'insta-models' often receive lucrative remuneration for their promotions that translate into tangible business profits (Abidin, 2016). The line between social and economic capital has been blurred on sites such as Instagram, allowing individuals to translate their online social networks and influence into economic capital that benefits both parties (Bourdieu, 1986). These developments present a new media economy within the advertising industry, whereby traditional forms of promotion (print, radio, television) are replaced with ‘insta-models’ and those who can offer an integrated means of advertisement.

Modelling agency, Viviens now has an 'influencer' page so potential clients can see the social media following of models before booking jobs (Bailey, 2015)

YouTube Make-Up 'Gurus'

The individual’s newfound ability to create online identities that bring capital gain show the importance of online brand personas. As Gregg (2011) states, “Networking skills have always been necessary for reputation management and career progression. The crucial difference is that job stability is no longer an end result of the practice”. Many YouTube make-up ‘gurus’ began their careers as amateur video producers who used the platform in its original context, “for the production and distribution of grassroots media” (Fuchs, 2014). As their popularity increased, these amateur producers started to build personal brands off the back of YouTube followings. These developments within the advertising/PR industry show the social shaping of technology (SST) theory in action.

‘Gurus’ began to create their own 'networked identities' and build personal brands that mimicked that of a celebrity.

As proposed by Marwick (2013), “Social media applications encourage people to compete for social benefits by gaining visibility and attention”. These ‘gurus’ began to create their own 'networked identities' and build personal brands that mimicked that of a celebrity. Their content production also increased to a professional standard. “YouTube pushes up content which receives support from other users,” says Jenkins (2009) which allowed these amateur contributors to pursue full-time careers as Youtube stars (Burgess & Jean, 2009, 124). As their followings increased, these ‘gurus’ focussed on refining their content production and online identities. The distinction between professional and amateur producers blurred, and brands saw their large and engaged followings as profitable target markets (Bruns 2012, 106).

YouTube beauty 'guru', Michelle Phan has over 8.8 million subscribers and has appeared on popular magazine covers around the world (FamousFix, 2015)
“Social media applications encourage people to compete for social benefits by gaining visibility and attention”

Advertisers have tapped into the audience of these ‘gurus’ and invest heavily in promotional advertisements and integrated product placement. These vloggers often receive a percentage of profits and make-up/beauty products in return. Beauty brands have moved away from traditional means of advertising and instead invest in integrated product placement through social media sites such as YouTube. The personal brand of beauty vloggers has allowed new forms of advertising to develop within this industry and has contributed to a more democratised new media landscape.

YouTube beauty guru, MannyMUA has over 2.6 million subscribers and recently landed a corporate partnership with Maybelline (TSNC, 2017)

‘Insta-models’ and YouTube make-up ‘gurus’ are demonstrative of how social media has influenced the advertising/PR industry. The participatory nature of sites such as Instagram and YouTube have allowed individuals to create unique content and networked identities that advertisers and public relations professionals can utilise for commercial gain. Businesses are moving away from traditional forms of advertising and instead collaborate with influencers to create integrated forms of product placement. These developments provide mutual gain by raising the profile of both the product and the promoter, and positively contributing towards a new media economy.


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