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How brands can navigate the great consumer digital 'disconnect'

Influencer marketing is a key component of marketing strategies across all sectors, with brands realising the power and value of working with content creators to get their products and services in front of their target audience in an authentic way. However, there is an emerging trend of a digital disconnect, with a growing number of people opting for a digital detox - whether that means temporarily limiting screen time, switching off for weekends or a more permanent move away from constant connectivity. And the trend isn’t limited to consumers; content creators whose very profession relies on their online presence are increasingly opting for phone-free time. 

So, what does this mean for PR and marketing professionals looking to connect to their audience? In this article, Izzy Field, head of ENGAGE and talent at IPOS, considers how brands can continue to work with content creators while being sensitive to these changing attitudes and behaviours.

Navigating screen time and social media burnout

According to a recent analysis from Data Reportal, internet adoption continued to grow in 2023 but at a slightly slower pace than in recent years. Despite this slower uptake, the typical internet user now spends 6 hours and 40 minutes online each day, according to GWI. For many, a large proportion of this screen time is spent on social media, and the research suggests that the “typical” social media user now spends 2 hours and 23 minutes per day scrolling social networks. It is perhaps, then, easy to see why some are choosing to limit their screen time, while others opt for a complete digital detox.

And it is not just the general public who are scaling back - many of those responsible for creating the constant stream of content are suffering from social media burnout. The content creators I work with on a daily basis are increasingly taking time “away from the grid” and instead seeking more in-person connections and experiences. This is hardly surprising, as, unlike many professions, social media, without boundaries in place, could be a 24-hour job.

An opportunity for meaningful connection

In the face of the disconnect, brands should review their influencer marketing strategy and consider how this impacts the way they work with content creators. While it presents a challenge, it is also an opportunity for brands to build more meaningful relationships with consumers by reconnecting with content creators in a new way. This idea of a disconnect in social media has been a predicted trend for some time, and as much as this feels like a counterintuitive movement for influencer marketing, I think it’s incredibly positive and is going to bring some refreshing changes and positive new approaches.

One example of how brands can connect with their audience via content creators during a digital detox is to host a “no phone” event, where content creators can enjoy the experience and learn about the product on a deeper level without the distraction of documenting it for themselves. This approach allows the creator to be present, enjoying the event and actively engaging with the brand, which in turn means they are more motivated and capable of telling their followers about the brand in an organic and genuine way. Brands that are looking to do this must ensure they capture their own videography and photography for creators to use afterwards, taking the pressure off them in the moment but still providing enough material for them to work with.

Creating noise during the disconnect

There are a number of examples of brands successfully creating noise during a digital detox, such as fashion brand The Row, who issued a notice ahead of their recent Paris Fashion Week Show which read: “We kindly ask that you refrain from capturing or sharing any content during your experience.” The note itself drew swathes of media attention, and content creators who attended the show were able to document the collection after the event, with the added benefit of an element of exclusivity thanks to the approach.

Another example of an ability to make an impact without connecting live in the moment was when content creator Estee Lalonde recently spent a “disconnected weekend” at an off-grid cabin retreat. Lalonde was able to share it with her followers upon her return, while still enjoying all the benefits of the retreat in the moment.

Respecting boundaries

Brands that are looking to connect with their audience via influencer marketing should respect the boundaries set by content creators, as it will benefit both parties in the long run. I have always encouraged creators that I work with to put rules in place, such as taking at least one day each week away from social media and allocating a specific window for responding to comments and DMs, rather than providing instant replies 24/7. It is important to communicate these boundaries to brands, so that they can be respectful of reasonable timeframes and requests.

In turn, brands and marketing teams should trust the creator - they know their audience the best. While brands understandably have their own guidelines to follow, the creator will know how to get the most out of their community and help you to navigate this changing time. This goes hand in hand with other best practices when it comes to working with content creators, such as focussing on quality content, moving away from follower volume and towards targeted and specific audiences to create genuine, meaningful content.

The best way to achieve results and connect during a disconnect is to allow the creator to lead the content and come up with new, exciting ways to help you communicate your messages in the right way. Partnering and adapting to the changing times together will ultimately help both the brand and the content creator to meet their goals, reaching your audience in a meaningful way.

Written by Izzy Field, head of ENGAGE and talent at IPOS

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