A latte with Ali Ryan

Episode first aired on July 13, 2023

Season 01 Episode 05

In this episode, Matisse chats with CULTR Founder and President Ali Ryan about all things social media, including current and upcoming social media trends.

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About our guest

Ali Ryan is a highly skilled Creative Marketing Strategist with over 10 years of experience. Her inspired expertise areas include pop culture, social media, and influencer relations, making her a go-to professional in her field. She hopes to change the world of brand communications to focus on transparency, authenticity, and fostering a better sense of community. Having worked with diverse clients in industries such as beauty, lifestyle, food & beverage, fashion, fitness, tech, health, wellness, and real estate, Ali’s versatility knows no bounds. She consistently delivers exceptional client results by leveraging her creativity and innovative strategies.

Outside work, Ali loves to do yoga, try new food dishes, and explore nature whenever possible. You can find her on Instagram and support her small business.

Episode Transcript

[Start of recorded material 00:00:00]

Matisse:            Hello, and welcome to another episode of PR & Lattes. I’m your host, Matisse Hamel-Nelis, and I am so happy to have you join me here again today. Before we get started, make sure that you have subscribed to this podcast wherever you’re listening to it to get notified each week about when a new episode drops. You can also subscribe to your weekly newsletter by visiting our website, prandlattes.com. On the website you’ll find our podcast episodes, plus our amazing blogs, with the new ones being uploaded every Monday morning.

[00:00:33] And of course, make sure you’re following us on social media, on Instagram @prandlattes, and on LinkedIn, PR & Lattes.

Today I am chatting with Ali Ryan who I like to call a social media guru. Ali is a highly skilled creative marketing strategist with over 10 years of experience. Her wealth of knowledge on pop culture, social media and influencer relations makes her a go-to professional in her field. She hopes to change the world of brand communications to focus on transparency, authenticity and fostering a better sense of community.

[00:01:07] Having worked with a diverse client base in various industries including beauty, lifestyles, food and beverage, fashion, fitness, tech, health wellness and real estate, Ali’s versatility knows no bounds. It was an absolute pleasure chatting with her about all things social media. So grab your latte, sit back and enjoy.

[00:01:30] Thank you so much, Ali, for being on today’s podcast.

Ali:                   [00:01:30] I am so pumped to be here to chat all things social with you. But I mean I could do that every day. So, this is just another day.

Matisse:            [00:01:42] It’s going to be fantastic. When it comes to social media, you know, for us we’re professional communicators, it’s all about – yeah, social media is our thing. Marketers like to say it’s theirs. Point of debate. But since you are a professional communicator, where did your love for communications come from? And was it something you always saw yourself doing as a career?

Ali:                   [00:02:04] Honestly, if I throw myself back to whenever they started kind of prodding us as kids as to what we wanted to be, I thought I was going to be a marine biologist. But as – OK, no throwing shade, but I feel like as any sort of marketing or at least [unintelligible 00:02:22] professionals know, math was not my strong suit when I was in school. And I realized very quickly that I would have to do math if I wanted to become a biologist. And, well, of course with all [the three? 00:02:34] sciences.

[00:02:37] So I pivoted and sort of took a step back and I was like, “OK, what do I enjoy doing day-to-day?” And writing has always been something that I’ve enjoyed from the time I was probably, like, when I learned to actually comprehend reading I was always reading a different book. Like I was the kid who could crush books on a regular basis. And then slowly but surely that sort of opened the door, I think, to creative writing because I wanted to write stories similar to the ones I was reading and just, like, absorbing 24/7.

[00:03:15] So, I started writing quite young. Writing fictional, crazy short stories and then slowly but surely as I think I hit my university years for sure, that’s when the blog slash sort of just diarized writing online kicked in, thank you Myspace. And here we are.

Ali:                   [00:03:38] Amazing. Oh the days of Myspace. I was a late adaptor of Myspace. If anything Facebook was my first integration [into LiveJournal? 00:03:44].

Ali:                   [00:03:45] Oh, I have not heard that word in so long.

Matisse:            [00:03:48] I go back to [unintelligible 00:03:48]. I go back to LiveJournal days, yeah. And I was, like, “I’m angsty. [Cross talking 00:03:53] –

Ali:                   [00:03:54] It’s such a throwback, and you know I love a good throwback.

Matisse:            [00:04:00] So communications, reading, writing have always been a passion for you. How did you find your spark with digital communications? More so, social media, influencer marketing, that sort of thing? How did you know that side of it was [cross talking 00:04:09]?

Ali:                   [00:04:09] I definitely think one came from the other, because obviously influencer marketing was sort of born out of social media marketing. But I think something our generation got lucky with is we grew up with the platform. So when Instagram, when Facebook, when all of those came to be, we were on them first. We were learning about them first. We were teaching the older generation how to use it.

[00:04:37] So I think that that ability – like, I don’t want to say innate ability because obviously we still had to learn them as well, but I think that sort of natural, “Oh, I’m – you know, I work with Instagram,” and then all of a sudden it became a career focal point in marketing because I went into general marketing first. It was. “Hey, how do we now use social media as a marketing tool?”

[00:05:03] And I feel like our hands where the first to go up because it’s, “Oh well, I’m on social anyway, so I’m sure I could figure it out.” And that’s how it started. You know, I was a little junior marketing specialist who happened to know how to use Instagram and Facebook really well. And that just sort of kept it rolling.

[00:05:24] I remember when TikTok came out, for example, my boss at the time was just kind of, like, “Hey, how do we use this for marketing?” And I mean white as a sheet and I’m – “I don’t know, but I guess I’m going to figure it out.” And I realized, that’s what social media marketing really has been. So, I mean, we go from there.

[00:05:45] And then flipping it around when influencers were – thanks to the Kardashians, I would say – you know, bubbling up in this way to sell products and talk about brands in a different way, I think it just became imperative to start to pay attention to how that was working. And I think something that I even started to specialize in was, “OK, but how do we do this authentically?” Because far too often you were seeing influencers push products that, you know, they hadn’t even taken out of the package.

[00:06:17] And I was paying attention as a marketer, but audiences were really starting to pay attention too. So, I mean I also remember a very specific Hannah Montana episode about this. So I’m going to also chalk it up to Disney got me into influencer marketing.

Matisse:            [00:06:34] I love that Disney has made an appearance and Hannah Montana is it. That is fantastic. Do you think there is still that misconception around, “Oh, I know how to use social media for my own thing. I can totally do this professionally without any education or training,” given how easily things – or quote, unquote, easily things can go viral on the likes of TikTok and Instagram and that sort of thing? Or do you think there’s still a science to it that gets forgotten about by the everyday person when they just think, “Oh, well I have my own Instagram account and I have 4,000 followers, I could totally do this,” for a brand without anything –

Ali:                   [00:07:12] Oh yeah. I think that’s unfortunately quite a bit – beyond a misconception, I think it’s an issue that we’re seeing in our industry, especially as some younger passionate people come up who have done the work, then you have the flip side of people who think, like you said, “Oh, I have a lot of followers. I can do social media marketing too.”

[00:07:35] But when it comes to strategy and metrics and analytics, they haven’t necessarily learned that, or honed into why that’s important. Because they weren’t taught, they’re not working with it, they’re just doing well on social, but maybe they don’t necessarily even know why. It’s just, “Oh, I posted this video and it went viral. I’m going to now try it for a brand.” That’s not necessarily true. And you know, I’m a huge proponent for not everyone can go viral, but that’s probably a whole separate podcast topic.

[00:08:06] But yeah, I would definitely say there’s this misconception that anybody can just pick up a social media platform and make it work. I think there is still that foundational knowledge whether it comes from any branch of communications, or an understanding of how the marketing world works, to make a strategy efficient, but also optimize in different niches.

[00:08:32] I could ramble about this forever. There’s just so much more to it than picking up a phone and, you know, jumping in.

Matisse:            [00:08:38] I think that just means there’s going to be another podcast with the two of us talking about all that fun jazz. So with that in mind, I guess you can sort of equate them to seeing themselves as more influencers or content creators, versus, “I can actually do this for a brand,” right? And there’s that very skewed viewpoint, if you will, where it’s a brand’s help paying you to do this for them and share the product and that sort of thing based on who you are and your authenticity, versus them paying you to manage their brand and everything they do, and speak from their voice.

[00:09:12] I think that’s where it gets lost in translation, if you will. So what are some your thoughts on the terms and the concepts of influencers and content creators. There seems to be this push-back around the term influencer nowadays, and people now switching to content creators. What are your thoughts? Do you think they’re the same? Different.

Ali:                   [00:09:30] OK, my first point in this that I have to get out there, even if, you know, one person hears me is, there is no such thing as a UGC creator. A content creator is a UGC creator. That term is probably my kryptonite when it comes to this industry right now. Because I know we’re going to talk about trends, so that’s my first jab, if you will, is content creators, if you’re listening, you are a UGC creator. You do not need to brand yourself as a UGC creator.

[00:10:02] But on the flip side of that, to get back to your actual question, I really think the two have come hand-in-hand today. Influencers, content creators, I know there are slight differences in the literal definition, but really influencers of today have to create content in order to be influential on social media.

[00:10:26] So they go hand-in-hand. I don’t want to walk the dangerous line of saying that they’re the dame, because obviously you also have your content creators who create content for brands, but they’re not necessarily doing the quote, unquote influencing if you will. They’re just creating this epic content. Now, if we get philosophical and say, “Is that influential in and of itself?” Sure.

[00:10:53] But I do think there is still this difference between content producers and creators versus an influential content creator. So I think maybe it’s more on how we’re defining it rather than a literal stamp of approval, Merriam-Webster definition of it. I think a lot of what we do in communications is fluid and it is open to interpretation. If we get back to the core of it.

Matisse:            [00:11:20] I love that. And you know, there’s been this shift that now PR agencies have an influencer relations department. Something that five, six, seven, even eight years ago when I graduated wasn’t a thing. I remember in school we talked about the concept of, you know, “What about influencers and content creators?” and our teachers were like, “That’s not really a thing, PR doesn’t really deal with it.” Fast forward to today and we’re just kind of trying to catch up, if you will, in some cases.

[00:11:48] So I always find it really interesting to see that dynamic and that shift and the power that influencers and – I keep saying content creators and I can feel, like, your eye twitch when I say that, just because those are the terms that tend to get used. But I completely agree with what you were saying about you don’t need to brand yourself a content creator, you are UGC.

[00:12:08] So my question to you is, we’ve seen this influx of brands going to influencer relations versus just your typical, “We’re going to buy ads in this, that, the other. What has been your – sounds bad to say, but your favorite blunders of them doing so recently?

Ali:                   [00:12:28] Oh no. You know what? I think this is another area where social media has proven, you know, is it a blunder or is it PR? Is it good PR? Obviously we have the, you know, current Vanderpump Rules saga that is just a gleaming example of, is it a blunder, is it good PR? And I think reality TV in general does such a stellar job of that.

[00:12:55] But I think the biggest blunders and faux pas that come from social media, other than getting too attached to these sort of rigid boundaries of what X is or what Y is, or what defines something. I think it really comes down to authenticity and beyond that, you know, right now as we’re recording this it’s Pride Month, and I think we both know that brands love to put their foot in their mouth when it comes to, you know, “Are you a genuine and authentic supporter of a cause? Or are you, like, ‘Hey, it’s Pride Month, buy our t-shirts in all of the rainbow colours.”

[00:13:32] Like, no, who are you and why are you exploiting a community for revenue. That’s where I think I get into – that’s the only way I feel you can really mess up when it comes to a marketing and communication strategy is, you’re not being authentic. You’re exploiting communities, people, however you look at it, and the only way to really mess up on social is to, I think, not be yourself and to do things that are – when you get into the ethics side of things, for sure.

Matisse:            [00:14:06] I love that point. I was just at the IBC World Conference in Toronto, and I attended a session with Kim Clark, who was speaking about being authentic essentially when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. And she mentioned how she basically freaked out, if will, and was just sort of taken aback by how many brands quickly jumped on to say something after what happened to George Floyd. After his murder.

[00:14:34] And her point was not that they shouldn’t be saying something, but rather, “Do you have anything that you do that back up what you’re saying you’re going to do? Or are you just making a statement because you feel like you have to make a statement, and now you’re putting, as you said, your foot in your mouth and you can’t actually stand by that statement and change your internal policies to match what you’re saying.

[00:14:58] And that really stood out, because like you said, with Pride, how many people do that? Just slap on the rainbow flag, and say, “We support everything.” And then we see what’s happening in the United States with brands, Target, and Anheuser-Busch with the Bud Light campaign where they do something they don’t like the negative attention that they’re getting and the backlash and they take it back, and they kind of say, “Oh sorry, we didn’t mean to,” or “We didn’t realize this was going to have this type of impact,” when they’re saying they’re also an ally. If you can’t sit through the type of backlash that that community gets on a daily basis for one campaign, you’re not really an ally. Right?

[00:15:43] And that’s sort of where that kind of – what you said really resonated with what she said just last week, and I’m sitting here going, “It’s true. It’s that authenticity and standing by what you say and actually doing something about what you’re going to do as well.

Ali:                   [00:15:56] Absolutely. I think even working in communications – I mean I won’t speak for everyone, but I can say – the two of us for sure, it’s something that is always at the forefront of my mind, and I know your mind as well where it’s like the content, or the copy that we’re putting out, who is it affecting? How is it affecting them? Are we going to insult anybody? How can we avoid that? Are we being very intentional with the language that we’re using?

[00:16:25] I think nowadays if that’s not a part of your strategy, just throw it out. You need to start again. But something that I know I’ve struggled with in the industry as well is speaking out on some of those things. Like, “Hey, we might not want to use that image,” or “We can’t say this,” or including more diversity in our brand’s next content shoot. And you know, when you look up at the executive level it might be just very bland up at the executive level, for the correct way of saying things.

[00:17:00] You know, it’s alarming, because I often think to myself, you know, how can we expect change if it’s not changing at the foundational level?

Matisse:            [00:17:11] And I think it goes back to being educated. And it’s OK to make a statement that says, “We want to improve. We just need to take a step back and learn the history and then figure out how we can improve,” versus just assuming – so for example in the disability community there is the saying, “Nothing for us, without us.” Right? So assuming that you need to do all these different things and the community comes back and says, “Actually all you had to do was X versus A through Z what you just did. We would have been fine in that. That’s it. Had you talked to us and incorporated our thoughts, our opinions into your planning, into your strategy and into your research you would have realized that. Right?

[00:17:52] And I think that’s something that always gets missed. People are just so quickly – particularly with social media, because it’s so instantaneous that they just jump on and say what they think they need to say versus really thinking through what impact that’s going to have.

Ali:                   [00:18:06] Absolutely. I’ve been in situations where we’ve had a really divers team on teams that we’ve worked in, and I’ve had a boss who was a cis-gendered white male who would speak on the opinions for some of the people in the room that could have just asked. Like, “Hey, what might the African American or Asian American community think about this campaign that pertained to them?”

[00:18:36] Well, if I was in their shoes, this is what I would think, instead of just asking the questions that quite honestly were right in front of you. So yeah, I – essentially in communications I’ve had that second-hand embarrassment right in front of me. And I think often times, especially as a woman, or a woman of colour or a woman in any minority, you often don’t think you can say anything, ironically, even though you’re in comms.

[00:19:03] So you know, I think that’s – yeah, to tie it back, I think that’s where brands and companies can often find the most gaps are things that are entirely preventable, if they’re really doing those checks and saying, you know, “Hey, we need to audit ourselves consistently. “

Matisse:            [00:19:21] Excellent place. Excellent way of wrapping that – what could be tenuous situation or conversation [cross talking 00:19:26]

Ali:                   [00:19:26] You know what? I always see it as a learning experience. It’s never an attack, it’s never, you know, “Hey, you’re doing it wrong.” I think you – you know, it’s OK to say things and immediately, like, “Oh, what did we say?” but what actions are you now taking to ensure it doesn’t happen again and just to do better.

Matisse:            [00:19:43] Exactly. Exactly. And I think people get stuck in the notion that they have to be perfect in everything they do. And I know when I speak at conferences I – I speak about accessibility, I’m always the one saying, “It’s progress over perfection,” and I feel like we can say that within the entire diversity, equity and inclusion and accessibility space, where we’re going to fumble, but how do we get back up and actually do it right at that point? You know. Do we go back and do more research? Do we learn a bit more? Do we talk more to the community, so on and so forth, and then move on from there.

[00:20:17] And show that versus, “Oh, we messed up, well that’s us done.” And stepping away. Because that [unintelligible 00:20:23] not so great. So given the conversation that we’re having right now, who would you say are the brands that seem to be doing it right, or at least are setting a path of how to proceed, even if it’s not right. They’re stumbling but they’re learning from their mistakes.

Ali:                   [00:20:40] You know what’s really sad? I can’t think of one that comes to mind immediately. I will say a brand that’s getting right, from what I can see, I know Sephora is doing an amazing job of taking us – at least from what the public can see, if there’s any listeners who know differently, I mean, email us. We want to know. But I think they, in recent times particularly have taken a step back and really uplifted their sections for, if you want to shop [unintelligible 00:21:11] brands. If you want to look, hey, it’s AAPI Month. Like, here are brands that we’re uplifting. Did you know this about the founders?

[00:21:21] Conversations like that just make me so happy, and especially in Canada seeing indigenous owned brands being – you know, right as you walk in, Cheek Bone Beauty might be at the front now, because that is something that Sephora has worked really hard to put forward. And they’ve also made a big deal about – in a positive way – about talking about it. And talking about these things. And sustainability, like, are you shopping clean beauty?

[00:21:47] Like, these are things that conscious customers and conscious consumers, which are the frontier now of – you know, if you’re looking at, “Oh, who should we be marketing too?” it’s conscious consumers. These are the companies that we need to pay attention to as just – if you’re in communications or marketing, this is who we should be emulating.

[00:22:08] I think another brand that does a really great job of just getting in front of hopefully making changes to, I know Lululemon, for example, a few years ago had a very big PR setback, coming from the founder or CEO himself. So I would say that is a big hurdle for anyone to get over. Let alone an international, semi-international brand. I’m not even sure how many countries Lulu’s in. But many know what it is, and at the end of the day it’s a company that’s talked about internationally.

[00:22:08] So it’s a matter of, how is that something that we get over? Clearly they’ve got through it. They’re constantly growing. It’s a lesson in PR at the very least to, “OK, this is a brand that is getting through what they have been dealing with from a negative side. They’ve come out on a positive side. What specifically did they do, how did they get through it?

[00:23:04] And also for anyone who is a conscious consumer, taking a dig into what did they change? What actions did they take? And if we can’t find them, and I’m sure if people couldn’t find them, that that would also be another spark of conversation.

Matisse:            [00:23:18] Do you think brands do a good enough job, or put enough emphasis on their social media presence in terms of how the brand reputation and social conversations are happening around the brand? Or do you still think it’s considered an afterthought behind traditional media, if you will? Or do you think that’s not finally shifted and it’s more prevalent for social media security if you will versus traditional media?

Ali:                   [00:23:42] I actually would say it hasn’t shifted enough. Quite honestly I know even a few years back, I was a social media manager pushing those conversations, or, “Hey, is this the type of conversation that we can have with the consumers at [social facing? 00:23:55] was still – you know, there was redline tape everywhere. It was, “No, you shouldn’t say that.” Or, “No we shouldn’t say it this way,” or, “I don’t really thing that’s brand aligned to speak out on a certain issue.” So that was still a really big problem.

[00:24:11] I think it shifted a lot where you’re seeing a lot more brands engage very authentically with – I think sort of brand voice has just – it’s become a much more poignant topic, but even beyond that, like, almost any brand I can think of, there’s a personality to match with it when it comes to social media that you can sort of picture in your head. Which – or brands that are doing it well.

[00:24:35] And I think it’s great, but I still think there is so much room for brands to come a little bit farther forward, you know, kind of full throttle in 2023. There’s certain things there’s just no excuses for. But they really need to hone in on – and I know we’ve kind of dabbled in this, is who a brand is, and also what are you saying? Like, what do you have to say that your consumer’s going to care about?

Matisse:            [00:25:00] I completely agree with you, and I love how you phrased it. That’s exactly it. And sort of knowing that buyer persona, if you will. You can’t target everybody, it’s not going to work. And you can’t target a lone person. But who are your ideal people? And then having those types of conversations [cross talking 00:25:20].

Ali:                   [00:25:20] Of course, and you have – again, tie it back to Lululemon, I think that CEO, he had in his mind this ideal persona, but it was down to things, like, well, they’re underweight or they’re an average weight and they’re this size, and you know, if you’re – like, how is that even a conversation that passed through your brain, let alone several of your marketing and communications and brand team that were like, “Yeah, that’s an OK conversation to have.”

[00:25:50] I think you really need to hone in on an ideal audience of who your ideal community is. And then beyond that as well, you know, who is the brand going to be in five to 10 years, and what do we want our community to look like, I think is also a really big piece of that pie. And not so much, “Oh, well, we only have sizes 0 through 5, sorry.” Like, that is so 2002 and we all know what happened to that generation when it comes to body shaming.

[00:26:18] So I think that generation has also taken the reins when it comes to our modern day socio-cultural marketing brand lens to say, “Hey, yeah, we’re not doing that anymore and we’re going to take actions to make sure that never happens again.”

Matisse:            [00:26:34] Do you think these conversations around who they’re trying to target, what that audience looks like, who they want their future audience to be is something that is properly considered or fully realized when they consider what influencers they’re going to tap into for influencer relations? Or do you think it’s still more about who’s got the highest number of followers? Let’s target them. And what advice would you give to an agency or a small business who’s looking to start that whole influencer relations component to help boost their brand?

Ali:                   [00:27:08] I think this influencer marketing [track? 00:27:10] has actually come a long way. I think, you know, four or five years ago this would have been a different conversation, where it was more, who has the most followers? Who has the largest celebrity persona? You know, there was a little more to the – or a little less to the conversation there, where it was just, like, “Who can we just spitball at the wall and get in touch with and will it work? Great. Cool. And also what’s the price tag?”

[00:27:40] I know that was also a big conversation within agencies, it’s just, “OK, well what’s our budget? OK, well this person wants to charge $100,000, but they have a million followers so we should definitely do it.” But you know, that, I think, as we’ve seen, the industry and just the sort of creator marketplace change, it’s become a lot more – especially with the introduction of TikTok, virality has such a different definition now. And I think it’s more, “Hey, do I see myself in this creator?” Are they, “Oh my goodness, I’ve never been able to find a foundation that matches my skin tone and I finally did and you guys have to try this.” I have fallen for that so many times. And I’m in marketing.

[00:28:28] So, that means that they’re doing a way better job of it. And also it’s – it was true. You know, this person has really bad acne and they’ve struggled for 10 years with it, and they tried this product and it went away. You know, like – and here’s my story. I think “here’s my story” is a huge part of it as well.

[00:28:48] So, pivoting back again to your original question, I think it’s just come back to now you have the marketplace of nano influencers and micro influencers and macro – oh, celebrity influencers. It’s defined so much more, and there are more branches to this influencer marketing tree, if you will.

[00:29:08] So I think if I had to give advice to any brands, it’s really starting at your foundational level. Who your brand is and what you want to say, and growing from there. You know, what kind of content are you putting out? What kind of communications are you sending out? And how are you saying what you want to say? Are you being conscious about that? Authentic about it? What is also your consumer feedback as you start to implement that?

[00:29:34] Once you have all of that nailed down, then you can start to take steps into influencer marketing, and even figuring out if it is for you. It’s not for every brand. It’s not for every product. It is very much still in line with intentional marketing. So you need to figure yourself out before you figure out if certain marketing strategies are going to work for you.

[00:29:58] Because at the end of the day, influencer marketing is just that. It’s a strategy and it might not fit your [bill? 00:30:02].

Matisse:            [00:30:02] Something that comes to mind about influencer marketing and what was done well until it sort of – talking about an example where influencer marketing was really, really good and the brand was sort of viewed as spending all their money on influencer marketing, versus traditional marketing was Tarte makeup. And you know, recently they we’re in the headlines, or at least in the social headlines, around one of their familiarization trips where it came across as it not being fair.

[00:30:32] With the larger influencers getting better rooms, better treatment, better this, that, the other. And the smaller influencers who were invited along were sort of shafted, if you will, in how they were treated. And there seemed to be this sort of discrepancy around race, from what I kept hearing. That the white influencers were being treated a bit better than anybody who was of colour.

[00:31:04] And it just – impact, I found, at least form a PR standpoint and watching it all roll out, because I don’t use Tarte makeup, I will say that. But I now know who the brand is. And watching it sort of play out I also then realized, I can’t really support a brand, if I wanted to even try their products, because if you’re going to do a familiarization trip.

[00:31:26] And for those listeners who are new to PR, or who are just students, a lot of brands will host something called a familiarization trip where they will bring media or influencers to a place to engage with either the culture or the breweries or whatever the case is, to really immerse themselves in an experience about that brand, so they can write about it from a personal perspective.

[00:31:50] And in this case they went somewhere in the Caribbean. I can’t remember where. It was beautiful nonetheless. But there was this discrepancy around the influencers either based on following or race or whatever the case is. And the CEO and founder, her apology for it, as she was doing a get ready with me, for what happened was, just horrible, horrible.

[00:32:15] And so I wonder if brands are starting to rely too much on influencer marketing as an easy win and sort of phoning it in, if you will.

Ali:                   [00:32:26] Oh yeah.

Matisse:            [00:32:27] In terms of what they should get, because they assume, well, you know, you could have a 9 to 5 what [cross talking 00:32:32]

Ali:                   [00:32:33] Right, [unintelligible 00:32:32] accept this amount of money so it’s going to be successful. And also just a quick jump in as well for anyone who’s still learning, or learning about the industry, you know, it doesn’t have to necessarily be an international destination. It can be, you know, in your own city that your agency is hosting for an event for a brand where it’s an experiential event. If you will. And these are very common. And if you need to start from the beginning of the episode to get all those notes again – I mean this has to be such a hands-on authentic experience as you’re putting them together.

[00:33:09] It cannot just be, like, we decide, you know, “Oh, we spent this amount of money so it’s going to work.” Or “You know, the budget’s really high, so just do whatever.” No, never just do whatever.

Matisse:            [00:33:21] You need to have a plan, and you need to ensure that everybody who is coming on the fam trip – short form, fam trip – is experiencing everything the same. You know, the same experience, the same attention to detail. That sort of thing. Now obviously in this particular example that I gave, it’s at a hotel, and you can’t guarantee the rooms everyone’s going to get. It’s a hotel. So that’s one thing.

[00:33:47] But, treatment and length of stay and that sort of thing, that’s where it really differed and it was really noticeable who got to stay longer and who didn’t, and playing back to race and that sort of thing which – I think the apology really missed the mark. And I know it’s sort of now died down in terms of controversy. It’s sort of moved on, if you will, because of the social cycle.

Ali:                   [00:34:09] Well these conscious consumers, there not forgetting. This is a very different world. Like you said, it’s maybe the social conversation dies down, however, they’re at home and when they’re ready to shop, they’re, like, “I can’t consciously support this brand.” And it’s the backend where we are, were we see these companies are filing for bankruptcy because seemingly overnight things are just tanking.

[00:34:36] Or I remember the James Charles issue a few years ago. He lost the record, like, a few hundred thousand, if not over a million followers in, like, 24 hours. Like, in the social economy that’s unheard of. So, these are things that are happening whether or not people are seeing them play out in real time on Twitter and Instagram or whatever.

Matisse:            [00:34:57] Yeah, and that’s very true. And bringing up the losing of followers, or loss of followers, we also saw that impact a lot of folks when Instagram, a few years back, doubled down on removing bots. If you remember, I think Justin Bieber lost something l a million – something ridiculous. And everyone’s like, “What happened?” and they’re like, these were bots. Right?

[00:35:21] And they’re still – especially for new businesses, not necessary in communications and PR, but just in general, new businesses who want to seem to have some clout, have this tendency to be tempted to buy followers. What is your opinion, what is your advice, what’s your stance on buying followers?

Ali:                   [00:35:42] I mean I’ll lead by saying absolutely not. If you’re listening and this is all you get from this, absolutely not. Oddly enough, though, especially in my consulting, it is a question that I get constantly. “Oh well, should we buy a few thousand followers just to –” no. No. I always just jump in. Absolutely not. It will bite you in the bum eventually.

[00:36:07] Whether it is immediately and Instagram is, like, “We’re shadow banning your account because what are you doing over here?” Or later on when, again – and I’m probably going to sound like a broken record, these conscious consumers are like, “Oh, you just started this account and you have, like, 15,000 followers?” And as soon as I go click into them the user names are in gibberish or – it’s very easy for anyone who’s [unintelligible 00:36:35] in to see that you’ve bought your followers.

[00:36:38] And honestly, people I know at least are taking that into consider where it’s like, “You know, I’m getting weird vibes now from this brand or this company.” So absolute not, no matter which way you flip it. But I think it also talks into the importance of, put that money into investing in your brand and your strategy. Because then you’re going to see that growth, no matter what. You are going to see it. It might not be overnight. But I promise you, you are going to see results that are going to health psychology versus harm you.

[00:37:18] And you’ll probably spend less, to be quite honest, because I’ve heard buying followers can be very expensive.

Matisse:            [00:37:24] I’ve heard the same. I’ve never actually looked into it, so I don’t have the numbers, but I’ve heard it can be very, very pricey. And in talking to clients before it used to always be tied into a –

Ali:                   [00:37:35] Yes.

Matisse:            [00:37:35] – [cross talking 00:37:35] social media strategy, quote unquote. Because it’s not. It’s not a proper media strategy to buy followers. You want to build that authenticity and that sort of thing. Especially if you’re an influencer or attempting to break into being an influencer. A lot of brands will look at the engagement. If you have 50,000 followers and only five people are talking and engineering and that sort of thing with your content, there’s a big discrepancy versus, “I have 500 followers, but a hundred of them are engaging and writing comments and having these conversations, right?

[00:38:15] You’re going to get more bang for your buck as a brand, if you will, by going with that micro-influencer of 500 followers because you know that their audience is engaged versus, hey 50,00 with the five people who actually [cross talking 00:38:28]

Ali:                   [00:38:28] Oh absolutely. When I first started in influencer marketing especially, like, you could have a mass list of influencers you want to engage with. Now you have to go through and look at their analytics, which we brought up before. You know, you have to look at what their engagement rate is. You can have three million followers, but if I see your engagement rate is insanely high in comparison, I don’t care how many followers you have, like, we’re not going to go with you for our campaign because we see through it quite frankly.

[00:38:58] And I’ve seen it. And I’ve seen it, and I’ve seen people double down on – “No, I never bought my followers.” But for anyone who knows and works with it, the proof is very much in the pudding. And then you do have these authentic influencers who maybe only have a couple of thousand followers and they’re considered nano or micro – insert synonym for small. But they’re converting like crazy for your brand because people – you know, maybe they have 2,000 followers but if a thousand followers are engaged, you’re going to see a way different result than someone who has five million followers and 50 of their followers are real.

[00:39:37] So I mean again. That could be its own separate sort of soap box rant if you will. But I really do feel like it’s just a big no-no. It’s just a big no-no.

Matisse:            [00:39:49] So you brought up analytics and we slightly touched on it earlier. What do you think is the importance of having a social media strategy in place, and what role do analytics truly play in that strategy to either maintain it or create a shift, or pivot in what business is doing?

Ali:                   [00:40:07] Of course. Like I’ve said, analytics are extremely important. But I think it still ties back into the 360 of the strategy. So if you’re not posting consistently your analytics are not really going to tell your story. If you are posting at a different time than is necessarily what Instagram calls it’s most optimal time or anything like that.

[00:40:32] At the end of the day your analytics and your metrics are only going to paint your picture. They’re not going to – you can’t compare yourself in that sense, when you’re not operating with the same toolkit as somebody else. So, do I think numbers are important? A hundred per cent. Do I think numbers are the entire story? Absolutely not. And I think that also ties back to something as simple as your follower and following engagement numbers. There’s just so much more to it.

[00:40:59] And that also ties back to what you were saying where you can’t just walk in and say, “Oh, well I’ve been on Instagram since the platform came out. So I know how to do social media marketing or content marketing or influencer marketing.” No you don’t. You’ve been following Kylie Jenner since she started her account. That doesn’t mean you know about influencer marketing.

[00:41:15] And I say that with the utmost respect. Your passion is clearly there. Now let’s start to teach you all the tools you need to really be able to do this.

Matisse:            [00:41:25] What would you say are your preferred or go-to tools or the go-to tools you would recommend to somebody when it comes to their social media strategy and ensuring that the content they’re creating is sustained? So like you said, having that constant – consistently posting, and that it’s successful. Or if it’s not successful, pivoting. Where are those tools for you?

Ali:                   [00:41:50] You need at least one dedicated person. I think something that we see a lot is, “Oh well, our intern can just do our social –”. Sure. But then you need to give them the support and the tools that they need. And you also need someone more senior to help with that instruction. So gone are the days of just throwing – like you said, just phoning it in. Like, we’re not phoning in our social, our communications, our influence. We’re not phoning any of it in anymore.

[00:42:20] It’s such a huge part of your marketing and branding strategy, you’ve got to pay attention to it. I think most brands understand that now, which is amazing. In terms of actual physical tools, I would say I am a huge proponent of the Canva and Adobe Sparks of the world. I still think that they are extremely helpful. What I do say is always, you know, adapt your templates. Don’t just take your templates and fill in your information and post them.

[00:42:53] Unfortunately I’ve seen so many brands post the exact same Canva template, and I know that those of us who are in [unintelligible 00:42:59] can see it. And it’s unfortunate because again, people are seeing that and people are paying attention. You can use them for help. I feel the same way about AI. And again, I know that is a whole other spiel we can go on. But I think AI, I think templates, I think these are all extremely helpful foundational tools. Which we just said, tools.

[00:43:22] Don’t lean on them as your entire strategy. You can’t just think, “I’ll just go back to crate, like, 30 posts in Canva and you know, we’ll use AI to generate the captions. That will not work for you. I would put my name on that. It will not work for you, because at the end of the day you’re just sort of slapping it together and calling it a house. But really it’s toothpicks.

Matisse:            [00:43:48] So something that came up a few months ago when I was talking to a friend is her organization is starting to sort of look at social media content calendars as a hindrance to their creative process and presence, if you will. What are your thoughts on that social media content calendar? Yay, nay, it’s a crutch, or it’s a good starting point but be prepared to adapt? What do you think?

Ali:                   [00:44:11] So again, huge proponent of having something. You need something. You need – whether you’re paying for the [Sprout? 00:44:22] socials of the world or you’re slapping it together in a Google sheet. There is no right answer when it comes to that sort of foundational process for it. It can be a Word document with a list. I don’t care what it looks like. You need some sort of organization. You can put it in a notebook if you want to.

[00:44:38] But I think from there, I don’t think there’s a right answer. I do think you need to be prepared, like I said, so whether that’s batch creating, “OK, we know we need, you know, two posts a week at least for the month of June.” Great. Create those and have them ready. Do you need to stick to those like white on rice? Absolutely not. You can throw – I actually think you should leave room to throw things in, whether it’s social days, or “Hey, this even is coming up.” You know, you never want to post that because it’s not in the preapproved calendar we did three months ago.

[00:45:15] Life quite literally moves. There is no way you can plan for every little things three months prior. Most people I know who are senior social media managers rarely work with a month of content in advance. It’s, “Hey, we have the week done. And it looks pretty good, but we’re probably going to change five things.” And that’s OK, because the guidance and the foundational prep is there. You know, “OK, we know for sure we’re going to have these two posts this week go out.” Everything else is so relative to, again, who your brand is and what you’re trying to communicate. That’s it.

[00:45:53] I also, tied into that, don’t think there is an idea, “Oh, you have to post five times a week in order to grow on –” No. You need to do what’s right for your brand, and your schedule – especially if you’re a small business, this one’s for you – do not adhere to the rules of a company that’s been out for 40 years and they’ve got their team of thousands of people who are doing this for them. If it’s you, your computer and a notebook, make it work for you.

Matisse:            [00:46:22] That was a fantastic answer. Fantastic. All right, so yes to content calendars. We talked about some of the tools. Let’s talk about trends as we’re wrapping up here. What do you think are the big trends that we’re seeing in the latter part of 2023 that people either who are just starting out or who are in the industry should really consider and take into account when planning the rest of their content calendars for the year?

Ali:                   [00:46:47] I think, especially this year and going into the next, we’re going to continue to see the resurgence of sort of these hybrid activations. So more in-person, more connection, more familiarity trips, more – you know, everything that gets people’s hands on a product or immerses them into what a brand’s all about, we’re going to continue to see that.

[00:47:11] Specific to social media, I think this continued pattern of social authenticity, whether it’s through customer service, answering comments and these brands having their own personality that really shines. That is absolutely going to continue. Shout out to Duolingo who is killing it. They are my favourite. And they are the ones who – like, if you’re not paying attention to what Duolingo is doing, again, start this podcast from zero minutes and also pause it and go look at what Duolingo is doing. And then come back and learn.

[00:47:43] Because genuinely, I know their social media manager is also, like, super junior, as I’m to understand and she just was trying different things, and then learned from trying those things which is also a huge part of a social strategy. You can’t just keep repeating the same thing over and over again. You’ve got to be learning from what your strategy is as well. And that all, again, ties into, are you a brand that has something to say and how are you saying that?

[00:48:15] Experimenting, tied onto that point as well, is going to continue. I wouldn’t say it’s a new trend. But trying different things as a brand. Trying things that scare you. Trying things that your brand has never done. Those have to be an integral part of a strategy going forward. If you’re not trying something new, I’d recommend taking a step back and asking yourself and your team why?

[00:48:38] And my, you know what? Maybe that does work for you if you just want to kind of play it safe and just keep things status quo. Sure. There’s also nothing wrong with that. But you’re not going to grow and change if that’s what you’re doing. Absolutely.

[00:48:50] And also, I hate to call it a trend, I would more call it innovation that I really hope to continue to see is the inclusion of DEI belonging, ensuring equity and showing it consumer facing in terms of how your brand is growing. And I think that sharing – in a lighter way of that, sharing brand wins from a very authentic perspective. Even if you’re a large brand. Say, “Oh my goodness, we just hit the 100 employee marks and we’re so proud of this person who has been working here for 30 years.”

[00:49:23] Like, those little things actually make people really happy. It’s the things you see on Upworthy, it’s just someone’s perk in their day when they’re scrolling through social media which, in the trend of doom scrolling can be a really big problem if all you’re consuming is this really negative, harmful content. We need those positive ones. So sharing them on social media. And beyond the LinkedIn sort of spiels. Sharing your wins, sharing your positive things, and just really trying to keep things light and remind people that social media is supposed to be a place that friends are having more fun.

[00:49:58] Like I have always said that as well. Like, this should be the least serious place in our company. But still communicate what a brand is all about.

Matisse:            [00:50:08] I love that, and at the IBC World Conference, the woman who plays Duo, from Duolingo was one of the keynotes. And she spoke about everything you just said, which is just fantastic. And there will be a blogpost about that on PR and Lattes later.

[00:50:23] Before we wrap up, my one question, what is your favourite thing about social media?

Ali:                   [00:50:30] Honestly I think the feeling of community on social media is absolutely my favourite thing. I have met so many insightful, positive, amazing people via social media. I have changed career paths because of social media. I, you know, it can be transformative and it can be positive, if that’s the mindset you’re putting to it. But really the sense of community, I think, is my absolute favourite thing. Because beyond getting to know a brand, you’re just chatting with people in a way that’s fun.

[00:51:05] It’s meant to be – you’re learning about different things that are happening around the world that 50 years ago you just wouldn’t have learned about the world the same way. Those are the things that get me excited about social media. And also get me inspired to do my job.

Matisse:            [00:51:22] For those of you who are following PR & Lattes. Ali is one of our writers who focuses on social media, so make sure you’re following us and following her blog posts that are going to be monthly on amazing topics around social media.

[00:51:36] So my last question, because we are PR and Lattes, what is your go-to caffeinated beverage?

Ali:                   [00:51:41] Oh my goodness. I would say a flat white from Starbucks is usually my favourite. Or if it’s a treat, a vanilla sweet cream cold brew, because you’re getting a little splash of something sweet, but also good old caffeine which any comms professional cannot live without. I will stand on this hill and I will stay there.

Matisse:            [00:52:07] [Unintelligible 00:52:07] from PR and Lattes, Ali, where can folks get in touch with you and your company?

Ali:                   [00:52:12] You can find me taking the world of communications by storm, but also find me consulting at Culture Creative, which is my consulting business. We do all things creative media. So if there is anything you cannot figure out, I am here to help you with it. No matter how large or how small your business is, my ultimate goal is to help people. It’s – that’s what everything should be all about. So that’s what I’m all about.

Matisse:            [00:52:42] Perfect. Can they find you on social?

Ali:                   [00:52:43] Yes.

Matisse:            [00:52:43] I would think so.

Ali:                   [00:52:45] [Cross talking 00:52:45] living on social trying to keep on trends. On Instagram, TikTok and probably everywhere in between. Just ask.

Matisse:            [00:52:53] Well thank you so much, Ali, this has been a fantastic chat. And again, to the listeners, make sure you’re checking out Ali’s blogs on PR & Lattes to stay up to date on all things social media. Thank you Ali.

Ali:                   [00:53:03] Thanks so much for having me. I will be back to rant about more things I promise.

Matisse:            [00:53:07] You’ve been listening to PR & Lattes broadcast. Make sure to subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts so you can get notified each week when a new episode drops. You can also subscribe to our weekly newsletter by visiting our website, prandlattes.com.

[00:53:22] On the website you’ll find our podcast episodes as well as amazing blogs, with new ones being posted every Monday morning. And, of course, make sure to follow us on social, on Instagram @prandlattes, and on LinkedIn.

[00:53:35] I’ve been your host, Matisse Hamel-Nelis, thank you so much for listening and we’ll see you next week with a new latte and guest. Bye for now.

[End of recorded material 00:53:47]

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