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Where is the money being spent in Digital PR?

A year can be a long time in the world of digital comms.

Since the last PRCA Digital PR and Communications report was published, we’ve seen the Cambridge Analytica scandal hit Facebook, the social media influencer space become more established, and technologies like AR/VR and chatbots filter more into the mainstream.

So it was interesting to attend the unveiling of the 2018 findings at a panel event in Bristol last night. The research, now in its sixth year, looked at where budgets are being spent, which channels are being used and where training is being invested in, both agency and client-side.

Of course, once size doesn’t fit all, and an important part of planning any successful campaign is looking at the customer journey, what channels are best to reach the audience and what content will resonate with them to raise awareness, change perceptions and ultimately guide behaviour. Social media is a crucial element of any integrated marketing campaign, and can be incredibly effective in influencing a purchasing decision.

Here are some of my main takeaways.

Cuts for blogger and influencer programmes

Interestingly, budgets allocated for blogger outreach and social influencer engagement have dropped over the last year, by 9% and 12% respectively. I don’t think this is because less work is being done in this space, but instead money is being spent more wisely as the practice becomes more mature – and lessons have been learned along the way.

When the social influencer boom first kicked off a few years ago, money would be thrown at the people with the most followers in the hope of reaching the biggest audience. But cynicism has grown and we now all see through the inauthentic brand partnerships (the recent Listerine/Scarlett Dixon campaign backlash is a case in point).

Instead, more value is being seen with micro influencers, with a smaller, more targeted audience. These will cost less money, but the time they invest in actively conversing with their following means that engagement is likely to be much higher. As our CEO Roberta Fuke remarked in her recent PR Week column, biggest isn’t always best and the ‘CAN’ approach is a handy way to identify the most relevant influencers for a campaign.

So where is more money being spent? Paid social

Brands are being more conservative about their plans to increase spending on digital and social media than ever before, according to the research – 51% said they had plans to up their budgets over the next 12 months, compared to 62% in 2016.

The top area where companies are investing is paid social – perhaps unsurprising given how organic reach alone has been trickier to attain as algorithms change to force brands to part with cash.

But the tide is turning in attitudes to paid social and we’re seeing how much more effective a campaign can be when putting just a bit of investment into promoting specific Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn posts. Being able to target your content at the right people is empowering for marketeers, giving us more control to influence the results, monitor what’s working and refine our approach along the way.

Social media used less for customer service

The proportion of brands motivated to have a presence on social media for customer service reasons has dropped sharply over the last year, from 46% to 35%. Meanwhile, driving awareness (83%) and increasing audience reach (65%) are far bigger motivations for taking a brand to social media.

This doesn’t surprise me. While you can’t ignore customers who want to air concerns on social channels, conversations are swiftly being taken out of the public domain, into DMs or email. It also depends on the channel. I’ve personally seen how B2B brands are far more likely to attract negative attention from disgruntled customers over Facebook, than on LinkedIn, for example. Clearly, the value in social channels is being seen more for positive brand exposure and story-telling than direct customer engagement. Airing dirty laundry on a public form is less than ideal.

So, what can we predict for next year? The continued rise of Instagram? More experimentation with AI and automation? A final nail in the coffin for Foursquare (which remarkably, still gets a mention in the PRCA report). Only time well tell. Which, I think, is what makes a career in our industry so exciting.

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