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By Caroline Jackson

How Social Media Killed the Traditional Publicity Machine

What I predict is going to change in the next couple of years, pretty fast, is instead of issuing these statements through a publicist, that the Taylor Swifts and the Kylie Jenners will do everything on social media. I don’t think they need to pick an outlet anymore. I don’t think they need to find a media partner.” – Rob Shuter –
“celebrity divorce expert” – told the Cut

I would argue that this change is already well underway and it’s not just true of celebrity divorces. While a publicist can get you in a magazine, if they don’t understand social media, they are now of minimal use to brands – personal and otherwise. Consumers are behind their iPhones much more than they are behind a magazine. 

Rob Shuter also said “…publicists are terrified of Twitter. Publicists are absolutely terrified that celebrities have figured out that they don’t need to pay eight, ten thousand dollars a month to put out a statement that they can just do themselves.”

But you know who isn’t “terrified of Twitter?” Social media brand managers. They are like publicists in that they are at the beck-and-call of those they represent and seek out opportunities to engage and endorse but they do it digitally. In 2015, these types are have begun to replace publicists  because they love Twitter. They live on Twitter. They can construct the tone of messages (with full knowledge of best practices and the zeitgeist), they can recommend  the best times to post and what media mix will get the best possible results and they understand how things spread.

Kim Kardashian’s recent FDA controversy lets us behind the curtain a bit. Her seemingly off-the-cuff recommendation for a morning sickness pill was apparently submitted to the company that was paying her for the endorsement. Do I think Kim Kardashian herself sat down to write this post? Likely not. Do I think she contacted the drug company to secure an endorsement? No. More likely is a scenario where someone from Kim’s Kamp reached out to the company and penned a deal. Then someone constructed the message – with full knowledge of Kim K’s own vernacular and overall brand AND social media best practices – and sent it off to the drug company’s social media manager for approval.

It doesn’t make sense for a brand or celebrity to go it alone. But it does make sense that they would want it to appear that way. 

And this doesn’t just apply to celebrities. Brands convey a carefully manicured snapshot vibe. This contrived candidness is the norm. Look at Refinery 29. Someone is certainly crafting their on-brand, professional graphics but their tone is so casual, so off-the-cuff feeling that it makes you feel like your friend is telling you about something. But the results are undoubtedly measured and refined week to week and month to month to reach the most people.

Now let’s go back to some of the first savvy online personalities – fashion bloggers. These now influential figures got their start in groups on Livejournal and on template Blogspots but have skyrocketed to the front row at fashion week, appearing in mainstream magazines and being scooped up by brands that want to capture their effortless cool to promote themselves. But behind every million follower fashion blogger is some kind of infrastructure. 

Look at Courtney Trop aka @AlwaysJudging. She has beautifully captured photos, is consistent in her tone and style AND her stream includes lots of slick product placement.  Likely she doesn’t work alone (anymore) and I wouldn’t be surprised if a content calendar was involved. I would be surprised if someone wasn’t helping her to arrange endorsements. A shot of her standing in a bikini with a caption about positive self image and body shaming serves a discrete purpose and a pic of a white denim jacket lying next to a passport  is strategic but what we remember her as is effortlessly chic.

Bloggers don’t need traditional media like magazines to pay attention (though they often do after the accounts have gained mass popularity) their feeds and websites have BECOME the magazines. Perhaps bloggers rise and early embrace of social media was the beginning of the changes that we now see to promotion and persona. In fact, in the last month I’ve seen three huge fashion magazines celebrate so-called ‘social super models‘. These same magazines used to hold the unique power to make a super model a super model.

We shouldn’t lament the death of the publicist and publicists shouldn’t be scared. They just need to shift. Digital media has opened up a whole new world of self-promotion that doesn’t look like self-promotion. Now you can see the money changing hands only if you’re looking for it. Behind every glossy Instagram account (from Kylie to Rumi Neely to Madewell to Into the Gloss) there is certainly at least one “social media manager” (whether they call themselves that or not) consulting, crafting content and measuring success. After all, personalities have always propelled brands and individuals to the forefront. Social media has just become the most effective way to transmit.

Does social media influence what you buy or how you buy? We want to talk about it. Tweet us.


By Caroline Jackson