Earning Trust: The Key to Success in a Pay-to-Play Digital World



“In a world where it’s increasingly become pay to play, earning your audience is and will continue to be more important than ever.” Steven Bartlett, CEO, Social Chain

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Steven Bartlett was 22 when he founded The Social Chain, a global, social-first marketing agency and production house. Now, at 26, he leads a company that is quickly disrupting the ever-changing social sphere and has been named Great British Entrepreneur of the Year in 2018 and Most Influential Agency Figure in 2018.

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On the second day of #SMWLDN, he shared his entrepreneurial insights to help us distill the state of social media in 2019.

Here are the primary insights and takeaways:

  • Our Industry Faces a Fundamental Reorientation Around Trust and Privacy
  • The Influencer Marketing Space is Ripe with Fraud
  • The Future of Social is Private Messaging and Groups

Where is social media at right now?

Our industry faces a fundamental reorientation around notions of trust and privacy. Users desire the freedom to connect freely in safe and trusted spaces and that their information won’t live permanently online.

With scandals like Cambridge Analytica, we see the scapegoats and the larger impact on public perception. Primarily, these instances continue to shape how we perceive and define authentic and truthful storytelling.

“Increasingly, we are a nation and a world of distrust,” explained Bartlett. Less than a quarter of individuals believe what they see on social, 53 percent worry about being exposed to fake news online, and 64 percent claim they can’t differentiate between good journalism from rumor of falsehood.

But with these threats to transparency, there’s a genuine and powerful marketing opportunity to redefine these terms.

Taking our brands from black boxes to glass boxes

For the last few decades, companies have existed as black boxes, where perception of brand and the company is painted on the outside.

“In a world where we don’t believe the person holding the paintbrush and communication is so democratized, it’s no longer effective to operate as a black box.” Instead, we need to operate as glass boxes.

Barlett continued this analogy to explain how this fundamentally shifts the notion of company culture. “In a glass box world, you don’t have internal company culture, you have public company culture. Your company culture is your brand.”

By leveraging transparency, business leaders can better reach their consumers and target audience—and thus, build trust and open communication.

The fraudulent influencer marketing industry

The marketing industry will spend $1.6 billion on Instagram influencers this year alone. And this shows no signs of slowing down. By 2020, global influencer spend will be between $5 and $10 billion. Leveraging truth and emotion are the two fundamental keys from taking your efforts from good to great in this case.

“Good influencer marketing as we see it will make you believe the message. Great influencer marketing will make you believe the message, but also make you feel something,” Bartlett shared.

While there are many benefits to working with influencers, this space has increasingly seen a market for frauds using tactics like fake endorsements to build reach.

Enter the rise of micro-influencers. These social-media users typically boast a smaller, yet more impactful following and are more likely to facilitate sentiments of likability. According to Sara Ware, CEO of Markerly, micro-influencers with 10,000 to 100,000 followers are four times more likely to get a comment than those with 10 million followers.

“Brands that are really smart have started to realize that if micro influencers are powerful, then their customers are powerful,” said Bartlett. Why? Because all of your customers in their own right are influencers.

Where is social going?

Social media is designed to magnify what is already being magnefied. Strong emotions will continue to trump mild ones and in the post-organic reach era where reach continues to decline and people are sharing less than before. Mild emotion simply won’t get its fair share of attention in the presence of a strong emotional message.

With this in mind, Bartlett urged attendees to not overlook the power of private messaging and group culture. Indeed the future of communication will increasingly shift to private, encrypted services. This is due to the overwhelming preference of social media users to interact one-on-one or with just a few friends linked to privacy concerns (47%), a sense of spending too much time on platforms (31%), and hearing negative news stories in the media (20%).

Ultimately, the channels that offer depth will see the most success. “In a world where it’s increasingly become pay to play, earning your audience is and will continue to be more important than ever.”

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