Online or off, our work is about influence

By Brian Burlingame.

Latin America has the world’s fastest-growing online population, which has made digital media increasingly relevant across the region. Looking ahead, with online advertising poised to exceed investments in offline media in the U.S. in 2017, we can expect a similar outcome in Latin America in the near future. But what does this mean for those of us in PR?

Digital and social media have greatly expanded the potential for PR programs with the ability to strategically target, even personalize, corporate and brand messages to make them more attractive and relevant. But while the media consumption and channels continue to evolve, the underlying philosophy remains the same. The PR agency heritage which aims to increase awareness, establish connections, inspire engagement and generate third party endorsements is more valid and important today than ever. Today’s digital channels and trends, which will continue to appear, evolve and fade, are simply additional tools in our toolbox.

LatAm’s Potential as the Most Social

Just 50% of Latin Americans currently have Internet access – a number that will continue to rise mostly through the expansion of mobile access. Of those with Internet access, an incredible 95% are users of social media, and recent studies have shown that Latin Americans spend more me on social media than users anywhere else in the world. Currently, Facebook is by far the leading social media platform in Latin America. A recent report by the Mexican Internet Association (AMIPCI) revealed that 92% of social media users in Mexico are on Facebook, while studies by eMarketer show Facebook with usage rates above 94% for Argentina and Mexico, and Brazil trailing not far behind at 91%.

That’s not the only way people are connecting digitally. For instance, while some people may not consider the messaging application WhatsApp a social network, in Latin America it is, in a big way. AMIPCI reports that 8 out of 10 Internet users in Mexico use WhatsApp, while a 2016 eMarketer survey of Brazil smartphone users showed it as the most essential application. The potential of these messaging platforms has yet to be fully explored for social networking, marketing and commercial purposes; but it doesn’t take much effort to imagine how WhatsApp could be leveraged for word-of-mouth campaigns, contests, customer service interactions and more. In 2016, Facebook (which owns WhatsApp) announced end-to-end encryption of communications on the messaging platform, possibly opening up its use for things like shopping, banking and other commercial transactions.

Engaging and Influencing

It is also important to note that compared to the U.S. and Europe, the region is relatively young. The median age of South America’s population is just 30.6 years, compared to 37.6 in the U.S. and over 40 for most of Europe. Millennials and members of Genera on Y – who are “digital natives” – make up a large percentage of the region’s population, and companies trying to reach these audiences must meet them where and how they live. We know that these demographic groups are highly distrustful of marketing and brands, and they also hold a world view that

is more focused on social purpose, which is precisely why the PR or communications approach to marketing is so important.

At JeffreyGroup, we’ve had tremendous success helping companies connect with these audiences. Bayer, the German pharmaceutical giant, realized that its brand did not have a strong connection with young people in Brazil. JeffreyGroup created Bayer Jovens (Bayer Youth) to engage young Brazilians on the topics that most interest them, such as sustainability, careers, sexuality and travel. With specialized content in the form of videos, imagery, articles and posts, our agency helped Bayer create an online community through a dedicated website (owned digital channel) as well as on Facebook and Twitter. The audience size and engagement not only surpassed expectations, but recruitment for job candidates and participants in the Bayer Young Environmental Envoy program also increased as a result.

Another way we’ve applied PR strategies within digital environments is through online influencer programs. JeffreyGroup’s proprietary Webfluentials® platform identifies the influencers (bloggers, experts, celebrities, key opinion leaders, etc.) that help our clients cut through the digital clutter and achieve their communications objectives, from awareness to engagement to call-to-ac on. It’s important to remember that while “Latin America” may be considered a region, it is actually made up of distinct countries and cultures, and a customised approach for each market is often required. For example, we worked with KitchenAid to launch a new product across seven markets.

The key to success was identifying the Webfluentials that resonated in each market and developing customised messaging platforms. As the launch was for a kitchen appliance, the influencer program included chefs, fitness experts and even socialites to help position the premium product in the most relevant way within each country.

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Brian Burlingame is CEO of JeffreyGroup. This piece was written as part of thenetworkone’s 2017 essay collection “PR: social and branding”.

To download the full “PR: social and branding” collection, click here.