russian river pr blog

Nancy Birnbaum-Marketing Maven


Marketing Consulting

What Is Participatory Propaganda? And Why Your 2018 PR Campaigns Need it

Public Relations and traditional propaganda have been most effective when publishers control the narratives. Today, however, people—not the publishers—have greater control in the broader Social Media arena. The future of marketing, the key to setting the narrative is the amount of participation, not publication on its own.

Following the 2016 US presidential election, a fake news site held the top search result for “Election Results,” and the article stated (falsely) that Donald Trump had won the popular vote. That article had over 325 backlinks, hundreds of comments, and over 450,000 shares on Facebook; the CNN “Election Results” page, on the other hand, had only 300 backlinks, no comments, and 1/10th of the shares on Facebook.

Proving that participation is more powerful than publication…

Alica Wanless is the queen of “participatory propaganda,” and in her article on La Generalist, she contends that it is the key reason Brexit, Trump, and ISIS have been so successful as of late.

Wanless writes. “Propaganda is changing in a Digital Age. Audiences are no longer passive consumers of persuasive content, but active in its creation and spread, helping to further the agenda of propagandists whose messaging resonates with the target’s world view.

Participatory propaganda moves beyond a one-way form of communication (the propagandist using mass media to persuade a passive target audience), to a “one-to-many-to-many more” form of communication (the propagandist engaging in dialogue with the target audience such that more people are recruited to spread persuasive messaging to others, essentially snowballing the effect). Participatory propaganda offers the ability to truly dominate the information space through volume of messaging, delivered through a mix of real people and automated accounts, effectively making it difficult to discern where fake ends and authenticity begins.

In the Digital Age, this traditional approach is evolving into a participatory propaganda model in which the target audience is no longer mere passively consuming persuasive messaging but also becoming active in producing and distributing such content. The original propaganda message triggers, reinforces, or exacerbates pre-existing sentiments associated with the message in a way that prompts the consumer to actively engage in its propagation through available social networks, both on and off-line. Even if modified through the consumer’s own interpretation, the core message remains intact, and even acquires ‘new life’. At the same time, online monitoring tools enable the original propagandist to follow and assess the spread of his or her messaging, adapting strategies in a constant feedback loop.”

“Participatory propaganda is the deliberate, and systematic attempt to shape perceptions, manipulate cognitions, direct behaviour, co-opting grassroots movements as well as recruiting audience members to actively engage in the spread of persuasive communications, to achieve a response that furthers the desired intent of the propagandist.”

Her article outlines the steps necessary in the application of a Participatory Propaganda model: In reviewing the Donald Trump 2016 presidential election campaign, seven steps emerged that clearly demonstrated this:

  1. Conduct hyper-target audience analysis;
  2. Develop inflammatory content that erodes faith in the opponent and manipulates audience cognitive biases: Fake news; Memes; Data Leaks/Hacks;
  3. Inject this content into echo chambers identified through audience analysis;
  4. Manipulate Feed and Search Algorithms;
  5. Mobilize followers to action;
  6. Win media attention: Be a trend; Stage a Scandal; or Commune with the news; and
  7. Rinse and Repeat.

Click here for an analysis of each of these steps.

PR is about controlling the narrative, and in our modern world collective engagement has proven to be a more powerful at narrative-setting than placement or coverage. The future of PR is participatory.

Do you need help negotiating the slippery slopes of PR? Contact Us for a no-obligation consultation.


Hiring a Marketing Consultant: What should I pay?

You already know that there’s no simple answer to this question. I will however, attempt to delve into what you can expect to get for your hard-earned bucks.

What should I expect?

Consultants offer all types of services, from full-on Marketing Plans to social media marketing help. They can help you with advertising, help you put CRM (or database) management in place, provide content to use on your website… In fact, they can help you build your online presence with a website, social media and the ever-important SEO!

What’s A Fair Hourly Rate?

That will depend on some of these aspects…

  • What type of services you need or want. Consulting, coaching, mentoring or full-on “take it over for me!” services. Do you need to start at the beginning, and develop a marketing plan? Do you need a new website? Are you just discovering Social Media but don’t know how to begin?
  • How much experience do you require? You’ll pay more for someone who has years of work under their belt, but could possibly get by with someone who has a big social media network.
  • How fast do you need the work completed? Be prepared to pay up to a 25% add-on charge for rush jobs.
  • Is this a one-time gig or will you want a long-term relationship? You should ask about discounts for on-going services.

Hourly Rates for Online Marketing Consultant Services with RRPR

Though I usually charge by the project, I use the following hourly rate schedule when putting together my marketing proposals. These fees are based on a one-time client contract with a one-time project.

  • Marketing Consulting: (including Marketing Plan development) $80/hour
  • Marketing Coaching/Mentoring: $75/hour
  • Strategy Session: $75/hour
  • Social Media Marketing: See my 4 Levels of Services here
  • Content Creation: $45/hour (I charge by the article for on-going writing)
  • Website Design help and populating: $45/hour
  • Website Management: $40/hour
  • Search Engine Optimization: $60/hour

The fees noted here are general hourly fees, but as I stated, most consultants will work on a project basis. I am certain that I can develop a project that will fit your budget. Please Contact Me for a free initial consultation.



Are You Making These Big Mistakes in Your Social Media?

Your Brand’s intention may not be to deceive consumers, but you may be unintentionally stretching the truth when it comes to disclosures when it comes to endorsements.

When someone endorses your product in return for gifts, money or free product, you are ethically bound to  be honest and disclose it.

Of course, brands want to sell more products but consumers want more transparency. It comes down to the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) Endorsement Guides. Here, the belief is that the average consumer wants to know the truth – whether or not endorsers work for the company or receive something in return for their testimonial. People care about authenticity. They want to know if the reviewer is an authentic advocate without bias or if they’ve been motivated by other factors.

I write a Tech & Gear column for a national magazine. Sometimes, companies send me their products to review. Sometimes I review them. Sometimes I don’t. I don’t usually “endorse” the product, but rather, I review it – sharing both pros and cons so that my readers have a better feeling for the produ
ct before they decide to buy. I’ve always tried to be clear if I cross that line, to tell my readers (and the Publisher) that if I endorse the product and have received something from the company that produces it, I will state that upfront or at the end of the article.

You can learn from the most common mistakes made by brands, so you won’t have to repeat them. Complying with the FTC’s guidelines will allow you to be viewed as a trusted advertiser and transparent brand, and serve to help keep you out of trouble.

Here are the top Three Big Mistakes when it comes to Social Content.

1. Omitting Proper Hashtags

Many brands run influencer marketing contests or campaigns to gather user-generated content (UGC) to help promote a product… and there’s nothing wrong with that. However, the brand needs to provide the influencers, or endorsers, the proper guidance for what is required to include in their posts. Someone viewing a shared social image or post should understand clearly that it’s part of a promotional contest to validate and disclose authentically.

“Entry into a contest to receive a significant prize in exchange for endorsing a product through social media constitutes a material connection that would not reasonably be expected by viewers of the endorsement,” says Mary Engle, the FTC’s Associate Director for advertising practices.

I have seen this over and over again on Facebook. Companies offering a prize for a free enforcement when the Follower doesn’t even know that they are indeed, endorsing the product!

Endorsements need to be properly labeled with a #Ad or #sponsored hashtag because a contest hashtag alone doesn’t provide the average consumer with sufficient disclosure.

2. Failing to Obtain Earned Media

No matter how you spin it, UGC and influencer marketing strategies are used as a form of advertising. Influencers’ posts about their experiences with brands and products effectively are influencing consumers to buy more than traditional advertising tactics do. So, brand marketers are actively curating social proof from all major social networks. However, curating content does not give brands the right to use it; they need to earn the media.

Marketers should avoid repurposing UGC without obtaining permission from the content creator. For example, when you come across an Instagram video that beautifully showcases your product, you must ask the user who posted the video whether you can publish it on your marketing channels. Without someone’s explicit permission, you run the risk of subjecting your brand to not only legal repercussions but also the loss of consumer trust.

Even though UGC is shared publicly, the person who originally created and published the content has full rights to control how that content is used later on. Which could mean denying a brand the right to use it.

For the most part, people are more than willing to let brands use their content if they simply ask. Asking permissions is a very easy price to pay to earn such valuable media.

3. Having Unclear Communication and Concealed Relationships

The amount of influencers that brands are recruiting to advertise and promote their products is rapidly increasing. With this growing trend comes added responsibility for brands and marketers to clearly communicate to endorsers the requirements for posting and how to disclose their brand affiliations and relationships.

For example, most bloggers share opinions about their favorite products because they want to inspire their readership to try something that will positively affect them.

On the other hand, those bloggers may be approached by brands to blog or post about specific products and services in exchange for compensation. A reader can’t easily decipher which posts are authentic and which are influenced by brand partnerships without properly disclosing how an influencer is associated with a brand.

Disclosing influencer relationships is not just something a brand should be concerned with; influencers should be equally as mindful. For influencers, working with hot brands is very exciting. However, the most successful influencers know it is more beneficial to grow relationships with a few brands that fully embody their same lifestyle and personal mission than to promote numerous brands and varying products.

* * *

According to the FTC, under the law, an act or practice is deceptive if it misleads “a significant minority” of consumers. Some readers may understand social media advertising and influencer marketing guidelines, but many consumers don’t. Do your homework and make sure your ads and campaigns are compliant with the FTC guidelines. The risk you take by not complying isn’t worth the penalties and undesirable PR you’ll get trying to cut corners.


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