When brands want to cozy up to consumers – particularly younger ones – they’re increasingly likely to use social media. So it makes sense that handling “influence” at an agency is now a central role. As Head of Influence at Hungry and Foolish in Paris, Mégane Perret occupies that hot spot.
“I’ve always been a big user of social media, starting with Facebook back in the day,” she says. “So I’ve been interested in the concept of influence from the start. Today I’m lucky enough to do a job that corresponds to my passion.”
The environment is constantly stimulating. “It’s a milieu that moves so quickly, with so many new trends, usage habits and platforms, that you can never get bored. There’s also the psychological and sociological dimension. You’re observing how people evolve in the way they use these platforms. From first thing in the morning, you’re plunging into their daily lives.”
A day of research for Mégane might start with TikTok and Instagram, followed by an hour or so of YouTube, then continue with podcasts and Pinterest, with regular dives back into TikTok and Instagram. In the evening she adds Twitch, the interactive livestreaming service. “YouTube and Twitch replaced my TV quite a while ago,” she says, which no doubt mirrors a broader trend.
Emotion and entertainment
For brands, social media are among the richest and most nuanced environments, Mégane suggests. “Brands have time and space to express their personalities, to share their values and to create editorial content. They can build communities and exchange with people. You don’t get that with a TV spot.”
For some, the word “influencer” conjures up a young woman photographed or filmed – in a selfie or otherwise – in her latest outfit, often gifted by the brand. But this is an unbalanced view, says Mégane.
“The most interesting influencers have always been genuine content creators, going right back to the early bloggers,” she says. “Yes, there were ‘reality TV’ style influencers who got a lot of visibility. But the content creators we’ve evolved with have a truly creative touch, which is why we follow them and why they’ve become a new form of entertainment for a whole generation.”
One big change in recent times is the omnipresence of creators’ private lives on screen. “While bloggers might have shared some aspects of their private lives, they had nowhere near as much visibility as somebody like (French social media star) Léna Situations today, whose life is scrutinized by millions.”
Compared to the early YouTubers, many of the latest generation have no qualms about showing their homes or relationships. “This creates an attachment to them, but it can be problematic too.”
Their opinions carry an outsized weight. Some social media stars have been aggressively goaded into taking sides in the Middle East conflict. “I believe they can have an important role to play in discussions on the environment, for example. But they’re not politicians – and it’s not because they put their lives on display that they’re obliged to share their political views.”
Co-creation is the key
For its part, Hungry and Foolish treats content creators and their viewers with respect. “Our approach is very much one of co-creation. We embark on projects that are beneficial to the creator, the client and the audience. We ensure we’re 100% in line with their editorial approach.”
For example, for the French National Rugby League, the podcast Simple Cafeine and its host Léa Jplf invited rugby star Mathieu Bastareaud to talk about his values and mental health, which is in line with the podcast’s well-being theme.
In a project for Red Bull, the brand’s long-term support of breakdancing is highlighted in a 15-minute documentary with YouTube creator Anis Rhali, who’s known for his expertise in urban culture. “The brand is mentioned in a natural way,” says Mégane. “It’s not product placement.”
With hotel chain Novotel – a family-friendly brand – the agency has embarked on a project that will address a profound subject: the impact on children of appearing on social media with their parents. “We’re working with a child psychologist. It’s absolutely fascinating and I think it’s wonderful that a brand is willing to engage with such a delicate issue.”
The transparency factor
Influencers of the classic variety have been targeted by legislation obliging them to inform their fans if they’ve been paid for a post or received a free gift. Has this impacted the way the agency works with social media creators?
“Not really, as we’ve always had contracts with them ensuring they declare the content was made in the context of a paid partnership. We take professional legal advice in order to remain strictly within the rules.”
The new rules are trickier for tour operators and hotel groups, who can no longer offer free trips and stays in return for content – these, too, must be declared.
But while “influence” is becoming more regulated, it remains highly attractive to brands. Which platforms are the most popular with them?
The social platforms to watch
“Still Instagram,” says Mégane. “There’s a lot of interest in TikTok, Twitch and YouTube, but they demand more means and more audacity. On Twitch, for example, early product placement efforts were rejected by streamers because they were too obvious. Now the more mature brands realize their role is to help creators achieve a personal project. The brand has to take a step back, which can be hard. It also requires a bigger production budget.”
Instagram remains more accessible. Mégane also mentions the proactive approach of Pinterest, the image sharing service, a rich source of inspiration to its users in areas like interiors, fashion, recipes and motivational advice. “Pinterest seeks to highlight the creators it supports and encourages brands to collaborate with the most influential creators on the platform.”
Another medium worth exploring is Discord, where groups “hang out” in multiple ways, including voice, video and text. It’s attracted huge communities, initially around gaming but today embracing myriad subjects.
Mégane concludes: “For us, the key is finding the right balance between brands and creators. It’s only by ensuring that the balance between the brand and the influencer is respected that we can build a good relationship with the creator community.”