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Shopping with a Virtual Friend: The New Black Friday Experience

Published on November 18, 2020, at 10:05 p.m. 
by Tess Hensley.

The relationship between a brand’s public relations team and an influencer is crucial; one bad interaction on either side and that can ruin future relationships with other key community leaders. This year, sponsorships are more crucial than ever as people are on social media looking for holiday gifts. Two influencers known for highly viewed gift guides are Amy Littleson and Dorothy Walton. Bloggers often reflect what their followers want to see and as their messaging has changed this year, so should a brand’s own messaging.

In what many know as the year of change, partnerships have changed as well. Black Friday chaos with lines and crowds? Consider it a thing of the past. With the pandemic in mind, many stores have switched gears to online-only events, or are trying to limit in-store experiences to as few as necessary. “I wouldn’t post about a sponsored event and not recognize COVID, and I wouldn’t do a partnership with it not being safe and with proper protocol,” Littleson said.

Photo by Justin Lim on Unsplash

Retailers are doing their best to safely draw in customers during the 2020 holiday shopping season by expanding the length of time to cash in on online doorbuster deals and offering curbside pickup and delivery. Local businesses also are offering innovative shopping promotions, including pre-booked shopping times and free gifts.

These days, online alternatives are key. “I think a lot of people are going to be a little disappointed to see more sponsored content in their feeds in the remaining months of the year because (of) the influencers that rely on this as their sole income, and hopefully they’re being strategic with who they’re partnering with,” Walton said.

Influencers often earn commission using affiliated links, but the gift guide poses as inspiration for those looking to shop for a certain person or in a certain price range. This year, people are shopping earlier than ever before. “I did a survey with my followers a few weeks ago, and I never thought about gift guides this early before, but the people are definitely ready,” Walton added.

Littleson also approached her gift guides earlier and differently than those in the past. “I tried to recognize that this year would be different for everybody … I wanted to be as conscious of how everyone is celebrating differently this year, whether that means they’re going all out with the holiday season and doing gifts out the wazoo or tapering back and just spending time with loved ones, or people who won’t be traveling and seeing their families, and that’s a total reality as well.”

With much of the country still under financial stress, bloggers are also looking to be inclusive of different budgets as well as small businesses. “Let’s make sure we have a gift guide for people who only want to spend $50, people who don’t want to buy material things, but want to focus on experiences, so that will be coming. I just have tried to make it more holistic and inclusive than ever; I’ll also have one that just focuses on small businesses, and then throughout them, and then throughout them I’ve incorporated more black-owned businesses as well,” Littleson said.

People want diverse options on where to spend their money, and if that purchase can help underrepresented and underrecognized businesses, all the better. COVID-19 also brings up shipping delays, so bloggers are encouraging people to shop as early as possible for gifts to arrive in time for the holidays.

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

While the gift guides do take time and bloggers will want to be compensated, they try to only choose partnerships that really align with their personal brands or buying choices. “I’ve always only wanted to push links of things that I own and love, or am interested in purchasing for other people. I try not to just link things because it has a high commission rate, and a lot of the times I don’t even look at what it [the rate] is. I just want it to be more helpful than anything, but I will more heavily target it this time of year,” Walton said.

The delivery of the information needs to be easy to access, straight-forward but still fun like previous years. “I designed the gift guide hub on my page and tried to make it as simple for everyone to see my gift recommendations. They want it to be easy, but fun too. I put confetti and a Spotify playlist on my site so people can hang with me there and have fun while they browse,” Littleson said.

As brands communicate with influencers and bloggers, they should practice empathy. Influencers’ content and brand aesthetic are most likely already planned. How can the content be enjoyably shared for them and to their followers? Is it a partnership that makes sense? These are questions communicators need to ask before reaching out.

By getting to know an influencer and their followers, there is much that can be learned about what people want to see and know from public relations messaging.

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