Public Relations Society of America holds speaker event at CSU

PRSA highlighted the crucial ideas in the communication industry

The Public Relations Society of America hosted a “Student Day 2021” where invited professionals spoke about the need-to-know trends in the communication industry- like why companies are migrating to TikTok and why they are choosing virtual influencers instead of human ones. This event took place on Oct. 22 at Cleveland State University’s Fenn Tower.

Attendees at Student Day 2021 in Fenn Tower’s ballroom. Photo courtesy of Courtney Byrnes

The first speaker was Cathy Belt, a donor relations officer who works at the Greater Cleveland Food Bank. Throughout her presentation, Belt encouraged the audience to pursue purpose- both individually and in their organizations.

Belt particularly emphasized the power of storytelling. She described storytelling as believing, taking action, and creating impact. Belt has been telling her non-profit’s story with testimonials like that of Veronica, a donor who contributes so that Cleveland families don’t go hungry like her’s did when she was a child.

Attendees then heard from CSU’s instructional designer, John Hubbard, who spoke of the potential of artificial intelligence to pollute societal discourse with misinformation. Hubbard told a story about how he once gave a prompt to an AI that could write a coherent story about a tornado that never happened. Next, the audience was shocked when Hubbard displayed generated faces that were indistinguishable from human faces. This is all particularly worrisome since posts can go viral before being fact-checked.

Nikki Hannaway and Bailey Purpura, the minds behind the foodie sensation Cravecle. On their Instagram and TikTok, they post mouth-watering pictures and videos of the best dishes available in Cleveland. They argued that for many companies right now TikTok is the social media to advertise on. It has a whopping engagement rate of 17.99% percent compared to Instagram’s dismal 3.86%.

When it comes to posting on TikTok, they said good photography, consistent posting, and relevant hashtags are essential. “Having solid photography is huge,” said Bailey. And by consistently posting they made sure they were “always present in their audience’s feed.”

Amber Zent, Partner, and SVP of Marcus Thomas LLC gave an eye-opening presentation on virtual influencers. Virtual influencers are computer-generated digital characters who act like they are actual humans on social media— they post pictures at the gym, respond to commenters, and talk about relationship drama.

Zent said some marketers are choosing virtual influencers instead of their human counterparts because they’re “cheaper to work with than humans,” they allow the marketers “more creative freedom” and allow them to control messaging and behavior. Her example of a popular virtual influencer was Lil Miquela, who has 3 million followers, an estimated net worth of $10 million, and promotes high-end brands such as Calvin Klein.

There was a particularly thought-provoking exchange during Q&A when Zent mentioned how a company received backlash for manufacturing a line-up of racially diverse virtual influencers instead of recruiting the real human diversity that already exists.

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