The Evolution of Celebrity PR: How Social Media Changed the Game

The Evolution of Celebrity PR: How Social Media Changed the Game

Gone are the days ofcontrolled media narratives.

Smita Khana Kithania

Mumbai: In January 2024, we experienced the introduction of Apis Honey, with its launch being endorsed by Sanya Malhotra. Beyond her acting prowess, Sanya is renowned for her dedication to fitness and a mindful lifestyle. Her association with the launch extended beyond mere celebrity endorsement, as her commitment to health aligned seamlessly with the product's ethos and this association was appreciated by the audiences. Contrastingly, Poonam Pandey generated significant backlash from audiences, particularly on social media, when she falsely claimed her death on her social platforms in February 2024. Merely two days later, she retracted the announcement, attributing it to an attempt to raise awareness about cervical cancer. The controversial episode stirred a wave of negativity, with social media serving as a prominent platform for expressing disapproval.

Over the years we have seen that celebrity endorsement serve as a powerful catalyst in shaping a brand's identity and fostering consumer connections. Celebrities, as cultural icons, bring a unique aura and relatability, instantly elevating a brand's visibility and appeal. Their endorsement not only sparks initial attention but also embeds the product in the consumer's psyche.

The world of celebrity public relations has undergone a seismic shift in the digital age, driven by the rise of social media. Gone are the days of meticulously crafted press releases and controlled media narratives. Today, stars and their teams must navigate a dynamic, two-way street of constant engagement with fans and the ever-watchful eye of the internet.

Traditionally, media outlets served as gatekeepers, controlling the information disseminated about celebrities. Interviews, magazine covers, and carefully managed appearances shaped public perception. Social media bypasses these gatekeepers, empowering celebrities to connect directly with audiences. A Sprout Social report revealed that 89 per cent of consumers follow brands on social media, highlighting the potential for direct engagement. Celebrities like Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, with his 344 million Instagram followers, actively cultivate relationships with fans, fostering loyalty and creating a powerful voice beyond traditional media.

The carefully constructed personas of yesteryear are giving way to a demand for authenticity. Platforms like Instagram Stories and live streams offer unfiltered glimpses into celebrities' lives, humanizing them and building trust. 72 per cent of consumers expect brands to be authentic on social media, according to Edelman's 2023 Trust Barometer, a sentiment that extends to celebrities. Stars like Priyanka Chopra, known for her no-nonsense conversations has been promoting her hair care brand on her social pages and garnered sizeable traction and appreciation.

Interesting aspect of social media is that the social media's immediacy can turn a minor misstep into a full-blown public relations crisis. Celebrities face the constant risk of being captured in compromising situations or making off-hand remarks that quickly snowball online. Take for instance Akshay Kumar’s endorsement of a pan masala brand in 2023 sparked controversary as he had made open statements during earlier years of never endorsing such products and leading a health conscious life.

Further, in many cases social media has made it easier to spread misinformation, underscoring the need for swift and effective crisis management.

Social media empowers celebrities to champion causes they care about, using their platforms to raise awareness and mobilize action. Studies show that 76 per cent of consumers are more likely to trust a brand that supports a cause they care about. Celebrities like Emma Watson, a vocal advocate for gender equality, and Leonardo DiCaprio, known for his environmental activism, leverage their reach to drive positive change.

Marketers are constantly gathering viable information via social media pages to extract data insights into audience engagement and sentiment and how such endorsements are impacting the brand. PR teams can track follower growth, analyze post performance, and gauge brand sentiment, allowing for data-driven decision-making. Tools like Sprout Social and Hootsuite help measure the impact of campaigns and optimize strategies. This focus on quantifiable results is crucial for demonstrating the return on investment (ROI) of social media efforts.

And how can be ignore the tsunami influencers which have flooded the social media landscape. Micro-influencers, individuals with smaller but highly engaged followings, have emerged as powerful marketing tools. 89 per cent of marketers plan to leverage micro-influencers in 2024 (Influencer Marketing Hub, 2023), and celebrities are increasingly partnering with them to reach specific audiences. Additionally, the role of community management has become critical, with dedicated teams responsible for fostering positive online interactions and mitigating negativity.

We live in a world of quick consumption and despite its transformative power, social media presents unique challenges for celebrities and their PR teams. The constant pressure to maintain engagement, the threat of online harassment, and the ever-evolving nature of platforms demand adaptability and resilience and most importantly to be relevant in the eyes of the audiences they want to attract.  

The author of this article is Newton Consulting India COO Smita Khanna Kithania.