In a bid to raise awareness of responsible behaviour concerning COVID-19 among the younger age groups, the UK government is reported to be paying freelance social media influencers and reality TV stars to promote test and trace.
Test and Trace
Test and trace in the UK is branded as NHS but is actually outsourced to private companies and uses a network of commercial testing labs, drive-through centres, and call centres. The idea of the service, in the absence of an effective app (the UK’s app trialled in the Isle of Wight and failed after it didn’t work on Apple devices and £11 million had been spent), is to enable the identification and contacting of people who may have been unknowingly in close contact with a COVID-positive person e.g. in a restaurant.
Even though government schemes (e.g. eat out to help out and other messages) have promoted a return to restaurants and other hospitality businesses, the current narrative focuses on young people as mostly potential asymptomatic spreaders who may not be as concerned about the impact of their behaviour on the wider population. As such, getting the message to them that they must get tests if they have symptoms and self-isolate if contacted are deemed to be especially important. Other challenges include the fact that the test and trace service is also reported to be failing to deliver, there appears to be a reluctance among many people to share their contact details, and there is a growing weariness of and dislike pandemic restrictions being imposed, changed and re-imposed.
Freelance Influencers and Reality TV Stars
Younger age groups that have grown up with social media and reality TV are known to be susceptible to messages by social media influencers and reality TV stars. This is believed to be because:
- Social media influencers are perceived as being more like their audience, sharing more of their experiences and therefore more ‘authentic’ (perhaps unlike more guarded celebrity behaviour), often encouraging engagement with social issues (adding to their credibility) and being able to forge a stronger more engaging direct relationship with followers i.e. they are trusted, and they are young.
- Reality TV stars are perceived to be ‘ordinary’ (just like their audience), they are open, spontaneous and outspoken (like their young audience) and they appear familiar and almost friend-like to their young admirers i.e. there is a perceived relationship with the star.
- Social media influencers have massive reach. Individual influencers can have millions of followers.
Social media influencers and reality TV stars have a proven record of boosting sales of products in, for example, the fashion and beauty industries through their endorsements.
Who and How Much?
The UK government is reported to have enlisted the services of Love Island stars Shaughna Phillips, Josh Denzel and Chris Hughes. It is likely that a social media influencer with a large following could be paid thousands of pounds for a single post.
What Does This Mean For Your Business?
Businesses in the beauty and fashion industries know how important reviews and endorsements for influencers and reality stars can be in boosting brand-power and sales. Many different businesses also know how difficult it can be to effectively reach younger audiences in a cost-effective way. It makes sense, therefore, that influencers who can promote test and trace among the young in a positive way and in a way that stresses its ease, convenience and social responsibility is likely to be a good tactic. Businesses in the hospitality sector, for example, have been particularly affected by pandemic restrictions and they are likely to support any intelligent moves to make going out much safer.
Aside from its promotion, however, questions are still being asked about how far people are having to travel to even get a test, how well the test and trace service is operating, where bottlenecks are, and how accurate capacity and testing figures are.
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