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Digital Storytelling in the Age of AI: Janessa Bishop’s Guide for Brands

In her insightful interview with CanadianSME Small Business Magazine, Janessa Bishop, Vice-President and Digital Communications Lead at Kaiser & Partners, Inc., shared her expertise on the evolving landscape of digital communications in the era of AI and virtual influencers. She discussed the benefits and risks of partnering with AI and virtual influencers, emphasizing the need for authenticity and transparency in such collaborations. Janessa highlighted the importance of understanding the differences between AI and virtual influencers and how brands can leverage these technologies while maintaining genuine engagement with their audience. Additionally, she touched upon strategies for enhancing digital storytelling through AI, the significance of video captioning for inclusivity and engagement, and the essentials of crafting memorable digital campaigns in the current short-form content and AI-driven environment. Her experience underscores the importance of authenticity, strategic planning, and adaptability in digital communications, offering valuable insights for those looking to excel in this rapidly evolving field

Janessa is a seasoned communications professional with experience developing and executing communications programs for a variety of industries, including healthcare, non-profit, technology, government, and professional services. She has executed and managed strategic programs for national, regional and local clients, which improved their position in the market and differentiated them from competitors. At Kaiser & Partners (K&P), Janessa serves as senior lead on a number of accounts across multiple industries, and leads the firm’s Digital Communications practice.

Janessa previously led media relations at two large, non-profit organizations (Sinai Health Foundation and SickKids Foundation) and worked with donors and stakeholders across Canada to raise awareness of the need to fund health care for children and adults. Janessa developed and implemented strategic communications plans for awareness campaigns and major gift announcements and worked on issues management and crisis communications in the non-profit sector.

Her experience also includes creating extensive internal communications plans and developing digital and social content strategies.

Janessa graduated from Carleton University’s Journalism program with a combined honours degree in Journalism and English. She is fluent in English and French.

As we witness the rise of AI and virtual influencers in social media, what strategies do you recommend for brands to effectively adapt and remain competitive? How do you balance the innovative use of AI while maintaining authentic engagement with audiences?

There are several benefits to working with both virtual and AI influencers, such as the ability to reduce campaign costs, build longer-term relationships, and produce more personalized content to reach niche audiences.  According to a recent global marketing report,  60 per cent of brands have worked with a virtual influencer. Before considering these types of partnerships, it’s important to be aware of the differences between virtual and AI influencers. Virtual influencers use a digital character or avatar, but are controlled by a person, while AI influencers are digital characters controlled by AI, and have been developed by a brand to promote products or services.

AI influencer partnerships also come with more risks, primarily around bias and content authenticity. When engaging with AI influencers, brands should be transparent about the use of AI and ensure campaigns comply with current legislation.

While both virtual and AI influencers continue to gain popularity, we don’t expect them to replace traditional influencers anytime soon. Ultimately, when considering any influencer partnership, it’s important to understand your goals, target audiences and channels to inform decision-making.

Considering the increasing integration of AI across social platforms, what are the key considerations for brands to ensure their content remains relevant and impactful? How can they leverage AI to enhance their digital storytelling?

AI is an incredibly powerful tool, and in 2024, we expect to see AI to take centre stage on social media – from more in-feed AI-based recommendations, tools and chatbots to generative AI backgrounds, stickers and editing tools. While some AI advancements will be obvious, platforms will also use back-end enhancements to improve the user experience. While the potential of AI is great, it’s important to watch for unintended biases of this technology and lean on AI primarily for research and inspiration. As an example, brands can use AI to help develop first drafts of social media posts – but these posts still need a human touch. AI can also help with influencer identification and recruitment – but this research should always be vetted to avoid unintended bias.

Brands can and should harness the power of AI to create efficiencies and help with digital storytelling, but when it comes to personalization, messaging style and tone – the human element is still essential.

With the trend towards the standardization of video captions, how can brands optimize their video content for both accessibility and user engagement? What role do you see this playing in the broader context of inclusive digital communication?

Captioned videos are a powerful way to reach consumers, and this is a trend we expect to continue in 2024. More people are consuming videos without audio, and on Facebook alone, approximately   85 per cent of videos are viewed without sound. While video continues to outperform all other forms of content – captioned videos typically receive more views, engagement and longer watch times.

Digital Storytelling in the Age of AI: Janessa Bishop's Guide for Brands
Image courtesy – canva

Using captions is an easy way to make content more accessible and inclusive, particularly for people who are interpreting content in a second language or those who may be hard of hearing. In addition to using captions, brands can also consider audio descriptions, plain language and accessible colours to reach a broader audience.

This trend towards more inclusive content, and the move towards including more diverse representation across both social media and influencer marketing is a positive step forward and one that should be adopted by Canadian organizations.

In your experience, what are the core elements of crafting memorable digital campaigns in an environment dominated by short-form content and generative AI? Can you share an example of a campaign that successfully navigated these modern dynamics?

As trends and algorithms constantly evolve, staying on top of the digital landscape remains a challenge. However, I think one principle is core to guiding content creation – and that’s authenticity. Before jumping on the next trend, brands should ask if they are able to authentically engage with or add a unique POV on content. Audiences are looking for content they can trust on social media – so ensuring that your brand stays true its voice and values is paramount.

Brands are starting to use AI in so many creative ways, it’s hard to pick just one campaign! One that stuck out was Heinz’s viral marketing campaign, which was simple yet effective. The entire campaign centered around one question: “What does AI think ketchup looks like?” After feeding AI a series of prompts, the brand produced a collage with ketchup images re-imagine by AI. Many other brands have been leveraging this trend, asking AI to do everything from naming their next beer or producing new ice cream flavours.

Nike’s “By You” campaign also successfully used AI to create a more personalized shopping experience. Nike used the technology to allow customers to design their own shoes, allowing people to select their preferred style then customize using a variety of colours. This also helped inform what colour combinations were the most popular, giving Nike valuable information for future product releases. Many large make-up brands like Sephora are also using AI to help customers test out products from the comfort of their own home. The technology allows users to upload their skin tone and use the app to try on different products before purchasing.

For those aspiring to excel in digital communications and marketing, what key skills and approaches should they focus on developing in this rapidly evolving digital era? How has your diverse experience shaped your advice to newcomers in the field?

Although digital trends evolve at the speed of light, it’s important to go back to basics. Consider business objectives and target audiences first and foremost – and use this information to inform your digital strategy. Just because your competitors are on every single channel doesn’t mean you should be – and many organizations are choosing to focus only on top-performing channels in 2024. Don’t overlook the information that’s readily available – social media provides a wealth of information, more so than traditional media relations or advertising. By regularly reviewing your content performance and conducting more fulsome social audits once or twice a year, you can gain valuable insights to inform the path forward.

As much as we try and plan social content, the reality is that we can’t predict the next trend. Staying agile, being present and engaged across social platforms and the willingness to learn through trial and error are all key to success. There’s no exact “science” to social media, so you need to take strategic risks without being afraid to fail.  And lastly – have fun! At its core, social media is used to delight and entertain, and a dose of humour can go a long way.


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