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The Clientside Podcast

Influencer Marketing with Jenna Vernon of Collective Comms

The Clientside Podcast

30 min Jenna Vernon , Andrew

Influencer marketing hit the headlines early in 2019 following the Netflix documentary Fyre Festival. But while influencer marketing has been around for a while, its often seen as the preserve of celebrities with millions of global followers. As influencing has become a new career option, we talk to experienced marketer Jenna Vernon about how you might set about running a your own campaign with influencers on social media.

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Andrew:
So welcome to another edition of the A Digital podcast! I'm your host Andrew Armitage and I'm delighted to be joined today by Jenna Vernon from Collective Comms. Welcome to the show Jenna!

Jenna:
Thank you for having me.

Andrew:
So Jenna runs Cumbria based Collective Comms which is a content marketing agency providing influencer marketing, copywriting and content marketing. Collective Comms has specialist experience in travel, tourism and hospitality, with clients including the Lake District National Park, Visit Monaco, and in fact we've even worked together with clients including Derwent Pencil Museum and Out of Eden. So just to get us started Jenna do you want to just introduce yourself? Tell us a little bit more about yourself and what you do?

Jenna:
Yeah so, I began my career in PR actually and working in Chester and then kind of veered more into digital marketing a couple of years down the line and moved down to London to get some experience working for some exciting brands and then moved back to Cumbria which is my hometown in 2017 which is when I set up my own business. So yeah I'm kind of using my experience now in comms and content and particularly influencer marketing which is what I did a lot of in London and now for my own business which is fantastic.

Andrew:
Great stuff.

And influencer marketing is what we're going to talk about today isn't it. Yeah just to to really get under the skin a little bit more about what it is. It's been in the news a lot recently. Obviously those are the sort of now infamous Fyre Festival we sort of hit the headlines at the start of the year with the Netflix documentary. So it is a valid marketing channel I think for businesses of all levels really isn't it. But it's maybe just a case of how does it work. How do you get involved with it. How do you find influencers and what might the pros and cons be, what sort of expectations might you want to set if you're working with influencers so I think that would be quite a good subject to talk about today really.

Jenna:
Yeah absolutely.

Andrew:
So just for those who have almost certainly heard of influencer marketing how would you define it? What's what's your definition.

Jenna:
I always describe influencer marketing as using people who have a really valuable and authentic voice to help spread the message of your business. I think there's this misconception really that influencer just immediately means people with millions of followers, whether it's Instagram or subscribers on YouTube or people who follow blog posts. But really as it's evolved the volume of followers doesn't define influencers anymore. It's the fact that these people build such communities of people online who really follow every recommendation that they make and carry huge value in what they suggest and recommend. It means that products that they endorse are businesses that they become advocates for. It's a huge marketing opportunity for businesses because it's essentially tapping into that peer to peer trend that you more likely to listen to a recommendation from your neighbour than you.

Jenna:
You know it's kind of taken that principle just to a whole other level and using these people who have like I said built these communities of avid listeners.

Andrew:
So I suppose it's it's nothing new really is it. I mean ambassadors companies have had brand ambassadors for for a long time. But I suppose with the growth of social particularly Instagram, it's become much more at the forefront of marketing and something that brands are using very widely.

Jenna:
Yeah absolutely. Just as you said this isn't a new concept. Having somebody that's that's going to become an advocate for your brand and be willing to stand there and say I can endorse this product or I can back up just what this business is saying that they're all about. That's always had huge value for businesses. But the fact that these people are making a business for themselves off channels like Instagram, it's a huge new arena really for businesses and it's a whole new part of their marketing strategy. And although it's not completely new and it's only really in recent years that people are actually starting to think right okay, this needs a line in our marketing budget. This needs to be something that we're taking a little bit more seriously than just hearing the word bounced around.

Andrew:
So it doesn't have to be just social does it. I mean you hear of these sort of headline influencers with millions and millions of followers, but like you say you don't have to be in that category.

Jenna:
Yeah.

Andrew:
And arguably for a lot of companies that kind of influencer is probably out of reach as well anyway.

Jenna:
Yeah absolutely.

Andrew:
I mean you can pay ridiculous amounts of money to get an influencer who has a million followers on Instagram to just post even a story, you know is a huge huge cost...

Andrew:
Potentially it's gone in a second isn't it...

Jenna:
Absolutely.

Andrew:
If it's a single post they've committed to.

Jenna:
Yeah.

Andrew:
Just because they've got a million followers doesn't mean a million people are going to see it.

Jenna:
That's exactly it and I think people are kind of wising up to that now, and in some cases as well, you know if you're talking about a fashion brand for example, you probably do want that reach. You want to tap into that mass market. If you're talking about selling, you know sportswear or something that has a bit more of a niche interest, you want somebody that actually is really credible in that sector. Someone who's an athlete themselves or they can really understand the product to the business. So it's not always about the reach at all.

Andrew:
No.

Jenna:
And for businesses actually I think the opportunity working with these smaller scale influencers and the micro and nano influencers there's an opportunity to really grow your business alongside these influencers who are growing their own business. You know as they become a real brand advocate, and that I think is the key opportunity here. It's not a one stop kind of right let's get one post from an influencer and that's our marketing done for the year. It's actually how do we keep working this person that can really get our business and they can really help us. How do we build a long term strategy? I think is the thing that people can sometimes miss the opportunity of.

Andrew:
And that's where finding and working with influencers becomes quite a critical choice doesn't it?

Jenna:
Yeah...

Andrew:
In terms of who to look for, who to choose. I mean you talked about it doesn't necessarily have to be someone with a million Instagram followers but I suppose they do need to be trustworthy and have a certain degree of a personal branding that that aligns with your own brand.

Jenna:
Yeah. And this will really comes in with the whole process of finding influencers. It's not just about that reach, as I said, it's also about what other content are they posting about what kind of engagement do they get, and actually some people when you look at their feeds they actually get quite a lot negative comments, so you might look at an influencer think, wow they've got a million followers we need to get them on board, but unless you look at their content I think actually people are actually questioning a lot of the things that they're recommending or they recommended this healthy lifestyle last week and this week they're endorsing slimming products; you've got conflicting messages.

Andrew:
Yeah. How does that work together, exactly.

Jenna:
I think it's really important for businesses to actually look past the numbers but understand what kind of communities have these people built up for themselves? What's that sentiment of the conversation and and how valuable will they be in actually sharing the right message; that's what you're really looking for.

Andrew:
You really are looking for an advocate.

Andrew:
You're not so much looking for an influencer (influencers is the sort of broader term that's banded around).

Jenna:
Yeah

Andrew:
It really wants to be an advocate for that brand.

Jenna:
Yes absolutely. And I think just touching on, we have to touch on Fyre Festival.

Andrew:
Of course we do!

Jenna:
And it was really interesting because I like so many people watched that documentary, kind of hiding behind a pillow just like the horror!

Andrew:
How could this be allowed to happen?

Jenna:
And I posted online afterwards saying, wow what a great example of how not to do influencer marketing, and a couple of people commented saying, 'Well no, actually they did the influencer marketing bit really well'. My argument is, well they understood the principle of finding people with huge influence to share that message, but these people had no idea what they were promoting. They couldn't buy into this festival because the festival didn't exist.

Andrew:
Exactly.

Jenna:
You just paid to post something on their feet and that lack of authenticity was a huge huge issue in that (among many issues), but I think that's that's the thing that people misconstrued and I think well, no those people have millions of followers and they promoted a festival, so job done, but actually then the credibility of those influencers was hugely tarnished. You know it massively affects those people.

Andrew:
Yeah the trust is is gone in an instant.

Jenna:
Absolutely yeah. People are thinking well why why did this person tell me to spend my money and book this ticket for a festival that didn't really exist. So I don't think that anyone could say that was a good influencer marketing strategy.

Andrew:
Without doubt, no! Yeah. I mean you want people that have got some morals and scruples about themselves, you know they're gonna stay true to the brand, they're not going to conflict and I remember one of the music artists, Alicia Keys, I think it was, she was picked by BlackBerry as an influencer but then photographed with an iPhone. Things like that - it's not just a photo shoot and a one-off, it's actually that person who really has to embody the values of the brand to make it work.

Jenna:
And there are a number of instances which I often use in presentations because it really highlights this, where celebrities in particular can be guilty of they copy and paste the text that they've been given, but forget to take out that, 'if you could please post this at 4pm on your Instagram feed and copy the whole thing.

Andrew:
I've not seen that actually.

Jenna:
Oh, I've got some great examples, and it's like they haven't paid any attention to what the product is. They've thought right, copy/paste on to Instagram and then it's out there and everybody immediately is criticising the influencer and the brand because they're thinking, okay, he doesn't use that product.

Andrew:
It's just been done because they were paid to do it.

Jenna:
Yeah absolutely and it's that's the missed opportunity. Absolutely.

Andrew:
So we obviously can see the influences with with millions of followers, but if we're in a typical smaller business where might we look for influencers. I mean how how do you sort of make that initial contact with an influencer? Is it a case of looking down your existing social feeds and seeing who is engaging with you? Is it a case of looking for people that perhaps aren't engaging with you but are spearheading a cause. How do you actually make contact with influencers to get them on board with a campaign.

Jenna:
So the first step is being really clear on what you're trying to say and what you want them to do because that will help define who you reach out to. So just thinking right, I should probably take this influencer marketing box this year and I'm going to get an influencer to promote my brand...actually there should be a reason that you're doing this. So what is the particular campaign and what is the key time for that year that you're trying to really build up some momentum and then think okay, what is it that I want them to promote? What's the particular message I need reinforcing or what's the particular products that we're going to tailor this campaign to. And then it's really a case of research time. It's time looking for these people it's time narrowing down. And that's why things like hashtags are great on Instagram because this is how people make sure that they're seen and known for particular things. So you can use these these search streams to find people but then it's so important like I said earlier to actually look at the content they post. It's kind of a filter system. Okay, this post has kind of the good size reach that we're looking for, they're talking about the right things, they have a great community and the engagement rates are fantastic, and you can start to create a shortlist of people you think would work really well with this campaign, and a short list is vital because it's never a case of going to one person saying yep, great, let's go ahead. It's always a conversation. And the influencers that are credible influencers will want that conversation about, okay, what is the product? What's my role in this? What is it exactly that you're looking for? And sometimes that fit might not be right, so a short list of people is is always a great place to start.

Andrew:
And I suppose influences if there is such a thing as a full time influencer which I think there is now officially isn't there! If they're working with other influencers, sorry with other brands, it's getting that balance and like you say we've talked about conflict, making sure there's no conflict, I suppose looking at how long would this arrangement last for?

Jenna:
Yeah.

Andrew:
You know are we looking at wanting to build something more longer term which might be 12 months or is this just a one hit campaign that we're just trying to get a bit of publicity, perhaps get some engagement, perhaps some sign up or whatever it might be, all of those factors are going to come into that.

Jenna:
Oh definitely. And I think this is where that opportunity with the smaller scale influencers really comes into play. An example of this is I was working with a hotel and they were launching a new new hotel within their portfolio and it was very much a kind of wellbeing lifestyle hotel. It was start the day with a lovely juice and smoothie, then go on to a yoga session and have healthy foods by the pool and then gone to a massage. It was that kind of...

Andrew:
Sign me up...!

Jenna:
Yeah I've had worse clients.

Andrew:
Yeah.

Jenna:
So we were launching this new hotel with them and we found an influencer who was it was quite small at the time. She used to be a doctor then became a nutritionist and her feed was just all about yoga, healthy living and nutrition and she was perfect for this, so we invited her to come for a weekend during the launch of this hotel. She had a great time, she was posting continuously throughout. So then by the next season, the hotel was so bought into this relationship that she actually worked with them to create a new menu. She became part of the brand, she created a new menu for the hotel and then by the third year she'd now grown hugely as an influencer, she brought out her book and did the book launch at the hotel.

Andrew:
Right.

Jenna:
So that for me is a...

Andrew:
A real collaborative experience.

Jenna:
Absolutely. And they grew alongside it. This was a brand new hotel and as an influencer, she may have had maybe 4-5000 followers. She wasn't huge at all, but her content was absolutely the brand of the hotel.

Andrew:
Which means that...I mean it sounds like a perfect partnership.

Jenna:
Yeah.

Andrew:
But something like that means that that partnership or the influence goes much much deeper than just a few social posts, doesn't it? Of course not everyone's on social media but in a hotel example like that, you know, if you've got people who are obviously coming to stay as guests and they're eating in the restaurant you've got PR around a book launch and things like that, it's got far greater reach than just 4 or 5,000 people on social media.

Jenna:
Yeah and and I think that again I'm probably going to way over use the word authenticity in this podcast, but it's so true with influencer marketing, because you can pay somebody to put one post out on their feed and it sounds like a sales pitch, it sounds like a very corporate post. Whereas if you have somebody that is continuously posting their own stories and they're sharing images and they're, you know somebody saying where is this hotel and they're replying to comments, and it's this new hotel and you have to come and it's amazing. That just completely shines through and as a marketing channel for a business that's huge hugely valuable. So I think you have to look at the longer term picture and you have to do just as you said, these people can become brand advocates. And if you do go down that route actually that saves you that initial research time that goes into influencer marketing which can feel like a huge task to take on, you know you're saving yourself that long term because you've got this pool of people you can keep tapping into.

Andrew:
But I imagine you're also saving the job of having to manage those influencers, because if it's part of their day to day lifestyle and what they do and what they genuinely believe, then as a business if I'd hired an influencer like that I don't need to influence them to influence our potential customers, they do that themselves, so the management side becomes a lot easier. And so, we hear about influencers being paid these ridiculous amounts of money to broadcast or to share posts; it doesn't always have to be about money does it? And in fact in that case with the hotel it sounds like there was there was clearly a mutual benefit there so there's other ways of hiring influences rather than just thinking it's going to cost me money.

Jenna:
Yeah there is, and often a route that businesses have taken is to gift influencers which you will notice a lot more now, particularly Instagram people using the hashtag 'gifted' because the guidelines around how transparent you have to be now. So the route that people would would take is okay, I'm not going to pay you to post, but if I gift you with a product or gift you with an experience, the likelihood is, (or you hope) that they will enjoy the product and experience and they'll naturally promote it anyway off their own back, which used to be kind of something that a lot of people, I mean you speak to an influencer their Royal Mail deliveries every day is just stacks of products.

Andrew:
Yeah right.

Jenna:
They just never need to go shopping again. They're constantly gifted things and I am interested to see if that will change slightly now that people have to be so transparent and they have to say that it's gifted just because it's not a paid for promotion. And whether that might change the strategy game for people. It's interesting to see but yeah it doesn't have to be paying for a post it can just be introducing somebody to a brand and giving them an experience giving them a taste of the brand, but also I think it's a real opportunity to let an influencer interpret your business in their own way. So you could give them an image and text to post but actually their take on what your business says could be completely different and really interesting to their community. And when it comes to planning an influencer campaign, the first thing that you have to remember, is you know what you want to say as a business, but their business is their content. So you have to be aware that the content opportunity has to be absolutely the first port of call when you're planning these campaigns.

Andrew:
Yeah I think yeah I was with a business yesterday actually and they had some really interesting content but they didn't see it as interesting themselves, and we all know what it can be like, you get too close to something that you're working on in your own projects and things like that, and you know it can sometimes be easy to not see the wood for the trees. So I suppose you really want an influencer to be given a little bit of free reign to be able to look at the things that they would be drawn to and potentially what their audience might be drawn to.

Jenna:
Yeah. And and like I said it's they they will have a view of your business and how to create content for their feed that will suit their audiences as well much better than you as a business could understand. So often now the work that I will do with influencers is event based because you can bring people to an event which is geared up around you know just been here in the Lake District; beautiful backdrop and you know they're gonna go straight to take a photo for their Instagram feed.

Andrew:
Exactly yeah.

Jenna:
But you can use an opportunity to get one on one relationships with these influencers and you can tell them about your business and you can explain it to them you can show them your product, you can pitch the calls to them and they then really become onboarded with them.

Andrew:
They become more engaged.

Jenna:
Absolutely yeah. But first there has to be an element to that which is what is that shot going to be on Instagram. And sometimes it's not going to have your brand all over it and you just have to kind of accept that that's part of the relationship. But you have to have that in mind when planning these experiences or events because that's what their business is at the end of the day.

Andrew:
Exactly. Yeah. Yeah. We talked briefly there that the authorities are sort of trying to clamp down a little bit on some of the influencer posts. Is there, I've seen on some posts the hashtag 'ad' appear, is that a formal requirement for influences? Are there any particular conditions around how that needs to be included on a post?

Jenna:
Yeah. So this is something that Instagram faced quite a lot of criticism about in particular because like we said this has kind of been going on for a while with influencers; YouTube channels have been popping up and it's something that's been kind of building over time. Instagram was a platform that really just it took off, and from an advertising perspective it's like well, hang on a minute, you're completely sidestepping all the advertising regulations here. You're promoting products without people understanding that you've been paid to say this.

Andrew:
Almost a lawless platform.

Jenna:
Absolutely, it affects people's buying decisions at the end of the day, it affects their loyalty to businesses. So you have to be really explicit about the relationship. The first step was they introduced the paid for partnership which appears as a location would appear in the post.

Andrew:
Right, okay.

Jenna:
So that was kind of the first thing that they did and then making sure that people explicitly said this is an ad, or hashtag 'ad'. And the latest again has been that even if you've been gifted an item you have to be really explicit and say okay, I haven't been paid to do this post, but they have gifted me this item for free in the hope I would post it. So that's kind of that's something that's really new in influencer marketing and like I said I'm really interested to see how that will change brands approach to gifting items but, it's really important that they become really clear about to this. You know you look through your feed and you think, okay, do you actually use that product?

Andrew:
The whole fake news thing has really been brought to the fore hasn't it.

Jenna:
Yes. Absolutely.

Andrew:
Not just things like Fyre Festival.

Jenna:
Yeah.

Andrew:
I think there is a little bit more hesitancy perhaps to just believe everything that you see straightaway.

Jenna:
Yeah, and and I think that what originally started as an interesting business opportunity for influencers, Instagram as a channel is now just harnessing that as part of its business model. So just this week they announced that businesses now will be able to promote posts from an Instagram, from an influencers channel sorry. So this is something that hasn't happened before, so if an influencer posts on their feed and they're promoting your brand, you as a business can actually pay to promote that post.

Andrew:
Right.

Jenna:
So it's really tapping into that authentic content, that real value that influencers have, but it's part of your business model as a as a brand. So if you can get that out there to even more people, it makes more sense to really put some advertising spend behind their posts than your own because that's where the impact lies. So it's constantly evolving and I think it's, like I said for Instagram as a channel, they realise that this is a core part of how people use use the space now so they have to get clever about that.

Andrew:
And I suppose they don't want to keep providing a free platform when there's all this money changing hands.

Jenna:
I mean it's owned by Facebook so they were going to cotton on sooner or later!

Andrew:
Exactly, there's gonna be a slice of money there somewhere isn't there. Okay, so we talked a little bit about change and you know about things like Fyre Festival will have influenced what happens in the influencer space, are there any other changes that you foresee that might have been sort of highlighted by Fyre Festival or other things that you've seen around influencers that might just either make it more appealing or less appealing I suppose and over the next year or so.

Jenna:
I think the big change which I've kind of been, you know this isn't new news, but the trend of finding micro and nano influencers and building your brand alongside influencers building their business, I think is the real turning point for influencer marketing because what the value of using influencers really was, okay, this gives more credibility for our business, but the fact that now influencers are so huge that they're being paid to post for business it's almost a complete reverse effect.

Andrew:
Yeah.

Jenna:
People are now thinking well, how is this any different to looking at an advert in a magazine? You've been paid to say that, I'm not sure if I trust what you are saying anymore. So it's almost come full circle and now it's the smaller influencers who have the genuine relationships with businesses, they become an advocate of that business and they grow with, alongside a company. I think that's going to happen more and more, and I think even the big brands, you know, I know some of the companies that I've worked with, who have in the past felt they have to pay for these bigger influencers because it's what they should be doing. They're now making their marketing strategy being we're working with emerging talent, and that's become their strategy because they think actually people are on to something here, we want to be part of this, that people are building their business and they are like you said this is people's full time jobs now, it's a career! People are coming out of school...

Andrew:
Exactly...

I want to be an influencer and I want YouTuber, so it's a genuine industry now that I think that's gonna be a real change.

Andrew:
Yeah, I think that while people probably perceive it as being quite a glamorous career option (if it really is a career option which you have certainly there's been news to suggest that youngsters are trying to get into that space) but I don't think for...for influencers to have real clout, they're still going to have to work. It's not just a case of jetting off to all these far flung places and being seen, you know having a selfie taken or putting a product in the picture.

Jenna:
Yeah.

Andrew:
I think actually, you know it comes back to that example that you talked about with hotels. It's about hard work on both sides if it's really going to work effectively for the good of the brand and for the long term.

Jenna:
Yeah.

Andrew:
I don't think it's just something that is necessarily, well that's an easy way in, great, I'll just take pictures and get a paycheck.

Jenna:
That's it, it's hugely competitive now there's so many people trying to do it, and I think influencers are facing the same challenges brands are; essentially in that it's people are much less loyal now to businesses online because there's so much competition that they're cluttered with news from you know new products and competitors. So people are becoming much more fickle and really online people are following content rather than they're following people and business. So the importance for people to really have strong amazing content, I mean, I've done events where we've just invited, you know mid to low tier influencers for a drink after work to talk about a new product and they turn up and they've got a brand new outfit, they've had the hair and makeup done. More often than not they have a photographer with them right to get the right shot of them. I mean it's all about the content and that's how they create their business, but you're right, it's so competitive that it's not as easy as thinking, you know I think I'll become an influencer because I would have done it by now.

Andrew:
Yes exactly. Yeah. Yes. It's often the way; if it was that simple we'd all be doing it.

Jenna:
Absolutely.

Andrew:
So we've talked about loads of bits around influencers but fundamentally it's all coming back to a marketing plan isn't it.

Jenna:
Yeah.

Andrew:
What do you want to achieve? How do you think it can be achieved?

Jenna:
Yes.

Andrew:
That's really where it all needs to to start. It's not necessarily just rushing out and saying, we need an influencer! It's got to be measured, considered, what's that influencer going to do for you, and so on.

Jenna:
And that's so important during that outreach phase when you're first introducing yourself to an influencer, they have so many messages every day that they they're getting from businesses and brands, so you have to be really clear about what you're actually asking them to do. You can't kind of message them and say hey we're this business, we're kind of looking to get involved with people because we want to get in front of lots of...you know you can't be that vague. You have to say this is our new campaign that's launching this is what it's all about. This is how we want you to be involved. And it has to be part of a wider marketing strategy.

Andrew:
Yeah. And I think on that basis it's got to be measured as well hasn't it.

Jenna:
Yeah it does.

Andrew:
Everything can be measured as we know on digital but I think there's got to be something to define success because otherwise after after a campaign or a 12 month period, how do you know whether it's worthwhile to continue with it for another 12 months, or to keep working with that person or whether it's time to find a different influencer to possibly up the game or depending on whatever the object of it.

Jenna:
Yeah. And it and it should be integrated with all the other strands of marketing that are happening.

Andrew:
Thats a really good point.

Jenna:
Yeah if you're using an influencer to talk about a particular message, really what you're wanting people to do is then, those people go and research your business and find out for themselves, so that same message should be reiterated on your social channels on your website on every kind of touch point.

Andrew:
You're preaching to the choir here!

Jenna:
But you know I think that's again the opportunity that people miss, they kind of want to tick a box and they can say we've worked with an influencer now, but how can you measure it if it's just one post.

Andrew:
Exactly.

Jenna:
You know the return on investment is going to be pretty minimal because it will be just the reach of that content. You want to be able to see how it's impacted your business as a whole and your strategy you know. So yeah I think it has to be integrated definitely.

Andrew:
We completely agree there! Well, we're about out of time, so thank ever ever so much for joining us Jenna, that's been a fantastic discussion. For listeners who might want to you explore influencing or influencer marketing, where can people follow up with you?

Jenna:
Yes. So I am on Twitter @collectiveld and Instagram, obviously @collectivecomms or online on our website as well, www.collectivecomms.co.uk.

Andrew:
Fantastic. Well thanks very much for joining us Jenna.

Jenna:
Thank you.

Andrew:
And hopefully you'll come back and join us again for another episode?

Jenna:
Absolutely, thanks for having me.

Andrew:
You're welcome.

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It's really important for businesses to look past the numbers and to understand what kind of communities influencers have built up for themselves. What's the sentiment of the conversation and how valuable will they be in actually sharing the right message; that's what you're really looking for.

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