How influencer marketing is evolving amidst the Great Virus Crisis

How influencer marketing is evolving amidst the Great Virus Crisis

Some weeks ago, when Europe was just bedding in for its extended period of lockdown, we wrote about the need for influencers, whose livelihoods rely on documenting their seemingly glamorous lives of hot footing it between the FROW to street style videos, and of course those lucrative marketing contracts, to adapt their strategies in order to survive the great virus crisis (GVC)

With global brands the past few years increasingly allocating a large portion of marketing ad spend to the influencer channel, enticed by their large, targeted, and, perhaps most importantly, spend-happy followings, it was an interesting situation to watch unfold as COVID-19 changed the influencer landscape overnight. Gone are the street style videos, gone are the fashion shows, and gone are the fancy press launches. So, seven weeks on, what have the social media gurus been doing to maintain their desirability and value in the eyes of the brands? 

Well, it’s no secret that online media consumption has sky rocketed, however, at the same time, the very premise of an influencer’s sway on their audience is their aspirational lifestyle, and while some may have nicer houses than others, the coronavirus lockdown ‘stay-at-home’ message has well and truly wiped the gloss from many accounts. The saying ‘we’re all in this together’ has never been so pertinent. While once we would drink in hours of content, marvelling enviously at the luxurious lives seemingly lived by the social starlets, the pandemic has stripped this back – the veil has well and truly been lifted. Of course, there will be the winners and there will be the losers, with travel bloggers undoubtedly being hit the hardest. 

Speaking to CNBC, Sarah Baumann, Managing Director of London-based marketing agency VaynerMedia, said, “The premise that influencer marketing is largely based on — aspiration — is now fundamentally flawed. No one can aspire to a perfect life anymore. There are no more yoga or spin classes after the school run, no more matcha lattes, Botox appointments are on hold, and whole families are living in close, often messy, quarters. We’re binge-eating chips not quinoa.”

So how are they drawing in the crowds? Getting the insight figures needed to secure aforementioned sponsored advertising? By relating to their audience, that’s how. While before many influencers secured followers by giving them a dream to aspire to, now there is a sort of hand-holding mentality, a play on the ‘we’re in this together.’ There is baking, there is exercise, there is loungewear, there is beauty, there is self care, there is, of course, TikTok, and there is charity. Ah, charity. BP (Before Pandemic) individual charity partnerships were few and far between, now there seemingly isn’t a day that goes by without some charity t-shirt promotion (no mention of the environmental impact of all these fast fashion offerings of course), or a WHO Safe Hands challenge promotion. But are all these new areas securing the cold hard cash they had before? Beauty, self care, baking? Maybe. Charity promotions? No. But what they do secure in today’s climate is a social star’s relativity, and, as a result, their longevity in the new, unpredictable COVID-19 world. Because as the world spends its evenings clapping frontline workers, no one wants to see an insensitive social media star on their feed. 

However, it isn’t all doom and gloom. According to PR Week, the coronavirus setback may be just that, a blip. The magazine goes on to coin the current influencer marketing environment The Golden Age, with a focus on long-term impact. Kate Matlock, Deputy Managing Director of BCW’s digital innovation group, drove home my former point – there is now a captive audience. She said, “People are spending more time on social right now, and brands and influencers have a – literally – captive audience.

“With this increased visibility, and infinite time on their hands, influencers are feeling pressure to churn out engaging, topical content. It’s an opportunity for brands to be that creative sponsor and engage audiences authentically and with a dose of positivity.”

And, as always, content is King. With all filming on TV and film productions cancelled, many consumers are looking to their well-versed social stars for entertainment, and brands are being advised to capitalize on this. Sasha Marks, Director at Brazen, said, “If content was king yesterday, it’s emperor today.

“Consumer behaviour has shifted and while we’re locked in and people have more time on their hands, the world is turning to the web for everything from learning and keeping fit to staying sane and wanting to be entertained.

“Rather than create that content themselves – which could be perceived as opportunistic, not to mention a challenge during lockdown – brands should be looking for genuine advocates to create that content and be the facilitators of meaningful conversations.”

So as the world waits with baited breath for weekly government news bulletins, eager for any small glimmer of hope that lockdown is easing and a vision of what the ‘next normal will be, it’s clear that we are documenting a period of change for the world of influencer marketing, and one that has limitless options for both brand and star.