An industry that is seemingly dependent on glamorous free-movement, travel, and dining-out, social media influencers are now adapting to life in lockdown. Largely confined to their homes, like the rest of us, they are finding creative ways to keep engaged with their audiences—swapping the shots of jet wings and hot brunch spots for photoshoots in their living rooms. Travel bloggers are embracing the charm of domestic life with recipes and gardening advice, while those in the fashion world are embracing lounge wear, work-from-home looks, and wardrobe clear-outs. Altogether, influencers are working new angles of their personal brand to stay relevant and relatable.
Few developments have been more impactful on how brands reach consumers than the rise of influencer marketing. As of 2019, the industry was worth $6.5bn, with nearly half of marketers directing 20% or more of their budgets towards influencer posts. Now, many influencers are struggling to keep hold of their income streams as brands delay new campaigns, cancel press trips, and pause sponsorship. According to one report, sponsored posts on Instagram fell from representing 35% of influencer content in mid-February to only 4% by April. Social media usage however, has significantly increased since the lockdown began. Kantar Data suggests that engagement is up 61% from normal levels. With this, influencers have been using more of the ‘live’ and ‘story’ functions, holding people’s attention longer.
The pandemic has also shifted the backdrop for how influencers are perceived. It is delicate territory to tread as people’s emotions are dialled up and their expectations of content is evolving through quarantine. It is a fine line for influencers to project an image that is aspirational and relatable—that is uplifting without being out of touch. Even before Coronavirus, a fundamental transition was already underway. People were becoming increasingly fatigued with the superficial elements of influencer culture and social media in general. For example, biased product reviews, misleading promotions, or hyper-staged lifestyles. In one respect, the pandemic is an opportunity for influencers to establish more meaningful connections with followers with less of the usual gloss and the distraction of ads. Social media users are likely to come away with strong impressions of the people on their newsfeeds and timelines that tided them through these challenging times. Influencers that can find their quarantine niche and are able to strike a chord with people now, may benefit from increased follower loyalty in the long term.
As the consequences of the current crisis are projected to be long-lasting, both brands and influencers are navigating a new way forward. Brands do not want to be forgotten but are reluctant to come off as opportunistic or insensitive to the crisis at hand. This is where a trusting relationship with a well-matched influencer partner, as well as co-creation, could really bring value. Choosing the right influencer, one that has made genuine efforts to understand what their followers are going through and are looking for, can help your brand make a positive impression.