Looking Back At The Influencer Space & COVID-19: Brand Takeaways For Marketing During The Pandemic
The marketing world has changed. Better yet, the world has changed. With the COVID-19 pandemic disrupting our lives for the better part of a calendar year, brands around the globe have harnessed the power of influencer marketing to not only maintain relevancy but also put themselves in front of their audience, even during these difficult times. Back when COVID-19 first struck and government officials announced nationwide lockdowns, millions of businesses had to shut down their brick-and-mortar locations, disrupting operations for countless organizations. With health officials advising everyone to stay inside their homes and practice social distancing, businesses across different industries – including the influencer marketing industry – started feeling the wrath of the pandemic.
Before COVID-19, influencers of all shapes and sizes were used to share aspirational content pieces in the form of pictures, videos, etc., such as traveling the world, visiting their favorite places, etc. A Global Web Index Survey reports that nearly 80% of the consumers residing in the UK and the US consumed more content than before the COVID-19 pandemic.
After nationwide lockdowns were announced, with an ever-increasing number of people heavily using their mobile phones – scrolling their social media feeds, chatting, playing games, etc. – these influencers faced the biggest challenge of their lives. They had to come up with truly innovative ways to keep their audience engaged during those tough times.
So, what did they do? They started being more introspective, discussing how they were spending their lives indoors – cooking meals, doing workout videos, having me-time, interacting with their family members, online Zoom meetings, and so forth. This only worked to accelerate the changes that were already were underway, as the trend towards less-scripted or unfiltered content has been top of mind for influencers in recent years. The lockdown played a major role in boosting the popularity of the everyday influencers, which was surprising to some who predicted that this particular demographic might be hurt the most by this shift in the tides.
A Pleasant Surprise
At first, brands didn’t expect the influencer marketing space to continue booming. They didn’t have any concrete plans of reaching out to influencers while the first wave was upon us. One CMO said, “One of the most impressive shifts that I have personally seen from influencers during the first wave is the sharing of important information for charity movements and public health awareness. How this may change the influencer marketing sector depends on how real influencers stay with their communities. By real, I mean ‘less photoshop’ and ‘less glitz and glam.'”
While it’s not just the influencers that had to get out of their comfort zone and come up with truly unique ideas to keep their audiences engaged, brands faced the biggest challenge of their lives, as they had to shut down their physical operations and adapt to the new normal.
An Unfortunate Reality
In 2020, we saw hundreds of thousands of businesses shut their doors permanently. The reason? Well, of course, the global pandemic played a huge factor. But why couldn’t so many businesses find a way to weather the storm? Some of the reasons were lack of an online presence, failed marketing efforts, and an inability to come up with and execute a well-planned marketing strategy.
With everyone staying inside their homes, brands saw their sales and profit margins decrease. Most businesses were subject to heavy losses, and justifiably so. The global market was brought to a near standstill during the early onset of the pandemic. As a result, businesses, both big and small, had to enforce some cost-cutting measures, which in some cases involved halting all their marketing efforts.
The brands or businesses that didn’t utilize the power of digitalization during the first wave of COVID-19 were the ones that reported severe losses. At the time, Ryan Donovan, CTO at Hootsuite, said, “Social media and digital are the only places of attempting to mitigate the business disruption and preserving important contact with the customers in a world where physical contact isn’t allowed.”
A Shift In Consumer Behaviors
The businesses or brands that focused on their marketing efforts during this time were able to put themselves in front of their prospects and consumers and build a close bond with their audience or customers.
That being said, we saw a spike in the number of brands reaching out to influencers during the pandemic’s first wave. Why? It may seem obvious, but people were spending a huge chunk of their time using their mobile devices. Instagram influencers saw a 67.7% spike in the number of likes and a 50+% increase in the comments. 500% growth in YouTube views. Brands were reporting shockingly higher influencer marketing ROI. More and more businesses and brands were reaching out to influencers during the first wave of the pandemic than they did prior to it.
With influencer marketing on the rise, we saw a shift away from those sales-driven campaigns and saw influencers contribute towards the social good.
Here’s a post from Shaughna Phillips – an influencer with 1.5 million followers (at the time of writing):
Also, we saw various influencers like Knox Frost contributing their fair share and asking their followers to do the same to help our world tackle the COVID-19 pandemic:
After seeing influencer marketing’s meteoric rise, business owners and executives reached out to well-reputed influencer marketing agencies to help kickstart or level up their influencer marketing game. These agencies helped businesses and brands boost their engagement rate and attract a huge chunk of their target audience by:
Letting Their Audience Know that They are Closely Monitoring the Situation and will always be at Their Assistance
Building a Happy Community
There are many more we could list here, but you get the point.
Influencer marketing agencies like Viral Nation know all the ins and outs of the industry. Not only do they have access to a world full of data, but their experts have been in the field for many years and know all about the best hacks and strategies to help brands level up their influencer marketing game.
But now, with the first wave of COVID-19 already way past us, as countries were finally on the brink of lifting their restrictions and easing the restrictions that have slowed commerce for the better part of a year now, most of them were hit with a second wave, which some experts claim to be more dangerous than the first.
From the United States to the United Kingdom to Asia, multiple countries worldwide saw a huge spike in the number of cases after a steady decline that was beginning to restore hope. While multiple vaccines have already been approved and ready-to-use, it may end up taking more than a year for the entire planet to get vaccinated, if it ever does.
The UK recently reported a new COVID-19 strain to be ‘out of control’ and highly contagious, which led to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson imposing nationwide lockdown once again. And the same is the case with other countries as well.
There may be another lockdown all across the world down the line, which is why brands need to be prepared.
Ryan Donovan added, “The second wave can be seen as more of a permanent disruption, an innovation that may carry forward beyond the time of crisis. Expect the return to the idea of social as the means of communication, once again.”
While it’s easy to put the marketing budget on the back burner while the world battles a global pandemic, it may prove to be more detrimental than frugal. For brands that haven’t yet already given influencer marketing a thought, now’s the time to take the bold step and create a full-proof influencer marketing strategy today.
How to Create a Truly Out-Of-The-Box Influencer Marketing Strategy To Tackle The Second Wave Of COVID-19
Following are the tips you should keep in mind:
Let’s look at what each of these points signifies in your current marketing needs.
Reaching out to the right influencers is critical. Just try to imagine a beauty blogger promoting food products. It’s not a natural fit. Hence, it’s crucial to partner with influencers that align with your brand’s values and tone. Also, they must reach out to your target audience where they are active the most.
You can start this process by asking yourself the right questions: Who’s my target audience? What kind of action do I want my audience to take after I reach out to them? What tier of influencers sounds the most sensible for my campaigns – top-tier, micro, or celebrity? Having a clearly defined target audience will greatly enhance your ability to find the influencers best suited to connect with your intended audience.
Once you have prepared a list of potential influencers, you can use influencer marketing tools to track and analyze metrics like follower spikes, engagement rates, comment quality, percentage of fake likes/followers, offensive content history, competitive partnerships, and more. You can also go through their content firsthand and get a birds-eye view into how they dealt with the first wave of COVID-19 and how they potentially plan to tackle the second wave.
A genuine collaboration between the brands and influencers results in top-notch and result-delivering influencer marketing campaigns. So, it’s critical to ensure that you are taking the much-needed steps to actively collaborate with the influencers you choose to partner with.
Your influencer marketing strategy will be a game-changer if you measure your campaigns from start to finish. Hence, it’s important to spend your time developing a strategy by establishing the KPIs throughout the customer journey and across the funnel. Also, you should measure the traditional metrics like engagement, impressions, clicks, etc., to get an accurate measure of the effectiveness of your campaign.
Whether it be the recent surges in infection rates or the outbreak of a mutated version of the virus, social distancing measures continue across the world. No one could have predicted the duration of this outbreak, and with this prolonged pandemic, consumer behaviors are changing dramatically, including their buying habits. In order to both survive and thrive, marketers must adapt to the social and economic climate as it continues to evolve. Essentially, the brands that have their finger on the pulse of way to ease the burdens placed on consumers are not only gaining appreciation and loyalty; they’re producing sales.
Regardless of the level of outbreak or home-confinement, people still need products and services. More than ever, brands should seek to appeal to consumers by understanding and focusing on the benefits consumers need the most during these times. The authenticity that’s inherent to influencer marketing is an organic fit to accomplish exactly this task. Influencers are intimately in touch with their audiences and engaged in listening to them and meeting their needs. During the pandemic, social media usage is up higher than ever, with platforms like TikTok soaring in popularity.
While times may be difficult for many, timing is everything. Influencers are also reporting an increase in comments and direct messages from followers, new followers, and story views. So the time to invest in influencer marketing has never been more opportune.
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