No, influencers aren’t going away—but COVID could change them, and the marketing they create, for the long-term…
As the COVID crisis has stretched on, many (many) have been questioning whether influencer marketing will survive the pandemic. But while some are claiming influencer marketing is coming to an end, we’re here to tell you that influencers aren’t going anywhere. Young consumers have only increased their time on social media during quarantine—giving even more attention to the influencers that dwell there. There will always be a desire for distraction and entertainment, and this is what influencers have provided—marketing came second. In addition to this, influencers had already become too big a part of Gen Z and Millennials’ entertainment to simply disappear. In our most recent research on influencers and celebrities, YPulse found that more than two in five young consumers are following celebrities/influencers online and that 77% have learned about something or tried something because of an online creator. More than two in five 13-37-year-olds have also made an actual purchase due to a celebrity/influencer recommendation. While we’ll absolutely be tracking whether any of these metrics change post-COVID, the reality is that influencers are a well-entrenched part of the way that young consumers discover new content, new products, and how they fill their social feeds.
As Adweek has expressed, Coronavirus hasn’t ended influencer marketing, but it has put the industry “under a microscope” While some brands have cancelled partnerships for budget reasons, those cases only represent a small part of the industry. According to some marketing agencies, there are influencers who are thriving during the pandemic, while creating new content for their followers from home. Vogue Business reports that some brands have actually been relying on influencers even more during this time as they try to reach young consumers without “tone deaf” marketing.
But of course this massive and, yes, historic, event is changing everything—and influencer culture and marketing will change as well. It already has. The COVID-19 crisis has in many ways turned the influencer world upside down. Influencers are facing dilemmas of what to post, with increased scrutiny from their audiences and fewer gigs from brands. There’s a good chance that the big changes we’re seeing in influencer marketing will last long after the end of the quarantine. Here are some ways we see that happening:
Permanent Privilege Backlash
Some big name influencers have been facing major backlash for thoughtlessly putting their privilege on display during the pandemic, getting tested for COVID without symptoms and escaping larger cities for more suburban/rural areas. The glossy and perfect-seeming lives of influencers have long been their hallmark—but they feel less appropriate now than ever before, and young consumers are calling it out. So what does this mean in the long-term? It may be hard for influencers to go back to showing off their luxurious lives now that the young consumers have seen the metaphorical “man behind the curtain”—and those luxuries feel more unattainable than ever before. Young consumers want authentic representatives of their own experiences. This means that brands would do well to focus on partnering with authentic, diverse representations of the generations they are trying to reach. Big budget closets, high end vacations, and perfect mansions won’t be as palatable in a post-Corona world. Young consumers have been questioning the “realness” of influencers for some time, Corona will likely speed up their rejection of overly-produced and unrealistic content. Already this shift is underway. Vogue Business reports that many influencers are seeing increased online traffic from homebound followers, which is giving them the chance to create more small-scale content. Online personalities who might have been showing off designer OOTD at fashion weeks are instead showing their full at-home routines including cooking, which is something young consumers are into right now. According to a survey from Influencer Central, 74% of influencers have already addressed COVID-19 and the current “stay home economy” with their audiences, with content like quarantine vlogs and DIY face mask tutorials popping up on YouTube and TikTok. “Purposeful messaging” has also become the norm for creators during this time, as influencers have shifted their content to focus on Coronavirus and, more specifically, posts meant to uplift, encourage, and inform their audiences—like NYC-based agency Obvious.ly’s #ObviouslyForGood campaign. We know that young consumers don’t mind sponsored content if it feels authentic, so influencers that can swivel their content to reflect the new realities and beliefs of their audiences should continue to do well. The lasting change will likely be less aspirational content and more value and values.
Livestreamed content is getting a coronavirus boost—and many influencers are part of the trend. Some have done well—Marissa Mullen, the food influencer behind the crazy popular @ThatCheesePlate cheese board-focused Instagram account, has been hosting virtual events like happy hours with other celebs on Instagram Live. Fitness influencers have made an about-face to hosting yoga sessions and HIIT classes on streaming platforms. According to Glossy, Instagram Live is thriving in the social distancing era with views on the feature doubling in the last month, and mentions of IG Live on Instagram and Twitter skyrocketing by 526% in March. Influencers are taking advantage of Instagram Live to reach young consumers who are hungry for new content, and our most recent research shows that 31% of young consumers say they’re watching live content on social media more since Coronavirus hit. More brands are also making live influencer content more of a marketing priority—a trend that will very likely last beyond quarantines. Beauty brands like Estée Lauder and Bobbi Brown are using the feature to roll out daily live streaming content related to social distancing with makeup artists. Apparel brands have ramped up their livestream content, tapping content creators and founders to be guests. While the goal is to drive some sales, it’s mainly to keep followers engaged and the companies “at the top of mind” during times of isolation. American Eagle has seen an over 100% increase in Instagram profile visits and has been airing after virtual school hours to “reach its Gen-Z audience,” while Lively’s Instagram followers increased 140%.
TikTok Influencers Will Be Brands’ New Go-Tos
TikTok had already been experiencing massive growth, and the quarantines have potentially sped up their user gains—and the attention that popular TikTokers will be getting from brands. Quarantine has been sparking massive trends on the platform, with influencers fueling the success of hashtags like #DistanceDance and #RealLifeAtHome. Popular TikTokers and Hype House members Charlie D’Amelio and Chase Hudson are just some of the influencers who have signed with elite agencies like UTA and WME. Now, TikTok influencers are starting to launch beauty lines—and they’re expected to take off after quarantine. As Glossy reports, newly famous TikTokers are following in YouTubers footsteps and beginning to launch their own brands. One of the first is Gloss Twins, a lip gloss line from “twinfluencers” Shanae and Renar Nel, who have 1.2 million followers on their joint account. They’re being represented by Fanbytes, a Gen Z-focused talent agency that’s working with two other influencers with beauty launches on the way. Because TikTok engagement is high right now, building on the pre-pandemic growth from last year, the launches are expected to pick up once the quarantine period is over. We also expect that TikTokers will be brands’ go-to influencers to reach Gen Z post-COVID.