How Will Influencer Marketing Survive the Covid-19 Crisis?

By the numbers, the Covid-19 pandemic may have an unprecedented impact on the US economy. Jobless claims the past two weeks numbered 3.3 and 6.6 million, dwarfing the previous weekly record of about 700,000. Modest estimates indicate unemployment could hit 15%, with some institutions, such as the Saint Louis Federal Reserve, warning it could spike to 32%, seven percentage points higher than peak unemployment during the Great Depression. Goldman Sachs has said GDP may drop 34% next quarter, though the bank hopes for a quick 19% turnaround in Q3.

It is against this backdrop that marketing tech makes its pitches to clients this year. On the one hand, it is fair to say cutting-edge marketing may be as important to businesses as ever. With storefronts closed across dozens of states to promote social distancing, businesses need ways to connect with customers, and they need novel, often tech-driven tactics, like curbside pickup, to sell their goods safely. E-commerce, including mobile and social commerce, are especially well-positioned to thrive at a time when customers in many places are left with hardly any other option. On the other hand, with revenue dramatically down for most retailers and consumers averse to in-store spending, digital tools risk being cut from squeezed budgets.

To assess how the swift economic downturn caused by the coronavirus is affecting one of digital marketing’s hottest new sectors, influencer marketing, I connected with Daniel Schotland, COO of influencer marketing company Linqia.

How have influencers and brands that rely on influencer marketing been affected by the Covid-19 crisis according to the data you’ve collected and insights you are hearing from partners?

Like other industries, the influencer marketplace is currently living in a new world, where consumers are at home and have easy access to social networks and devices. In the last two weeks, we’ve seen unprecedented spikes in social engagement and an 83% increase in usage. As such, consumer behavior is changing and people are shopping differently than they did a couple of weeks ago. Instead of going in-store, consumers are buying online, specifically through social networks. Social posts have seen at least a 30% increase in online orders, and there has been an 18% increase in cartings from ads.

With these changes, most influencers are still posting at the same rate that they were months ago, but are doing so in a different light. For instance, some are not posting as much static imagery, but are being more present on video channels like Instagram Stories. While 75% of influencers are directly addressing Covid-19, influencers are being more mindful and cognizant of the content they are posting and refraining from scary wording or posts that could have negative connotations.

Like the influencers they work with, brands are also being aware of how their audiences are impacted by current situations, and we are seeing many adjust their campaign messaging. A great example of this is Bud Light’s Dive Bar Tour, which recently moved virtual with OneRepublic going live in its Home Edition. Though we’ve seen an uptick in influencer campaigns for brands relating to personal care, there is an opportunity for all brands to keep experiential alive through the use of influencers and social.

How can influencer marketing continue at this time in ways that are both sensitive and effective?

With 93% of influencers stating they would be open to doing any campaign right now, the first thing brands should ensure is that their imagery is real and honest, and not about perfection. This is a time for both influencers and brands to be as authentic as possible. Messaging from influencers and brands should:

  • Refrain from using specific language that could be deemed negative or scary.
  • Tell a story versus a transaction.
  • Be authentic and relatable.
  • Use hashtags, like #TogetheratHome or #DoYourPartChallenge and stickers that raise awareness (e.g. Instagram’s “Stay at Home” sticker).
  • Change CTAs from visiting a store to an online destination, such as purchasing a product online or getting additional information on a website.

How is influencer marketing evolving right now? What are the major trends a non-specialist should know?

  • As consumers turn toward influencers for help in these uncertain times, there is a number of social trends emerging, including:
    Challenges — Though TikTok is infamously known to have launched many viral, social challenges, this means of social interaction is spreading to other channels like Instagram. We are seeing influencers connect with consumers with recent challenges like “See a Pup, Send a Pup” or “See 10, Do 10.”
  • A greater focus on real, authentic content — The days of the “Instaperfect” influencer are becoming a distant memory as consumers want to follow users who can provide real, authentic content that offers tips or tricks to surviving in this new stay-at-home reality.
  • Providing free or discounted items — Brands, like Burger King who is offering free kids’ meals amid Covid-19, are giving consumers a break and a chance to try their product without the pricing constraints that were in place prior.
  • Increase in video and online shows — Social is the new experiential and influencers are helping brands put on programs to build relationships with consumers because right now it’s not just about the transaction. It’s about building customer loyalty through storytelling and helping.

Influencer marketing is a relatively new, though fast-growing, category of marketing spend. Do you worry that brands that had been experimenting with influencers during the past years’ booming economy will pull back when facing a recession?

Brands are being extra cautious right now with campaigns, but we are actually seeing an increase in business relating to home, healthy living, financial support, cooking, DIY, philanthropy, etc. Influencers thrive in these environments and can partner with brands to help provide content that offers consumers a sense of normalcy to their lives.

With more consumers interacting on networks, social is becoming the ‘new experiential.’ In the past two weeks, we’ve seen brands like Instagram and Netflix all launch features that give users the ability to chat or co-watch in real-time. So, when a user is binging their favorite Netflix show, they can now virtually interact with a friend who is also binging the show.

This new reality is definitely changing how brands use influencers, but social is influencers’ speciality, and it’s thriving right now.”

How is Linqia doing in the face of the difficulties almost all companies are experiencing right now? Do you expect any consolidation or closures in the influencer tech market as a result of this year’s challenges?

Influencer companies with tech that helps brands understand and measure the impacts of a campaign — beyond likes — are likely to make it through this tough time. However, we do expect there to be a consolidation effect on the rest of the influencer space, where many influencer marketing companies do not have the tech nor expertise to help brands successfully lean into influencer campaigns while also addressing evolving consumer consumption behaviors and successfully measuring the impact of their actions during this time.

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Joe Zappa is the Managing Editor of Street Fight. He joined Street Fight as a contributing writer in 2015, has compiled the daily newsletter since 2016, and has spearheaded the newsroom's editorial operations since 2018. Shoot him an email at jzappa@streetfightmag.com.