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The State Of Influencer Marketing During Coronavirus

April 21, 2020 Sarah Cavill

Shutterstock_1339059998 Woman taking a photo of the sunset

Influencer marketing, like so many aspects of marketing and advertising right now, is undergoing course corrections because of the coronavirus epidemic. Although all marketing relies on consumer response, influencer marketing, at its heart, depends on consumers believing the story that’s being told. Influencers sell aspirational messages, sometimes of hope and perseverance, but more often of lifestyles that do not currently match the mood of the country hunkered down trying to avoid a pandemic. 

Most consumers cannot travel right now, and for many, fashion has been relegated to comfort clothes. Regardless, consumers are increasingly interested in brands that have something authentic to say, not just something to sell. The current environment leaves influencers and the brands that work with them at a crossroads, trying to determine the best path forward, while staying agile in the face of daily changes.

Can Brands That Leverage Influencers Get More Traffic Because Of Increased Screen Time During Isolation?

Many brands have canceled sponsorships with influencers, and others are taking wait-and-see approaches before making new influencer commitments, but the increase in social media activity has offered some opportunities for influencers to pivot and brands to benefit. 

An article in Business Insider reports, “Influencers have seen their sponsorship deals shut down and events cancelled, with many [influencers] shifting their focus to alternative revenue streams that allow them to continue to earn a living without leaving their homes.” Adding, “Influencer marketing agencies are seeing brands postpone campaigns while also observing that engagement on social media posts is higher than normal as more consumers spend time in physical isolation.”

Direct-to-consumer (DTC) marketing is one way influencers are finding success, particularly for fitness influencers who are currently providing an outlet for bored people missing their gyms. One fitness lifestyle and influencer-driven community, Love Sweat Fitness, has seen traffic growth of more than 50% across social media, particularly on Instagram

And, although many campaigns with influencers were canceled in March, brands that stuck it out are seeing increased engagement on sponsored influencer posts on TikTok and Instagram. “Everyone is home and is on TikTok actively, and everyone's social distancing," said Mae Karwowski, Founder and CEO of influencer marketing agency Obviously. “We're just consuming so much more content.” This could be an opportunity for brands to tap into consumers’ needs, while maintaining relationships with influencers who could help brands stabilize after the self-isolation phase of the coronavirus is over. 

How Can Influencers Pivot During Coronavirus To Maintain Their Relevance?

Influencers need to behave. Arielle Charnas, an influencer with more than a million followers, stirred up controversy with her bungled response to coronavirus in the early days of social distancing, ultimately issuing a lengthy apology to her fans. Influencers are often seen as indulgent and superficial, which is part of their appeal, but many consumers have no interest in extravagant behavior while they’re required to stay home indefinitely. As a result, influencers flouting social distancing guidelines or complaining from their poolsides may not be successfully relating to their followers right now. And, even if the followers of reckless or negative influencers stay interested, brands are not likely to continue engagement if influencer actions or sentiments don’t match the global support messages of the brands.

JanSport tweet World Central Kitchen partnership with Bella Cuomo

In an article about the Charnas debacle, Vanity Fair said, “Influence wielded unthinkingly or callously, or even awkwardly, has more potential than ever to cause harm right now. For the foreseeable future, aspiration comes second to the virus.” 

Some influencers are embracing more philanthropic endeavors during coronavirus. Kylie Jenner, arguably the most influential influencer of them all, is making hand sanitizer at her makeup factories, and JanSport kicked off a campaign with 10 TikTok creators —  including Andrew Cuomo's niece, Bella Cuomo — to promote their new philanthropic partnership with World Central Kitchen. The JanSport campaign involves giving away 12,500 backpacks filled with food and other supplies to students in need, starting with the Los Angeles metro area. 

"We wanted to really connect with students who are being displaced and also try to meet the needs of those students who rely on school for both a safe place to go during the day and also nutrition,” said Monica Rigali, Senior Director of Marketing at JanSport. "We just wanted to meet our consumer where they are right now. And we know they're on TikTok probably more than they should be.”

Are Actors And Musicians Preferable To Influencers For Scrolling And Distraction During Coronavirus?

Influencers are facing competition from actors and musicians who are also stuck at home and using their built-in audiences to create fun and inspiring projects, like John Krasinski’s Some Good News show on YouTube and the recent One World: Together at Home concert organized by Lady Gaga. So far Some Good News orchestrated a reunion of the Hamilton cast, hosted a prom where Billie Eilish performed and featured Brad Pitt doing the weather, which may be more enjoyable for people who are self-isolating than influencers with whom they have no tangible connections. The One World concert, which featured performances from musical acts all over the musical and generational spectrum, raised $128 million for various COVID-19 charities and was watched by more than 14 million people 

An actor or musician brings their credentials and built-in audience with them, which could be a comfort for fans and brands during a difficult time, making them an easy gateway to goodwill and charitable endeavors. However, actors, musicians and other celebrities must follow the same rules as influencers with regard to authenticity and relevance to today’s normal. 

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About the Author

Sarah Cavill

With more than 20 years of writing, editing and reporting experience, Sarah Cavill brings to Digital Media Solutions (DMS) a fine-tuned and diverse set of skills. Her work has been featured in notable publications including The Daily Muse, CBS Local, Techlicious and Glamour magazine. Sarah has a passion for current events and the deep-dive research that goes into the content development and brand identity of DMS Insights. In her role as Senior Marketing Communications Writer, Sarah contributes to the pitching, researching and writing of multiple stories published each week surrounding digital and performance marketing innovations in pop culture, news, social media, branding and advertising.

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