Why the COVID-19 crisis has elevated influencer marketing

Influencer marketing as a channel has been transformed by the crisis as consumers have turned to digital and social channels in their homes to connect. We investigate


It was 12 March 2020 when Elma Beganovich saw the world suddenly change. As co-founder and chief operating officer at New York-based influencer-led digital marketing agency, Amra & Elma, she had been monitoring rising concern regarding the COVID-19 health crisis among the global influencer community and their followers.

“12 March was the beginning of it all,” she says. “A lot of clients put campaigns on pause because of the uncertainty, not only from COVID but because of the pollical situation with protests.”

But while many brands put a pause on spending, what followed has been something of a coming of age for the influencer marketing category. Improved metrics, codes of practice, and the growing realisation across brands that they need to connect with customers in new and more intimate ways has led to a resurgence in some categories of influencer marketing and a broadening of the range of brands using it.

Influencer marketing has also received a boost thanks to lockdown laws forcing people to spend more time at home, where they have been interacting with digital services. Coupled that with the decision of some brands to pull spending from Facebook over its handling of hate speech, and it means brands continuing to spend are willing to explore new channels.

So while COVID-19 might have put paid to glamorous fashion influencers posting selfies from far-flung destinations, it has also shown promoting loungewear from your living room is a viable means of reaching a market.

The influencer growth opportunity

“The estimate initially was a 40 per cent drop in revenue, but it was contracts paused, not cancelled,” Beganovich tells CMO. “Brands are always looking to target different demographics in different regions, and they are able to do that very conveniently with influencers.”

One of the biggest growth areas has been in the newly-minted stay-at-home economy, which has pushed more consumers into online shopping.

“Influencers who were traditionally travel influencers or fashion influencers that depended on travelling to different destinations and going to events to make content for their followers all of a sudden found that taken away,” Beganovich says.

“What the influencers were forced to do was look around their home and ask what their followers were feeling right now and what were they thinking. They started producing content like stay-at-home workout sessions. Influencers who had never baked or cooked were suddenly giving recipes, and for fashion, they shifted to loungewear and how to prep for your Zoom meetings with your colleagues.”

The rush to ecommerce brought on by lockdowns also created fertile territory for influencers who could educate baby boomers about online shopping, and for brands wanting to promote new or existing direct-to-consumer services more broadly.

“We are seeing different opportunities open up, but in specific industries, and for others we have seen them contracting,” Beganovich continues. “With the fashion industry, there has been an increase in loungewear, but they have definitely pushed back and paused, and it has been a quite tough time for them. It is a complicated time. But at the same time, what has been true in the marketing world is always to be creative.”

Switching channels

According to CEO at Australia-based influencer marketing service provider Hypetap, Detch Singh, many influencers have benefitted from brands moving their speeding away from offline channels during the pandemic.

“In terms of COVID-19 and the lockdown, we have seen an increase in activity and influencer marketing, and more broadly when speaking to others, social has seen an increase,” Singh says. “While some advertisers have been holding spend in general due to the uncertainly of the climate, others are reallocating some of their spend from other media. More time and eyeballs were on social, and some of the really smart marketers recognised that and reallocated towards social and influencer marketing.”

The fact that influencers can also create content quickly on their own has also proven highly beneficial to the channel.

“With lockdown and distancing laws you weren’t able to get production teams out to shoot premium content, but influencers were able to shoot it on their own,” he says.

Up next: How new codes of conduct, social measurements and purpose are impacting the influencer marketing channel

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