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

New codes of practice and measures of success

Another factor that has worked to the benefit of the influencer marketing channel has been its growing legitimacy in the eyes of advertisers. This is backed in part by the introduction of a new Influencer Marketing Code of Practice from the Australian Influencer Marketing Council, and the launch of new tools to track its effectiveness.

According to CEO at influencer and content platform Tribe, Anthony Svirskis, the introduction of new measurement tools within Instagram in particular have made it much easier for brands to measure impact beyond simple metrics such as likes and comments, to provide data on reach, impressions and CPMs.

“It creates a whole measurable media proposition out of what was a pretty organic channel,” Svirskis says. “Our business was able to not only weather the storm, but really grow. Australia is operating to pre-COVID levels, with the UK and US a little bit less. And all the signals regarding our pipeline and the work coming into our platform and the way brands are working with us is significantly more positive than had we not been in COVID.”

While the increased interest comes from a broad range of categories, Svirskis says retail has definitely grown, especially among traditional bricks-and-mortar retailers investing in digital customer journeys, as well as restaurants and food delivery services.

“We weren’t big in hospitality, but now we are starting to see that trickle through because more of these bricks and mortar restaurants that didn’t really have an online presence thinking they should tell everyone,” Svirskis says.

While some influencers have no doubt benefited from the changing spending patterns of advertisers, the new social climate introduced by the pandemic has also led to changes in messaging. Svirskis cites the example of Tribe’s UK client, Guinness.

“The group realised people were still enjoying Guinness in their homes and the brand needed content that reflected that,” Svirskis says. “The company wanted to show people loving the product at home instead of loving the product in a bar or a restaurant. A brief to our network delivered something like 100 or 200 assets in seven days, and it was people who wanted to show themselves drinking on the kitchen bench or by the window or on their balcony.

“Quickly, brands understood the cultural moment was talking about lockdown and being comfortable about lockdown. All the brand messaging changed to how people are consuming product while they are in lockdown, or this is what they enjoy about product while they are in lockdown, or the good feeling my products gives in lockdown.

“That was a very rapid shift and it probably took about two weeks for influencers and creatives to recognise it was OK to talk about the virus and talk about being locked at home, so long as you did it in the right tone and with the right level of respect.”

Singh has also advised clients to be cognisant of the social climate in messaging. “Our advice to clients has been to shift the narrative away from ‘buy our product or services’ to brand building and providing content that is providing people a benefit,” he says.

“Content should be there to help people or give people a distraction from the things they are dealing with on the day-to-day.”

Singh sums it up as content that is more engaging with higher audience involvement. “You need content creators who can generate that kind of content rather than simply sticking in product placement,” he says. “We’ve seen a shift to more video content, and more chat-to-camera content.”

Social purpose

The changing social climate has also impacted the things some audiences expect influencers to care about. Beganovich says she has seen a marked swing to cause-based marketing and social participation, as highlighted by the work done by Italian digital entrepreneur and influencer, Chiara Ferragni, and her husband, Ferez. The pair helped raise 3.3 million euros to fund intensive care hospital beds in Milan.

In another instance, Beganovich says a client used influencers as part of a campaign to raise funds for restaurants impacted by the lockdown. She says this sentiment is also spilling into non-COVID related causes, including a campaign by a telecommunications client highlighting how it is helping the environment through technology-based sustainability initiatives.

“It has changed for the better in that companies are more mindful of their behaviour and the long-term impact it can have, from animal cruelty to the environment to safety and supporting certain local charities,” Beganovich says.

Read more: Boycott or buycott - how brand purpose can make the difference

Brand purpose must be all year round

Global health authorities have also tapped into influencer networks to spread their messages, including the US Surgeon General, who called on entrepreneur, Kylie Jenner, to encourage her millennial and Gen Z followers to stay at home. Jenner, in turn, asked other influencers to connect with their followers to spread the word of the importance of following health professionals’ guidelines.

“Very early on, the World Health Organisation engaged influencers, including virtual influencer, Knox Frost, Lady Gaga and a few others in partnership with the CDC, asking influencers to spread the message to wash your hands safely and so on,” Beganovich says.

While Australian health authorities are yet to engage influencers in the same way, Svirskis says Tribe decided to turn its own health campaign to help amplify messages, attracting the free involvement of 140 influencers.

“The reality was Instagram users and creators were already sharing those messages organically, we just wanted to create a bit of a channel to make sure it was the right messaging on behalf of the WHO and governments with understandable messaging in the languages of influencers to their audiences,” Svirskis says.

With the pathway out of pandemic unclear, Svirskis believes brands are going to have a higher requirement to talk to their customers in channels where they are.

“And if that is social, then there is a role to play for content creators and influencers to be part of that media strategy and creative strategy,” he says. “The agencies who aren’t really doing it properly will struggle, and so will the influencers who aren’t really delivering the results and can’t do the things around data or performance. The expectation of what the channel delivers will increase as the dollars do, and the tech platforms, agencies, creators and influencers themselves will have to evolve with that.”

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