Influencer marketing has come a long way. In its history, from the medieval ages to today, it received both praises and complaints. The COVID-19 pandemic was and is not an exception. From the beginning of the pandemic, attitudes toward celebrity influencers and public figures (although an influencer can be a fictional character or a friend you trust) pushed audiences and brands to question if influencer marketing is coming to an end.
An example of social media influencers coming under fire was explained in what Kenzie Bryant of Vanity Fair wrote “All lives (or most lives) are domestic now. Social structures have collapsed into the home. We’re trapped in our domesticity and captive audiences to boot. Their recipes, their workouts, their matching sets, their living rooms blown out with excellent light are suddenly, painfully relevant. Even their ability to write long confessionals about how difficult things are right now should be relatable to nearly everyone in this moment. But instead, visual guides on how to be perfect, or perfectly messy, feel irrelevant when one is busy bleaching doorknobs and scrambling to file for unemployment.”
Although many celebrity influencers were heavily criticized for their insensitive statements during the lockdown, some influencers formed an empathetic connection with their audience. Many influencers were challenged by seeming insensitive. However, one of their biggest problems was also not getting enough collaborations. More than one in four US influencers surveyed by influencer platform Mavrck in March 2020 said they were receiving fewer collaboration offers from brands during the pandemic.
The Mavrck survey found that almost a third of respondents changed the focus of their social media presence because of the outbreak. This focus change decision comes from the influencer type and the industries with which they have partnerships. Travel influencers, for instance, had to cancel their trips, which impacted sponsorships negatively. Hence, they changed the contents they are creating to stay active and relevant. One example is a travel influencer couple, jovi_travel. They stated that they are currently not able to create new content by traveling to foreign countries. Instead, they’re going to be active by providing COVID-19 information, initiating #stayhome challenges, etc.
Topics that Instagram influencers are posting has changed such that interests like insurance, recipes, and health care grew while parties, music festivals, and vacations all decreased during the pandemic.
79% of Travel Influencers are posting less sponsored content with their potential earnings reduced by 47% on average compared to the average of both the previous period and the previous year.
According to the research by Attain, 65% of Instagram influencers, ranging from celebrity icons to nano-influencers, posted less sponsored content in the 8 weeks from March 12th – May 7th, in comparison to the 8 weeks prior. That equates to an earnings loss of £16.6k over eight weeks or around £2k per week. Another 10% of influencers lost all their earnings, and only 24% posted more sponsored content.
Attain concludes that Instagram Influencers are losing, on average, 33% of their potential earnings as a result of COVID-19, which is an average loss of £2,500 ($3,100) a week regardless of their influencing size. For example, Kendal Jenner, a strong influencer with more than 130 million followers on Instagram, posted nothing sponsored. Considering that she posted 8 branded contents last year the same period, and six the year before, zero posts translate to nearly £2 million in lost potential earnings.
Since many users have been restricted from doing their normal day-to-day activities during the outbreak, they have started to turn to other types of entertainment than going out, for example. This can be observed in their social media behavior.
According to the research of Global Web Index and Influencer, 72% of users following influencers in the US and the UK are spending more time on social media per day since the outbreak of coronavirus.
Social media usage peaks among Generation Z at 84%. Yet, only 57% of Gen Zers are likely to continue using social media to the same extent once restrictions are lifted. This percentage goes up to 68 for Gen X and 69 for Baby Boomers. Learn more about Generation Z and how to engage with them here.
Before the pandemic outbreak, the top categories of creators were across the US and UK were food (45%), music (43%), news and current affairs (39%), and travel (36%). Since the outbreak, news and current affairs, food, physical wellbeing/fitness, and health food/nutrition categories peaked due to the closing of gyms and cafes/restaurants.
According to the research, 44% of users who follow influencers say that the content creators offered welcome distractions and helped them feel positive. Almost 1 in 3 Gen Z and baby boomers stated that creators provided a greater sense of community during the outbreak.
During the outbreak, Generation Z was the most concerned about their mental health at 26%.
This correlates with many influencers saying that although sponsored posts have diminished, the engagement rates on posts have remained steady or even performed better.
74% of Influencer and Global Web Index research respondents reported that they used YouTube before the outbreak and are still using currently. YouTube is followed by Facebook (66%), Instagram (58%), Twitter (51%), and Pinterest (44%).
TikTok is the top platform (12%) that users started to follow influencers since the outbreak, according to the same research. However, 38% of Gen Zers reported that they had used TikTok before.
80% of respondents stated that they would continue to use these platforms after the outbreak.
Social media influencers are going to be around for the long term. It is a massive industry and too ingrained as an advertising mechanism to fade away. As brands are coping with tighter marketing budgets during the outbreak, they are also learning how important it is to provide lasting connections with their audiences through influencers. With the outbreak, users are more careful than ever about who to listen to. So, influencer marketing is not going anywhere but is changing and adapting to the atmosphere.