Influencer Marketing in the time of COVID-19
Author: Philip Brown
Date Published: 23.03.2020
As COVID-19 is starting to become more of a fixture in our daily lives, I would like to use this opportunity to talk about influencer marketing within the context of the rapidly changing environment that we find ourselves in.
These are uncertain times, which extends to me personally. My employment with Traackr ended at the beginning of March. Through my network I have had some amazing conversations with people within the industry. I am hopeful that my next opportunity will be just around the corner. It's a rather unfortunate time to be in this situation, but it’s also forcing me to think now more than ever about the positives.
The initial reaction of companies and brands spending money on influencer marketing is to cut back and reduce spending at this time - which is completely understandable. However, I’d like to use this edition of the newsletter to build a case for maintaining investment into influencer marketing, and its relevance especially now.
Nike released their (soon to be iconic) campaign titled "play inside, play for the world". The brand is trying to promote social distancing in a profound, but playful way. At the same time Nike is committing over $15 million dollars to COVID-19-related response efforts. Many athletes associated with the brand are spending their time indoors themselves and are trying to make a positive impact. Seeing the message being pushed by the athletes seems very relevant. The campaign also makes a great case for influencer marketing. As a direct result of the pandemic, we will be (and already are) seeing an incredible surge in content consumption, and an increase in content production only seems like a natural result. This means that influencer marketing and influencers themselves are becoming more of a focal point.
The streaming giant has announced that they will be reducing the “bitrate” of content in Europe in order to facilitate the uptick in content consumption. This means that the videos you’re watching will be ever-so-slightly reduced in quality, but it will reduce Netflix' data consumption on European networks by 25%. Streaming services are already seeing an increase in demand, which puts pressure on the likes of Netflix, Amazon, and others to come up with ways to keep content fresh, perhaps in the form of earlier releases or additional shows. Netflix Party, a Chrome extension, has recently generated traction too, allowing you to watch shows simultaneously with friends and family members, while at the same time being able to chat with each other.
According to research by StreamElements, total Twitch viewership has risen by 10% in the last week, and the data in Italy is even more telling. Since the country has been on lock down, stream viewership on the platform has gone up by a staggering 66%. Telecom Italia’s CEO has been quoted saying “We reported an increase of more than 70% of Internet traffic over our landline network, with a big contribution from online gaming such as Fortnite”. It's interesting to note that content on Twitch seems to be diversifying beyond gaming, from cooking to live yoga classes.
Research by Obvious.ly is showing an increase of 76% in daily accumulated likes on sponsored posts in the past two weeks. They also saw an increase of 27% in engagements comparing March to February. While part of this is due to the organic rise in behaviour that TikTok has been seeing - it’s fascinating to see that celebrities are flocking to the platform in the midst of all this extra time. The platform, known for its challenges, is also a breeding ground for content during the COVID-19 crisis, with professional soccer players all over the world showing off their skills with toilet paper. Polish Olympian Anna Lewandowska has also started the workoutfromhome challenge on TikTok, with +60M views at the time of this writing.
As our lives are starting to move online, one of the companies that is becoming (even more) of a staple in our daily lives is allowing us to communicate. Many are flocking to the likes of Zoom for catch ups with friends & family, and even for happy hours. In Sweden, the VP of Telia is quoted saying, “All the big players in the video conferencing market have asked for bandwidth upgrades in the last 10 days and some are asking for a fivefold increase,” adding, “If no one is able to fly, they will need a huge amount of additional bandwidth.” With Zoom quickly becoming an household name, I found an interesting interview with their CEO here (it’s behind a paywall, but if you go incognito, you may be able to read it quickly.) The interview comes with some interesting stats that highlight how well the software is doing in this time of crisis. "In the first nine days of March, downloads for video conferencing services Zoom, Teams and WebEx were 183pc, 103pc and 64pc above average, respectively, compared with the previous nine months, according to analysts RBC. Last month Zoom accounted for more than half of all mobile downloads in the sector. Its share price has also spiked.”
According to this article published by Vogue Business, advertising spend is likely to plummet as no one is purchasing anything. This is putting brands in a position where they will need to balance between the importance of engaging with customers, and ways to mitigate their expected losses in terms of revenue. The article highlights that utilising everyday brand advocates could mean a shift from brand awareness to more of a focus on community building. “Community building activities are a safe way to interact with consumers and remain front of mind. When they start spending again they are going to spend with you.”
Based on the above and the accompanying articles, we can see what the short-term effects of the pandemic are on social media consumption. It's very likely that investment into the influencer marketing industry will see a decline in the short term, but I would urge people to consider the changes and the positive impact influencers and influencer marketing can make in these times. Consumers are increasingly looking at influencers and brands during this crisis, and there are ample opportunities to connect with audiences that are actively searching for a distraction. Now is the time for brands to focus efforts on purpose-led messaging, as well as relationship building and retention strategies. Maybe now we will start to see more influencer marketing, and less influencer advertising. There is a real chance for brands to show what they're made of. Reducing or even completely removing your brand from this landscape could lead to a lack of awareness, as well as respect, from consumers.
In addition, IZEA has conducted research showing that there is a very high likelihood that people will continue to purchase during this prolonged self-isolation period. This article on Andrex (toilet paper) is interesting, as it showcases with data how the brand is doing well (as odd as it sounds) as a direct result of the UK Government's response to the crisis.
To conclude, here are some examples of do’s and don’ts.