Switching up not switching off: the role of influencer marketing during COVID-19

“The devastating effects of Coronavirus have impacted the lives of everyone. There’s not a person, family, business or institution that hasn’t been affected in some way and all are having to adjust and make do while our incredible health workers battle the deadly disease.

These are unprecedented times and there’s no blueprint to tackle the challenges that lay ahead. Like all industries and businesses, COVID-19 has flipped the routines of publishers, agencies and brands on their heads, forcing companies to consolidate and cut costs wherever possible. For many, the first thing to reconsider is advertising. Is it appropriate? What’s the right message? Will it even be seen? There are so many questions marketers must ask themselves but who really knows the answers during such times of uncertainty?

Whilst tightening the purse strings sounds like the most logical step when no one is leaving their homes or spending lavishly, there is an argument to say that now is as good a time as any to advertise while all competitor activity is switched off and a greater share of voice is up for grabs. Perhaps it’s not about dialling down but dialling in to the changing consumer habits brought about by life in isolation and capitalising on popular forms of content that have come to the fore in recent weeks; live streaming, TikTok challenges, tutorials.

While brands mull over the right strategy to navigate these trying times, there is still huge potential on social platforms where creators and influencers can reach large audiences irregardless of the situation, without having to compromise on the quality of their content. At a time when brands are more cautious than ever with their marketing spend, it’s clear influencer marketing is a medium that can still work for brands. Their ability to be agile, reactive and personable (all within the confines of their home, of course) provide brands with an empathetic, human voice they might not otherwise have in days where improper messaging can come across insensitive and tasteless.

Marketers must err on the side of caution though and take appropriate steps to ensure the partnership will be successful, not just to deliver strong numbers, but to make sure that any influencer they work with can navigate this precarious situation in a sensitive way, limiting the risk of these activities backfiring on their brand. In the last few weeks we’ve seen influencers and celebrities shooting themselves in the foot by trying to seem relatable and human, instead coming across tone deaf and out of touch.

One example is Vanessa Hudgens who was met with backlash after going live on Instagram to voice her frustration with the virus and the impact it has had on her life. Gwyneth Paltrow was also called out after she posed in a G.Label outfit and encouraged her audience to ‘tap to shop’ the $875 look amid the ongoing crisis. The post was deleted four hours later.

At the same time, there are influencers who truly understand where they fit into their audience’s lives during a crisis and can adapt to new situations as they arise. These influencers can use their authority for good to set an example to their followers, educate them on social impact initiatives and entertain audiences in ways that are respectful of the situation and people’s individual experiences of it.

The UK government is already tapping into the reach and influence of social content creators to help spread accurate health information and to reach younger online audiences that are more susceptible to fake news. Fitness influencers such as Joe Wicks and Katie Dunlop are becoming important community leaders who not only help people maintain their fitness and mental wellness, but create a sense of community and belonging for those confined to their homes.

The key to finding these influencers is to undertake careful due diligence. Always a key step in our process at Brave Bison, it’s becoming even more important now. Go beyond the numbers – their following, their engagement rate – and do a deep dive into their actual profile; who are these people and do they align with your brand values to the extent there’s a genuine value exchange between brand and influencer? Examine their feed over a period of time, build an understanding of their audience and what the dialogue is between them. Dissect past brand partnerships. Is there consistency in the type of brands or products they’ve endorsed and promoted in the past? Have the reactions from the audience been generally positive or negative?

Whether you’re well-versed in influencer marketing or still toying with the idea, Brave Bison can help you navigate the most appropriate social strategy at this time and connect you with those influencers that will tell your story through a trusted and respected voice.”

– Luke Ricketts, Business Director