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What We Learned from 2020’s Biggest Influencer Moments

December 16, 2020

This year changed the game for pretty much everything, including influencer marketing. While last year, we shared what became a very popular post on the Biggest Influencer Fails, this year we wanted to share the biggest breakthrough moments and what they mean for the influencer marketing industry.

Most Influencers Stayed Home, Others Did Not.

During the first quarter of the pandemic, influencers primarily stayed home and made content that helped us all survive quarantine. While composing our 2020 State of Influencer Report we saw 42k mentions of #stayhome and 40k mentions of COVID-19 during the fourth week of March alone. The unprecedented times brought a new creative energy to influencer content.  For example, Krystal Bick produced incredible art and wrote blog posts explaining how to set up a home studio.

It seemed like most people were on the same page, and those who traveled were one-offs who were publicly called out; some of the most well-known being Arielle Charnas and Naomi Davis

When Summer hit, the Hamptons were poppin’. Danielle Bernstein is probably the most prominent example of an influencer who caught COVID socializing. Somewhat unsurprising given that  scandals have been following her for years. 

A more surprising offender was Melissa Wood-Tepperber (wife of the owner of the TAO group), who’s following skyrocketed earlier this year due to her popular virtual workout classes. She was later called out by followers for having a large birthday party for her husband. 

It would be difficult to talk about the extreme impact COVID-19 had on influencers without talking about Amanda Kloots, who is truly a beacon of light in the darkness. A former Radio City Rockette, Amanda attracted global media attention after publicly sharing her husband Nick Cordero’s struggle with, and eventual death as a result of COVID-19. 

During his lengthy hospital stay, Amanda launched a digital fitness brand to encourage people to #stayhome. Her following has risen exponentially as a result of her candid approach to her family’s COVID experience and has doubled since July. Amanda is also being brought on as a host for the 11th season of The Talk

Safety became a partnership opportunity

In other-worldly (apocalyptic) fashion, promoting safety precautions became a way for influencers to make money while simultaneously helping raise awareness of new safety protocols amongst businesses. Nordstrom was one of the first retailers to partner with influencers like Wendy Nguyen to encourage shoppers to come to their NYC flagship, which just opened in 2019. 

Retail wasn’t the only industry that saw influencers as a trustworthy channel for speaking directly to the public. Hotels were eager to partner with influencers over the summer, and one hospitality group absolutely nailed it. Meliá Hotels International, a Traackr customer, partnered with Chiara Fergani, among other local influencers, to promote the safety precautions they had put in place. The #StaySafewithMeliá protocol includes new check-in procedures, food and beverage protocols, cleaning processes, and a full redesign of the hotel experience. All of which were unveiled with the help of influencer generated content. 

Perhaps the most surprising partnerships were between influencers and government officials. Particularly in the UK, influencers were commissioned by the government to promote safety protocols. In our view, this is an excellent way to partner with influencers. They set public opinion and drive trends, and if they are encouraging their followers to behave responsibly, they are contributing positively to society. At their best, influencers can educate their followers and be part of the solution. 

The Black Square Brigade vs The Real Deal

While gathering data for our 2020 State of Influencer Report we calculated a 5194% increase in the number of influencers mentioning Black Lives Matter (BLM). While the greatest peak was in May-June, activity for the remainder of the year remained far above 2019 levels. Though the drastic increase in mentions is uplifting, there is still so much more work to be done. 

Blackout Tuesday was a collective action to post a black square on Instagram to protest racism and police brutality; particularly the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery. The movement, which started on June 2, 2020, was the first time many influencers stood up for racial justice. Unfortunately, for many, their actions were short-lived, but for others, it was the start of becoming more vocal about civil rights. 

Danielle Prescod and Chrissy Rutherford are industry fixtures, having held some of the coolest roles in beauty and fashion. Both have been speaking up for years about the industry’s complete and intentional lack of diversity and inclusion. 

Danielle in particular uses her platform as an instagram influencer to call out brands who are perpetuating racial biases. The two have paired up to start 2BG (2 Black Girl) consulting, after getting an overwhelming number of advice inquiries from friends and brands. They offer everything from anti-racism classes to company evaluations. It’s very much catered to the influencer space, so you should consider signing up!

There are also many amazing brands, such as Dove and TPH by Taraji, who have taken up the challenge and are not slowing down. 

There were too many white cooks in the kitchen.

In May, former New York Times columnist Alison Roman went from one of the most beloved people in quarantine to one of the most hated. In an interview with The New Consumer, Alison referred to Chrissy Teigan and Marie Kondo as “sellouts” for turning a profit on their passions. Chrissy, who is an accomplished model with two beloved cookbooks was heartbroken over the comments. 

Meanwhile over at Conde Nast owned Bon Appetit, several scandals had been simmering for a long time. According to several people at the company, the work environment was a toxic culture, in particular for employees of color who were treated poorly and underpaid. Several people, including Adam Rapoport, editor-in-chief at the time, stepped down. Half a dozen of BA’s most beloved creators including Molly Baz and Carla Lalli Music, said they would not appear in any videos until their BIPOC co-workers were paid equally. 

Contributing editor and test kitchen star Claire Saffitz then promised to make things right, which ultimately led to her leaving BA and starting her own Youtube channel, where she has consistently supported BIPOC food creators. Sohla El-Waylly, one of the original BA whistleblowers, also formally left the company and has moved on to Food52 and The New York Times! 

Apolitical became impossible 

The US election was contentious on all fronts, perhaps more so on social media than anywhere else. Influencers were both eager to enter the conversation and were apprehensive about sharing this perspective with their followers. Carly (Heitlinger) Riordan spoke up for the first time ever about politics this year, claiming she simply could not remain silent, even though she knows other people don’t necessarily look towards her for her political opinions

Those who couldn’t adapt to a political world in 2020 suffered the consequences. The Morning Toast, a pop-culture podcast hosted by the controversial Oshry sisters, experienced a Facebook community exodus. The Skinny Confidential Facebook group shut down because people couldn’t abide by their no-politics rule. The reality is that this year so much was politicized that it became impossible to have a relevant conversation about our day-to-day lives without political undertones. 

We were introduced to social commerce

Social commerce is the use of networking platforms as a means of making in-app purchases. As of right now, only a small percentage of Americans and Europeans use this regularly, but we believe that this is about to change and that implementations in 2020 have set the groundwork for social commerce to thrive in 2021. 

Between L’Oréal’s investment in Replika, Facebook’s purchase of Kustomer and Shopify’s partnership with TikTok, all the big players are clearly convinced that social commerce is the next big thing in shopping. Seeing as it’s already huge in China, we expect the U.S and Europe will be the next adapters.  

We escaped through a new app

Two years ago it seemed unthinkable that another app could rise to the level of prominence that Instagram, Twitter and Facebook have. TikTok accomplished what we believed to be impossible. Although the app experienced extreme obstacles, such as the President of the United States attempting to ban it, it was still the most downloaded app of 2020

TikTok introduced the idea of the “instant influencer”, brought us dozens of new prominent social media personalities, and allowed us to cope with a year or turmoil with interactive dances and storytelling. The rules of engagement are a bit different on TikTok -- check out our Guide to Creating Engaging Campaigns on this network.   

Skinfluencers Thrived

TikTok has birthed the concept of the “instant influencer” and no category of influence has been more of an overnight success than skincare influencers. There was a 197% increase in total number of engagements in skincare-related content between H1 2019 and H2 2020. The surge for this movement is attributed to two kinds of influencers: 

  • the “professionals/experts” who are dermatologists or aestheticians, like Dr. Dray; and
  • the “unofficial experts” like Hyram Yarbo (aka Skincare by Hyram) who have educated themselves on products in the industry and gained credibility. 

Hyram, one of the most popular skinfluencers, is a big reason why more affordable products, like Vaseline, The Ordinary, and CeraVe, a Traackr customer, are seeing spikes in engagement, mentions, and overall growth. CeraVe had a 26% increase in mentions in Q2 alone, which can certainly be attributed to skinfluencer mentions. Prior to being adopted as one of TikTok’s favorite products, it was typically only used by dermatologists.

2020 is cancelled, but it showed a lot of promise for the future.

This year showed us just how adaptable and creative influencers, brands and consumers can be. We’ve discovered so many new creators, have been emboldened to speak up about social justice issues, and have found many new ways to connect and entertain. 

From influencers promoting flu shots, to others being accused of design infringement on face masks, we have truly seen the best and worst of influencer culture this year. Did we miss anything? Comment below with your favorite (or most memorable) influencer moment in 2020!  

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