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Early Days: What Does COVID-19 Mean For Influencer Marketing?

Mackenzie Newcomb
March 23, 2020

As quarantine life in many countries around the world takes full effect, we look at what’s happening in the influencer ecosystem and offer some advice for brand communication in these trying times. This is a fluid situation and we’re doing our best to stay on top of what’s happening and what it means for the brands and content creators we work with around the world. With only a week of social distancing under our belt, it’s already clear that things are forever changed.

Internet Culture is On the Move

Everyone is a TikTok star: How do you stay in shape, build your personal brand and keep entertained during a quarantine? You follow the lead of Charli and Addison and you learn TikTok dances. In these times, TikTok will be the social media app that will rise even further to the top. Right now, Twitter is full of bad news and witty commentary, Instagram is the place people remind you to stay inside and TikTok is the place that keeps you laughing through dark days. 

Cancel Culture will be at an all-time high: On Tuesday of last week, Vanessa Hudgens went live on Instagram to discuss her frustrations with the impact of Coronavirus. She said that she “gets” that this is a virus and “respects” it and knows “people are going to die”, but the world took her entire message as a complete joke. As a result, the memes piled in about Sharpay Evans (aka Ashley Tisdale) being the true protagonist of High School Musical (where Hudgens rose to fame.) 

Chrissy Teigen also got flack for insensitivity. On Twitter the model suggested people order from Goldbelly, which delivers expensive food around the world. While typically it would be on-brand for her to suggest this kind of company (she has two cookbooks), with huge layoffs happening and people wondering how they are going to pay their rent, the tweet came off tone-deaf. Let this be a lesson for other luxury brands. If you can, this may be the time to sit out. 

The influencer chessboard will reset: While consumers are sitting at home, many of which are ordered to “shelter in place”, the last thing they want to see is your dope quarantine spot. It’s important for influencers to keep their privilege in check. They’ll need to offer something other than an aspirational lifestyle to their followers. Whether it’s recipes, workouts, comedy, or simply relatable monologues, heightened emotions will lead to increased scrutiny. It’s also important for marketers to think about brand safety more than ever. 

The Government will partner with celebrities: The UK has already partnered with influencers to combat the spread of misinformation, and it looks like the US plans to follow suit. Surgeon General Jerome Adams asked for Kylie Jenner’s help in fighting COVID-19. The partnership makes sense, more than half of her following is Gen-Z, a generation that has been getting a lot of criticism for not taking this pandemic seriously enough. Dr. Deborah Birx is being sent from The White House to appear on The Morning Toast, a live morning show on Youtube that is popular amongst millennials.  

It really isn’t the worst idea. Regardless of your trust in the government, the spread of misinformation is rampid during times like this. Remember, you aren’t a doctor or scientist. Unless, of course, you are. We need to be spreading the facts, not opinions.

Which Categories are Thriving Under Lockdown?

Food brands are thriving: Restaurants are taking a massive hit during COVID. Consumers are trying to combat this by encouraging each other to purchase gift cards and order delivery/takeout during this time of crisis for the industry. Still, 300,000+ people are now unemployed, and that number is expected to grow. On the flip side, grocery stores can’t stay stocked. Clorox wipes are the hottest item on the market and brands like Oreo that already have a big Gen-Z following on TikTok will continue to thrive. 

Since we’ve all been forced to become home chefs, it’s not surprising that services like Blue Apron have seen a spike in demand. What happens when people cook at home? They film themselves. Because at the end of the day, global crisis or not, we still have to eat and we still want to post about our daily adventures. 

Fitness is thriving: One of the first groups of influencers to step up to the plate in this time of isolation has been the fitness community. Yoga Girl is offering 30 days of yoga for free and Mrs. Sweendog has been posting daily at home workouts with movement instructions to her stories. Many gyms are posting at-home, bodyweight only workouts and CrossFit gyms around the world are hosting Zoom workouts. Athletic brands, like Under Armour are also getting on board. There’s never been a better time to stick to your fitness goals! 

Athleisure is everything: Though some people certainly won’t be shopping during these uncertain economic times, those who are will be turning towards comfy clothes for their new work-from-home and workout routines. While we’re out here making TikTok dance videos, we might find ourselves wanting to dress like Gen-Z. It’s all about the sweatsets, particularly tie-dye. 

There is no way to know if these brands will keep their warehouses open for the long haul. So if you were thinking of buying that Adidas tracksuit, I’d probably do it sooner rather than later (I did it sooner). 

Skincare and haircare will thrive, but beauty won’t fail: A lot of people are taking this opportunity to let their skin “breathe”, but that doesn’t mean everyone is taking this time off from makeup. Because, although we’re not face-to-face, we are still getting a lot of “facetime”, and people will still want to wear makeup for the conference call. 

If you’re a skincare brand that recently sent out mailers to influencers, you’re probably going to benefit from this timing. They finally have time to review your products. 

However, this doesn’t mean that makeup-focused brands should be too fearful. Remember that YouTube brought beauty into the American teenager’s bedroom. There has never been a better time to do a makeup tutorial. That said, we suggest leaning into organic advocates of your brand-- it’s better not to be too self-congratulatory at this moment. 

Finding Your New Brand Voice During COVID-19 

Trash your Q2 content plan: Whatever you had planned for Q2 content probably won’t work. Revisit your current content strategy and renovate it for the times. Perhaps in a few weeks people will be starving for something other than Corona. But you’ll want to comb through everything several times, and have a second or third person double check to make sure you’re not being insensitive. We’re currently doing this ourselves. 

The conversation is happening on Twitter: While not often considered a go-to platform for many branded influencer activations, Twitter is certainly where the COVID-19 conversation is happening online. It may be a new place for you to engage your audience (if you can provide value of course). If you’re planning influencer activations, make sure to check content to be sure your partners are in-tune with what’s pertinent and aren’t posting tone-deaf jokes. 

Don’t refer to your customers as a community if they aren’t: Minter Dial wrote a great piece on the dos and don’ts of communication in this unprecedented time. Just because somebody bought a pair of shoes from you twice, doesn’t mean they are part of your community. Your inner circle is your employees and the influencers you hire. How you treat them during this time is a reflection on your brand. 

Find a way to add value, no strings attached: This is a time to give, give and give again. Forget about getting anything back. Most brands can find unique ways to provide value in these times. 

Provinas, a bridal company, is providing free wedding dresses for engaged women who work in hospitals. Scribd, an ebook company, is offering free books during quarantine. Tesla and GE have offered to start producing ventilators. LVMH perfume factories are creating hand sanitizer. SweetGreen is sending free food to hospital employees.

Now is the time to think of how your brand can be helpful, not how you can benefit off the global shift in lifestyle. Now is the time to ask, how can we be helpful in this time of crisis? Certainly not, how can we profit from this disaster? The last thing you want right now is to go viral. 

For our part, we are working hard to help our customers understand the impact of COVID-19 on their influencer programs and in the context of the overall influencer ecosystem. Our current circumstances require everyone to look closely at their plans and budgets and figure out how to adapt. Having the data to make the right decisions about where to invest your reduced influencer marketing budgets is going to be critical. 

If you have questions or topics you’d like to explore, let us know and we’ll do our best to help provide answers. More soon! 

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