Being an influencer has plenty of perks. You can receive invitations to exclusive events, travel to new places, try products and services before they’re released, and earn money by partnering with companies.
At least, that’s what the landscape used to look like. But in the midst of a pandemic, those exclusive events are largely digital, travel is highly restricted, and product launches are delayed.
When the pandemic first hit, influencer marketing looked dead in the water, with many companies having to halt spending. Per a Launchmetrics report, sponsored content made up 35% of an influencer’s posts in mid-February. By mid-April, that number had fallen to a meager four percent.
However, companies are realizing that influencer marketing still has a strong place within a marketing budget. And with one in four companies increasing their marketing spend, the opportunities are there for influencers to connect with their audiences in new ways.
A change in messaging strategy
As you may have heard once or twice, these are uncertain times we’re living in. The timeliness of social media means that posts need to reflect the current situation. Influencers are being cognizant of that, even more so than usual.
“Our family’s stance from the beginning has been to stay home, which is why my content will continue to reflect those beliefs,” says Ashley Maiberger of Feed This House. “It’s a big change for me and we’ve definitely gotten more creative about shooting in our home.”
Lifestyle photographer Jeff Mindell has also had to adjust his strategy, working in open spaces or holding outdoor shoots. He’s also put more of his family’s life on display to show how they’re adjusting to what’s going on in the world. Mindell is careful to include relevant, beneficial content in both his organic and sponsored posts. That kind of empathy has helped him stay on course, even as things change around us.
While his previous projects may have featured more collaboration, he’s now largely operating as a crew of one. That doesn’t mean brands should shy away, though. Instead, they can offer even more innovative ideas, as the imaginations of influencers are being stretched in unheard-of ways.
“In the past, I might have worked with stylists or other creative folks on a project, but until further notice, it’s me, myself and I,” Mindell says. “I think you have to be flexible and ready to sway with the tide, as there is still so much work to go around. We just have to be respectful of others and cognizant of the task at hand, in light of all that’s going on.”
What you say is critical in any industry, and influencers’ words can hold a lot of weight. While an image may be what catches someone’s eye, the accompanying caption or blog post is what will linger in their minds. Jin Laqui of Happy Go Laqui had to learn how to pivot her messaging to address current events. Though that added power can feel like a lot, she believes it comes with the territory.
“I feel like influencers have a social responsibility to be a voice for their communities, whether they recognize that or not,” Laqui says. “Social distancing has tested the waters of how influencers are able to strike the balance between what they want to post and what they ‘should’ post because they have an audience that listens to them and really values what they have to say.”
“Use your platform for good!” adds Josh Fu of Local Adventurer. “I know many who are worried that they’re gonna ‘ruin their feed,’ but I think now—more than ever—is the time to not ignore the important things happening in this world.”
Maintaining existing relationships
Some influencers may hop around frequently with their projects, doing primarily one-and-done campaigns with brands. However, the most rewarding collaborations are often the long-term relationships.
“The best partnerships are the ones that start from, ‘Let’s make something together,’” says Kevin McCauley of Capturing the Machine.
When a partnership ends, those relationships don’t go away. Influencers promote products and services that they enjoy using, and when times get tough, they’ll still have your back. Maiberger has shown that loyalty through her posts.
“We’re all feeling the effects of Covid-19,” she says. “We’re all struggling in some facet, whether that be financially, emotionally or physically. It’s important to honor prior and existing relationships. I’ve done favors for brands and restaurants I maybe wouldn’t have done before because I am genuinely rooting for their success.”
Laqui is taking on a similar ambassador role, especially for smaller, mom and pop style shops. With more than half of the restaurants that have closed during the pandemic shuttering their doors for good, she’s encouraging visitors to support local restaurants by posting menu items on her page.
Exploring new avenues
Initially, brands put a hold on spending, which in turn meant a hold on partnerships. That caused influencers to survey the landscape and try new things. Additionally, it freed up additional time to work on side projects, or to take care of things that needed refreshing.
For Mindell, he updated his online print shop with newer pieces and launched puzzles, a brand new arena for him. His top images are available for his audience to piece together from their own homes, creating a new way to engage with fans. Mindell has also found success with TikTok, even though he disliked it at first.
“I was super resistant to downloading TikTok,” he says. “But I took the plunge and honestly really love it! As someone who lives and breathes social media, it made sense for me to expand my online presence to a new platform, introducing myself and my brand to a new audience.”
Laqui experienced a similar hesitation toward downloading TikTok. However, she’s found it’s helped strengthen her other channels—a result of more people being on their phones while staying at home. The numbers don’t lie, either; TikTok was installed more than 315 million times in the first quarter of 2020 and had more than two billion downloads in Q2.
“It’s definitely kept me on my toes to try video and I’ve actually seen a pretty good conversion from TikTok to Instagram,” she says.
Think about where your target audience will be spending most of their time and look at influencers within those platforms. They don’t need to have a massive following, but if their content is strong and their fans are engaged, a partnership can provide solid returns. And if you’re thinking of getting yourself or your brand on TikTok, Laqui has a word of advice.
“The algorithm is completely different from Instagram and trends pop off at a much higher rate,” she says. “You have to be using it every single day, either posting or engaging with content.”
Remember why your audience follows you in the first place
Even with unique strategies and new platforms in place, influencers know what resonates best with their audience. The nature of their relationship with their followers allows them to be more open and candid with what they say, while still staying true to their core beliefs.
“I’ve realized that I just have to be authentic to who I am and be honest with my audience,” Fu says. “I have to be in touch with everything that’s going on in the world.”
Maiberger notes that while others may share political beliefs or discuss potentially controversial topics, it’s not a requirement, and it doesn’t mean one person cares more than the next. In fact, trying to join a conversation out of the blue can come across as disingenuous.
Though she’s now showcasing a few different elements in her content, Maiberger continues to think about her target audience and why they started following her.
“What I’ve enjoyed about this space is there isn’t a set playbook,” she says. “I always harken back to the days of sitting down during my baby’s nap time and that being the only hour of solitude I had. I wanted to scroll Instagram and desire new clothes, laugh at memes and drool over food. That is who I believe my audience is—people who genuinely just need a little mental escape from the chaos of reality.”
The smartest companies can adapt to all kinds of situations. The smartest influencers are doing the same, and though their strategy and opportunities may look somewhat different, their flexibility and unwillingness to compromise for their audience are keeping them on a path to success.