How Covid-19 Has Affected The Influencer Landscape

5 Min Read |

Not too long ago, a slew of brunch photos, your coworker’s recent trip abroad, and post after post of sponsored content from your favorite Instagram influencers filled your social media feed. But, when the worst of the pandemic hit in the U.S. in the middle of March, timelines quickly shifted to news headlines, hourly Covid-19 case count updates, and a flurry of panic. Amidst a global health crisis and its economic fallout, the appetite for influencers touting discount codes and gifted products decreased. However, the era of the influencer hasn’t ended just yet; rather, it has shifted to match our current reality.

Over the past six months, much has changed in the online advertising landscape, with the influencer space in particular taking a major hit. In mid-February, sponsored Instagram posts fell from representing 35% of influencer content to just 4% of creator content by mid-April, reflecting a decrease in ad spend. Even back in March, 69% of brands expected ad spend to decrease this year, and, as ad spend declines, so do engagement rates. Travel and event-based Instagram influencers have been hit the hardest. With typically very high engagements, travel influencer engagement rates saw an average drop from 8% in 2018 to 4.5% in 2020 after the world went on lockdown and international travel ceased. This trend reflects not only the virus’ impact on our global economy, but also a decline in influencer trust.

With more people spending time at home, reflecting inward as to what’s important to them and spending time paying attention to what’s happening within their local communities, Covid-19 has provided the space for reflection and re-assessment. Many have come to see large influencers as opportunistic, tone deaf or taking advantage of situations for clout and likes. It can be hard to trust influencers when 23% admit to feeling inauthentic about their brand-sponsored posts and another 15% admit to disliking their posted products. However, placing your faith in influencers isn’t completely lost. Many influencers use their powers for good. For example, Bonnie Rakhit, fashion magazine editor-turned-style blogger of The Style Traveler, encouraged her followers to “Clap for our Carers,” a U.K. initiative to cheer medics from home each week. As budgets shift and the search for more genuine interactions take precedence, brands can turn to micro-influencers like Rakhit to fill this role.

In the State of Influencer Marketing 2020 Report, Linqia found that 77% of the marketers surveyed expressed interest in working with micro-influencers, defined as having between 5,000 and 100,000 followers. Micro-influencers, as a whole, are perceived as more authentic, have highly engaged audiences, and are less expensive to work with. 92% of customers trust a micro-influencer more than a traditional ad by a large influencer or a celebrity, with over 82% of customers likely to make a purchase recommended from a micro-influencer. In comparison to slipping engagement rates seen in larger influencers, micro-influencers have retained a steady engagement rate of about 3.6%.

Micro-influencers made their rounds across online spaces, making a strong splash in the beauty landscape. Brands such as E.l.f. Cosmetics and Origins have recognized the power of micro-influencers in crafting successful social media campaigns, engaging with the group as far back as 2017. At the time, VP of Consumer Engagement Ashleigh Young stated, regarding the brand’s overarching influencer strategy: “Brand building today has really become this series of micro interaction. So as a result, we started small to grow big.” Natural beauty brand Origins reached out to micro-influencers during that period as well through their #MyPerfectWorld campaign. Targeting millennial women 24-35, this launch showcased three new products with nine women from various backgrounds. The brand recognized the feed fatigue created by macro-influencers and acknowledged the accessibility, authenticity, and approachability that micro-influencers possessed, taking a prescient approach that has come to reflect the reality of the market in 2020.

The current climate has pushed brands to get creative in how to interact with customers. With Covid-19 effectively killing brick-and-mortar stores for the last six months, luxury beauty brand Bluemercury shifted to e-commerce experiences by working with customers and micro-influencers. For this campaign, each person received a box of new products including sunscreen from Supergoop and setting powder from Hourglass. With the use of custom hashtag #ourneighborhood, participants submitted looks using the products, with some highlighting customers wearing PPE facemasks. Bluemercury aimed to bring the same feeling of shopping in-store to the online retail space, subsequently re-introducing in store shopping in the coming weeks. With the use of customers and micro-influencers as opposed to macro-influencers, Bluemercury tapped into a more accessible and approachable audience of everyday beauty shoppers. With the campaign tagline “created for you, inspired by you” this campaign allowed encouraged inspiring, meaningful content to be created by a true community.

Covid-19 or not, influencers aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. As the landscape continues to shift, marketers must take a page from Bluemercury. By tapping into a network of authentic micro-influencers, advertisers can create a strategy that align with their brand’s overarching vision. In reaching out to those micro-influencers, brands must remember that this group not only attracts, but also looks for, authentic connections. Take a personalized approach rather than sending a templated outreach email. With ad budgets decreasing, micro-influencers increasingly will serve as a key piece of the puzzle, allowing brands to reach marketing goals while creating authentic community connections.

About the Author: In her role as Account Supervisor at NXD Social, Emily Ballmaier works across multiple digital platforms to create thoughtful and strategic campaigns to reach her clients’ marketing and ROI goals. Before joining NXD Social, she held various social media roles at companies including VaynerMedia, CMD, and Laundry Service.