Can influencers connect during a pandemic?

Source: Instagram/dreaming_outloud - Hailey Miller
May 22, 2020

According to Advertising Age, influencer marketing in mid-March came to a halt as the pandemic “made much of what influencers once did look tone-deaf.”

The killer fashion looks and glamorous trips many blogged or vlogged about suddenly appeared insensitive with the arrival of COVID-19. Travel restrictions, business closures and cancellations of events such as Austin’s South by Southwest also made creating fresh content a huge challenge.

Yet surveys show that influencers wield some influence:

  • According to Edelman’s 2019 trust barometer report, 63 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds trust influencers’ opinions of brands more than advertising done by the brand itself.
  • “The Influencer Report” from Morning Consult that came out last November found that 52 percent of Millennials trust influencers they follow on product recommendations, compared to 38 percent for their favorite celebrities.

Influencers do have an advantage at this time because their followers are typically more engaged on their devices and social media as they shelter at home. Although commercial production is generally locked down, influencers can film themselves without a crew and quickly refresh messaging.


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Three weeks ago I was in the south of France, staying at a beautiful hotel just outside Montpellier. ⁣ ⁣ Quite frankly it feels like months ago. Freely travelling, sitting late over supper with friends, eating food I haven’t cooked, basking outdoors in the sunshine, wearing makeup, even using a gym: these all seem frankly alien activities now that my world has shrunk to inside the four walls of my home.⁣ ⁣ But the way I get through this is to remind myself that this will all be possible again. ⁣ ⁣ Meanwhile, I’m editing my photographs, thinking about drinking rosé in the sunshine, whilst wearing my new leopard print dress. ⁣ ⁣ In honour of my dress, which is not going to get much wear over the next two months, I’ve done a 🐆 print edit over on my website, and I’ve put the link over on stories for you. ⁣ ⁣ Shot at the @domainedeverchant_official in Montepellier whilst on a press trip in March 2020

A post shared by Sasha Wilkins – LLG (@libertylndngirl) on

But developing appropriate content can be a challenge. While travel is out, gaming interest is thriving with how-to YouTube videos as people look to be entertained at home. Fitness and cooking as well as COVID-19 topics such as do-it-yourself haircuts are also popular.

Benjamin Spiegel, chief digital officer of Procter & Gamble’s beauty division, told Advertising Age, “It’s not necessarily what’s the new summer style, but what is some new job we have to do? What are the new consumer needs, especially working from home?”

The New York Times reports that many companies are encouraging messages of optimism and self-care with some barring the mention of coronavirus in influencer posts.

RewardStyle, which connects brands to influencers, recently sent out an email encouraging influencers to feel empowered to post about fashion, offering guidelines on how to remain tasteful.

“Brands are struggling for authenticity in this COVID crisis and influencers provide that in a way that other channels fail to do,” Amber Venz Box, RewardStyle’s president, told the Times. “We know consumers are seeking escapism that our influencers provide.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you think influencers hold more value for marketers or pose more risks during the pandemic? What advice would you have around using influencers at this time?

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"The COVID-19 pandemic has unleashed a need for social media to be a source of support, guidance, and relevant information. It’s become a lifeline in many ways."

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13 Comments on "Can influencers connect during a pandemic?"

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Dick Seesel

Influencers who continue to post about high-end travel, fashion and dining will look tone-deaf for awhile, and they would do well to reconsider their audience in the short term. In the meanwhile, there is a “democratization” of online influence happening now, driven in large part by what Axios calls “Zoom Moms.” The true influencers, for the duration of this crisis and recovery, will be those who offer practical solutions in their own lives and outreach about the larger community.

Jeff Weidauer

Relying on influencers to promote your product is risky at the best of times. Right now, we’re all trying to find the right path, and influencers are no exception. As with any marketing tactic, when times and consumer expectations change, tactics must adapt. We will see many existing influencers go away, and new ones who are more in tune with the current realities take over. Marketers need to stay alert and watch for these changes.

Ryan Grogman

Influencers have found a tremendous audience in Millennials and others as they post their adventures and lifestyles for others to vicariously follow through their favorite social media medium. However, like all advertising during the pandemic, there are risks and rewards to be had. Put out the wrong type of message or push the wrong type of activities, and you’re going to be criticized heavily. However, with more eyes than ever on sites like Instagram and TikTok, there is also tremendous opportunity to utilize influencers via the right messaging. Quarantining just brings about different types of activities and products (lounge wear, swimwear, fitness gear), and these can often resonate stronger and create even more connection if they tie into the “we’re all in this together” messaging dominating pandemic marketing.

Suresh Chaganti

Influencer strategy is critical, but the risk of misaligned values between influencer and brand are always there – and much more pronounced during these times. It means there should be frequent and structured communication between brands and their influencers on messaging and tone of the message to avoid catastrophic mishaps.

Karen S. Herman

The true value that Influencers can offer for marketers at this time is to bring an authentic brand message to their audience. The COVID-19 pandemic has unleashed a need for social media to be a source of support, guidance, and relevant information. It’s become a lifeline in many ways as people stay home and authenticity is key to maintaining brand affinity.

Jason Goldberg

Influencer marketing is an important tool to help consumers discover products and make purchase decisions digitally (something we struggle to offer via other digital shopping methods). However, pre-COVID-19 influencer marketing was disproportionately focused on travel, beauty, and apparel, three categories that saw their demand fall off a cliff thanks to COVID-19. Compounding the short term problem, many retailers actually turned off their affiliate programs during COVID-19, as they didn’t want to pay influencers for the minimal amount of sales they were seeing that probably weren’t incremental.

However other categories like food and home influencers actually have done quite well during COVID-19 as consumers have been consuming more minutes of digital content, and increasing their spend on home and at-home meals.

In the long run, COVID-19 accelerates the death of old models, like a few experts annually dictating tastes from the Paris fashion show, and transitions that influence to a fleet of micro-influencers that cater to a much narrower, more specific audience. It probably also means the end of one-size-fits-all seasonal trends.

Neil Saunders

It really depends on who the influencers are and what they are posting. To be blunt, a lot of influencers are out of touch with the realities modern consumers now face and there is a risk that their content could be seen as inappropriate. However, there are other ways to use social media effectively. The Chinese cosmetics retailer, Lin Qingxuan, deployed over 100 beauty advisors from its closed stores to become online influencers. They engaged through platforms like WeChat to help and inspire customers. The interactions were genuine and authentic and worked well.

Shep Hyken

Anytime you can connect on a human level is good. That’s what influencers do. They connect on a human and emotional level. That is why they are influencers.

Ricardo Belmar
Ricardo Belmar
Retail Transformation Thought Leader, Advisor, & Strategist
2 years 4 months ago

Influencers can help brands look and feel authentic to their target consumers if used properly. Focusing on luxury travel and high fashion will come off as tone-deaf right now. Influencers that pivot to showing how they are coping with lockdown, quarantines, and an overall lack of normality by doing new things, finding cover applications of everyday products, and focusing more on being entertaining and uplifting can help brands stay connected with their customers. We may see a shift in influencers post-pandemic as many that don’t pivot well could lose their audiences, so I expect many brands will shift their influencer strategy somewhat, but using influencers may become even more important than ever before for brand marketers.

Ralph Jacobson

I believe more influencers are sensitive to the pandemic than not, so with screen time at all-time highs, I think there is nothing but opportunity for influencers to influence now.

Brian Numainville

The key is going to be ensuring that influencers don’t seem out of touch with the reality of this moment in time and of their followers. Acting in a way that is tone-deaf right now will be perceived quickly and magnified. But with social media use and screen time up much higher right now, it is also a great time to capture the attention of the audience.

Lee Kent

Personally, I don’t think its a one vs the other situation. Influencers and brands can also compliment each other. Look at brands that have altered production in order to make masks, etc. That feel good, support the community kind of stuff is what keeps consumers feeling good about their favorite brands. They are not necessarily looking for brands to sell or influence them right now. But, hey, many many of them are still shopping. That is where the influencers come into the picture. Maybe not be means of luxury travel but they are creative and can still find ways to show off the wares. Can you spell Tic Toc, Instagram? It’s all part and parcel of the same game. And that’s my 2 cents.

Phil Chang

Influencers is such a broad category with so many good ones and not-so-good ones. I don’t think they lose or gain. The good ones will figure out how to adapt and connect, and the others will sound tone deaf for awhile. I think for Brands/Retailers, it’s still about testing and ensuring influencers fit in your strategy.

Right now, there are so many pure consumers that are posting content that I’d encourage Brands/Retailers to think about building programs that leverage the every day consumer and their social media instead. (think iHOb, Dove ##RealBeauty)

"The COVID-19 pandemic has unleashed a need for social media to be a source of support, guidance, and relevant information. It’s become a lifeline in many ways."

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