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A Positive Outlook for Influencers and Branded Content Amidst a Time of Uncertainty

Brands and Influencers are taking on a more human approach to content - We're all in this together.

It’s official. We all can agree that 2020 hasn’t been a great year so far. With lots of countries currently stuck in a total lockdown or shutting down nonessential commerce, it’s beyond argument that for many of us, the upcoming months won’t probably be looking very promising either. But there’s always light at the end of the tunnel.

It’s also indisputable that during these hard times where people are confined at home, and recreational activities are pretty limited, social media has been proven to be our best ally. Working as some sort of a movie theatre, one can find himself spending hours binge-watching what everyone’s doing at home — whether it’s cooking, working out, commenting Netflix series or simply sharing memes of Meryl Streep with a bottle of Scotch in an effort to comfort their audience or friends. Proof positive that we’re all together in this issue and a global pandemic is something that clearly does not distinguish or discriminate.

FIGURING OUT WHAT IS THE NEW ‘NORMAL’

The beginning of 2020 was off to an excellent start, and Q1’s couldn’t look more promising for both marketers and influencers. With lots of events happening this year including Olympics in Tokyo, fashion weeks around the globe, and music festivals like Coachella being cancelled or postponed, we saw an influx of money being pushed to later in the year or being used in other innovative ways. At least until we could figure out what this new “normal” is going to look like now.

As social media has been found as a positive entertainment gateway for an average user like myself; we shouldn’t forget that there are people who make their way of living out of these tools. We’re talking about influencers, public figures and publishers, who are very sceptical about the future of this ecosystem given that some agencies and companies had their entire marketing budgets slashed, and uncertainty prevails week after week.

In a recent survey carried out by Influencer Marketing Hub where they surveyed 4000 marketing agencies, brands, and other industry professionals to gather their perspectives on the state of influencer marketing in 2020, they concluded that “80% of firms take their influencer marketing spending from their marketing budget, and also 87% of respondents use Instagram for influencer marketing.

Photo by alex bracken on Unsplash

“As of end of March, there were more than 800,000 influencer posts including the hashtags #coronavirus, #covid19, #covid, #pandemic, and #coronavirusoutbreak, accumulating more than 2.9 Billion Overall Engagements.”

CreatorIQ CoronaVirus Marketing Ad Spend Report

We don’t need to demonstrate that social media is a very powerful tool for any brand in the market — as it would be denying the undeniable. Working with influencers that represent your brand ethos to promote products has been a pretty smart and robust strategy that has shown no signs of slowing down so far. As a result, large companies have been doubling the number of creators they activate per campaign in the past two years.

AND NOW WHAT? WHAT SHOULD WE DO?

The first thing is: do NOT worry. The outcome of this piece is not me trying to be panic-inducing but attempting to share some light at the end of the tunnel.

It’s clear that what those influencers are most concerned about right now is how to balance the right tone given we’re still in the midst of this — and we all need to be sensitive to that. The approach has drastically pivoted towards a more cathartic and self-reflective point of view.

And here’s when being a marketer comes into the field. I couldn’t help but analyse the influencer marketing ecosystem to identify strong and successful trends that have proven to have a positive impact, and I’ve gathered them all in a list so we can all support each other.

1. Start acknowledging what’s happening and being sensitive to it
We’re not going through an easy moment — and that’s something we need to keep in mind as we’re all in the same boat. Being true on what’s happening at the moment has been the key to most of the successes we have seen on social media. If you can bring some value and brighten someone’s day, then you will be hitting what we all need to accomplish. 

2. Be honest with yourself, and your audience
Use your platform to inspire, to help, to make people feel connected, but always from an authentic and empathetic approach. Just be yourself and share what you feel. 

“One of the main questions raised by influencers in the current situation is how can they inspire their audience. The solution here are two words: honesty and empathy. If that’s what you feel in that moment, that’s what you have to share. You just have to be able to tell a story in your truest voice, being honest and truthful.”

Nicolette Mason, Creative Consultant, in #BOFLive event.

3. The tone of voice is key
This is one of the things that has been worrying people the most lately. How should brands and influencers talk to their audience and customers during this period? Should they shift the way they communicate?

Again, we’re all in this together. Just understand your tone of voice and how you usually express yourself to keep connecting with people the way you usually do. Maintain the feeling of community while being sensitive and approachable.

4. Tackle topics that matter
The feeling of directly selling something is going to take a break. “The literalness” is going away. Many people are in a position where they can’t spend money the same way they did before, and unemployment rates have been going up. We should keep that in mind every time we share content and ask ourselves: how is this going to make my audience feel?

Conversations have been moving towards topics like sustainability and ways to lead a healthy lifestyle, while also to jumping on IG Lives to share how they feel and making their audience participate. A good example is the “Gratitude Hour” that the life coach and influencer Barrett Pall is running three times a week in his Instagram account, or the daily “Pelandy News” from both the influencers Pelayo Diaz and Andy McDougall. Another success story we can highlight is Paula Ordovás, who has been organising two live workouts per day, aggregating thousands of people exercising together in each session.

It’s not the time to be frivolous — and we should all embrace that.

5. Use your influence for a good cause
Promote a cause, raise money for charities, and provide your grain of sand to this situation.

There are a lot of influencers that used their influence for positive impact, to inspire and help people feel connected.

TIP: Donation stickers when using Instagram Stories are a dynamic and straightforward way to raise money for this cause. WHO would be a great example.

Source: Instagram blog. Donation Sticker instructions: here.

A SHIFT IN CONSUMER BEHAVIOUR

Not only have influencers needed to shift their approach, but businesses as well based on new emerging habits and behaviours. People have more time on their hands and that implied a direct beneficial impact for brands but also influencers who dedicate some of their time to curate daily or weekly newsletters.

Brian Kelly, CEO and Founder of @thepointsguy, shared for this piece how he had to adapt the content to meet consumers where they are consuming information, and a huge shift has been to email. With over 300,000 active daily readers in their regular newsletter that normally highlights travel deals, aviation news and loyalty hacks, he saw a massive increase in open rates to over 50% on their special Coronavirus editions. He also shared that the travel industry is going through a time of crisis, and instead of pivoting away from travel, they have doubled down on it, but through the lens of safety— adjusting that strategy as the public health situation improves.

At the core of being a travel influencer is inspiring people to explore. The COVID-19 crisis has fundamentally questioned that and has forced the travel influencers to re-tool their playbooks. We quickly retooled our message to focus on safety, with the usage of doctors and public health leaders in our content.”

Brian Kelly, CEO and Founder of The Points Guy

Another notable change related to the topic is that both emails open and interactions have increased more on desktop versions than mobile. This change is understandable when we think about the fact that people are confined at home and therefore, working on their laptops — leading to spending less time reading emails with their phones, providing a less distracting experience when compared to mobile.

WHAT DO INFLUENCERS HAVE TO SAY HERE?

When trying not to be biased by inner thoughts and opinions as I’m not an influencer myself, the best approach one can undertake is to listen to the different voices of specialists in the market — who can provide best-in-class insight of what they are personally experiencing, and more importantly, foreseeing.

That’s why I’m sitting today with Nick Wooster, a very well-groomed American fashion consultant, design expert, and ultimately, an internationally renowned Instagram influencer mogul. 

Nick Wooster X Cartier. Source: Instagram

How are you, as an influencer but ultimately, as a business, coping with the side-effects of the virus?

I believe this will fundamentally upend everything we know about our world. Everything will be questioned, and in that process, change. With change, comes opportunity. I think those that are curious, are listening and paying attention will benefit greatly. But, make no mistake, it’s going to be a bit terrifying, and will probably get worse before it gets better. In the meantime, it’s good to catch up with everything and everyone. And keep exercising.

How do you think brands are going to work with influencers in the era of COVID-19? Is this noticeable short-term shift, something that should make them worry?

I can only speak for myself; there is even more opportunity at this moment. People are spending even more time on Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, plus all the hookup apps — therefore, with the right tone and content, I think it can work out well for both brands and creators. But let’s face it, you don’t need a pandemic to expose an asshole.

Lots of brands have been wearily leaning into a ‘win-win’ content strategy where both the influencer and the business partner were mutually benefited for that exchange. What are your predictions for paid partnerships moving forward?

I think a ‘win-win’ content strategy has always been true. It is a basic tenet of business: If you do well, I should also do well. For sure, the days of “easy money” are over. I think brands should expect more, and I believe creators should expect the same.

Using your influence and platform now during COVID-19, what message/emotion do you want to share with your followers? What advice would you give them?

The greatest asset of social media is the connection it provides. Much has been debated about how social media, apps and the internet, killed nightlife, eliminating the need for in-person contact. In the age of COVID-19, that is both ironic and advantageous — it’s the only way we can actually connect!

AND WHAT ABOUT THE INDUSTRY?

To get a clear vision of how brands are thinking during this time, I’ve reached out to Sophie Winckel, Brand Activation Manager for adidas in New York.

All views expressed, below, are personal and not made on behalf of the brand.

Photo by Mike Kononov on Unsplash

What are your thoughts on brand partnerships? How are they relevant to the consumer?

Partnerships are additional voices and/or channels of communication to connect with the consumer. Our consumers’ interests are multi-faceted so these brand partners are a great strategy to authenticate the message and reach a new audience. Brands and industries are continuously becoming more porous and the siloed approach to speaking through one vertical of expertise doesn’t work anymore. It’s important to have a brand adjacency approach.  How can brands leverage the full network of touchpoints consumers naturally have (i.e. Music, Fashion, Sport, Hospitality, Tech, Sustainability) while still remaining true to their core values or areas of expertise? Brand partnerships are key in surfacing new dialogues, where maybe once thought about as untapped territory within their target audience.

“Nearly 90% of all influencer campaigns include Instagram as part of the marketing mix.”

Influencer Marketing Hub, 2020 Benchmark Report

How do you foresee brands evolving during this time?

There is a higher level of vulnerability and ‘humanization’ that I think is really resonating with consumers now.  This tone could be the new normal moving forward.  Consumers know that brands have taken a pause on studio-quality content production, so there’s more opportunity to put the creation in their own hands. I think UGC (User Generated Content) will take on a whole new level of importance as brands continue to pass the mic to the consumers. Certain consumers could even come out as Creative Directors for full campaigns, depending on what initiative they want to take. New ways of collaboration between consumer and brand will continue to evolve; fortunately, in these uncertain times, I’ve seen a lot of creativity. People are more willing to share and contribute to the storytelling and scale of certain messages.

To that point, what brand or person has connected with you most during this time?

I have three: adidas, J Balvin, and Public Records NY. Going back to my earlier point about vulnerability and humanization, I feel like these three brands truly embody these two characteristics.

adidas launched its campaign to speak to this time by encouraging consumers, athletes, and artists to share ways in which they are staying active and creative at home. It’s been incredible to see the level of engagement and contribution from both brand partners and consumers – everyone plays a role in the campaign.

Photo by Ashim D’Silva on Unsplash

With his new album release, Colores, I’ve really admired how J Balvin has used his platform and creativity to engage with his audiences. I’ve most enjoyed his IG Lives with different artists from the industry – he has a knack for putting his fans at ease with his natural meditative demeanour while still making them feel like they’re a part of the conversation. Not to mention, his album is called Colores, where every song is titled after a different colour – something we all could use during these times.

Lastly, I have to shed light on one of my favourite NY spots – Public Records. The Brooklyn music venue and cafe quickly put together their merch store and 24h TV channel, Public Access, to stay connected with the community during the time of closure. ​Public Access is a community broadcasting channel built to serve as a means for communication and expression in response to the current state of the world. To name a few – expect to enjoy old surf videos, meditative ambient soundtracks, a dance series, and surprise guest performances from different artists. We’ll all be back soon to dine and dance at their spot.

How have you personally approached COVID?

I have my top 3M’s: Mindset, Music, and Movement

Mindset: I’m maintaining a mindset of gratitude and strength with a focus on the now. I’ve also noticed that I’m investing more attention into one thing at a time as opposed to trying to complete multiple things at once. For every moment, give it 100% (i.e. your workout, your project, your family time, your friends etc…)

Music:  It’s something we all can relate to – our universal language. For friends that know me, I tend to always have some form of Latin music playing. Right now, I’m listening to a lot of old 60s / 70s bossa nova, like Gal Costa, Stan Getz, and Jorge Ben Jor.  J Balvin’s, Colores, and Bad Bunny’s YHLQMDLG are also on repeat – especially when I’m running or doing one of my at-home workouts. I’ve also enjoyed many of my friends’ Spotify playlists.  Here’s one of mine: Sobremesa I

Movement: Keep it consistent – a little bit goes a long way. Whether it’s yoga, a HIIT Class or a long run, I’m staying active for at least 45 minutes a day. The goal is to not over complicate your workout and if you need the rest, take it. Some of my favourite workouts are from Variis by Equinox. I track all my runs with adidas Runtastic. After all, “the world is movement, and you cannot be stationary in your attitude toward something that is moving.” Henri Cartier-Bresson

BUT ULTIMATELY, BRINGING OUT THE BEST OF US

From a huge voice comes a huge responsibility, and people like Chiara Ferragni and Fedez have been doing an incredible job raising awareness without changing the essence of who they are. They started a GoFundMe to raise funds for hospitals and in a couple of days, they raised more than 4 million euros. And what is more, they made a whole generation of Millennials and Gen-Zers understand how serious the issue is, and helped them to internalise it.

“I realised so many people around the world were going through the same thing, but not connecting, so I started going live and asking my followers all over the world to join me. What has come from this magical hour is intense gratitude, but also a safe space where people have shared some beautiful and big moments. Ultimately this hour reminds me that there are so many amazing humans around the world, and being able to connect doesn’t diminish because we can’t leave our homes.

Barrett Pall, Life Coach & Influencer”

As we have seen throughout this piece, brands and influencers are extending a helping hand to comfort their audiences, and they’re successfully achieving that purpose, which is lovely. But now It’s also the perfect time for us to appreciate more all the things we used to take for granted and to be more kind to each other. And there is very particular moral in all of this: everything will seem, once again, our first time — and I think that’s beautiful.

Stay healthy. Stay safe.

______

Please, feel free to share your thoughts about Influencers, branded content and paid partnerships on social media. Don’t forget to tag me on Instagram, LinkedIn or Twitter as I can’t wait to hear what you have to say!

Article originally published at Huffington Post – Spain Edition.

Thank you for everyone who collaborated in this piece: Nick Wooster, Sophie Winckel, Brian Kelly / The Points Guy, and Barrett Pall.

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