As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to disrupt our way of life, businesses have been slashing their marketing budgets. In the face of uncertainty, what will happen to influencer marketing?
We have seen celebrity culture crash and burn, and the same thing is happening to social media influencers. For years, people have asked this question: how influential are influencers, really? The coronavirus may be showing us the answer.
The demand for authenticity
Social media influencers used to be authentic. Earned media, in the beginning.
People trusted social media influencers because they gave honest, third-party opinions and were subject matter experts. But companies started to pay influencers to blog about their brand. Or to promote their brands on social media. And so the social media influencer became just another form of celebrity endorser.
Influencers were no longe unbiased in these posts. Sometimes the brand or agency would even provide the content plan and social media script to them. So influencer marketing became just another form of paid media. Plus every Tom, Dick, and Harry started calling himself an influencer.
Why content is still king
What we are seeing now amid this crisis is influencer fatigue, according to this Forbes article.
“We are now beginning to see a move away from social media influencers towards creators, people who actually care about the product. Though creators may not have the same reach as influencers, they possess a far greater level of brand affinity and authenticity.
“The biggest development in marketing today is the shift from influencers to creators. Unlike influencers, creators produce content they genuinely care about, content that adds value to their respected communities.”
Now that COVID-19 has forced us to see what’s truly essential, many influencers risk appearing tone-deaf or irrelevant.
Influence comes with responsibility
In the Philippines, for example, online users slammed some influencers for being privileged and insensitive.
In the US, the pandemic may also be the tipping point for seeing influencers as the small businesses that they are.
“Influencers are public figures with small but flourishing businesses who make their money based on the trust and devotion of their audience. Therefore, they have a responsibility to said audience and their advertisers. Influencers should probably use their influence for good. And if they don’t, they should be held accountable for their actions.
“Private citizens can make all kinds of bad decisions in the pandemic (but please don’t) without any sort of public consequences. But influencers give up that right when they sell their lives for profit. If they mess up, they will likely suffer the consequences of lost ad revenue and partnerships.”
Focusing on what matters
To stay relevant, influencer marketing must once again shift the focus from the influencer as online personality, to the content creator as influencer. The content comes first, as well as the community.
And instead of pushing products, focus again on brand purpose.
“Influencer marketing has always been a way for brands to promote purpose-driven campaigns; capitalising on the often wide reach of influencers in order to get a specific message across.
“Influencers can also act as an example of ‘doing good’, with audiences more willing to follow the advice of someone they like or trust rather than a large or faceless brand.”
With the renewed demand for authenticity, we are beginning to realize what true influence means. Thankfully, the industry seems to be moving back to where social media influence actually began: passionate creators.
It’s time to reclaim social media, and once again make it about real people and genuine engagement.