Opinion: How the pandemic impacted influencer marketing

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THE past two years have been a whirlwind for everyone, and influencer marketing, an ever-changing industry, was rocked along with everyone else when the Covid-19 pandemic began, writes Orlagh Shanks.  

Like many people, full-time influencers lost their full-time wage. In-person events were cancelled, influencer marketing budgets put on hold and, all of a sudden, social media influencers were no longer receiving brand deals or income to advertise on their channels. For many social media influencers, their content had to change. Their filming background was now the inside of their apartment or house and they could no longer show travel experiences, events or any lavish outings. Some influencers adapted well to this change, and it was also the making of a few others that grew massively over the pandemic due to this new style of content. But, there were a few that didn’t quite hit the mark. 

Influencer marketing industry changes

As the hospitality and travel markets were hugely impacted, so too were the influencers that specialized in this niche as a result. Travel influencers had to rely on content they had in the bank, and for some, they faced great issues of being in countries that weren’t home. They had to figure out a way to get back to their homes, which, for some full-time travel influencers, didn’t exist. 

Those who specialized in trying the latest bars and restaurants now had to alter their content and showcase how these brands were offering delivery or ‘make-your-own-at-home’ packages. There were no longer any press trips to foreign countries, no press stays at new hotels and no trying the latest menus. Because of this, influencers had to adapt and change their style of content in order to stay relevant. But the pandemic didn’t just impact the travel and hospitality influencers; fashion influencers no longer had anywhere to go and no reason to wear or buy new outfits except loungewear. 

But also because of the pandemic, some influencer niches really took off and thrived. Home-cooking influencers, book influencers and cleaning influencers became the go-to as audiences were becoming more experimental in the kitchen, had more time to read, and were particularly interested in cleaning and disinfecting.

How influencers adapted to the change

Because we were all spending most of our time in our homes, influencers had to be more open with their audiences. Their home was now their new backdrop. Letting an audience into your home is a vulnerable thing to do and can increase how much your audience relates and bonds to you and your content. 

Influencers were able to have more in-depth conversations with their followers since they had more time on their hands to really sit down and get to know their audience and let their audience know them better. 

In a time of crisis when it comes to something completely turning on its head, as the influencer marketing world did, those within the industry had to quickly adapt and change the way and what they were influencing. 

How brands adapted to the change

A lot of brands reined in their influencer marketing spend. People were focusing on their families and health, and no longer had a need to spend on material items. Brands had to toe the line as to what was deemed insensitive marketing and what would hit the mark. 

Some brands offered free hand sanitizer with purchases online; some fashion brands had an entire section of their website dedicated to ‘working from home’ outfit ideas. Other brands weren’t as prepared as they didn’t have an online retail presence and were feared to be nearing extinction if the pandemic was to continue any longer. 

While everyone was eager to return to somewhat normality, there were a few brands that overstepped and returned to a form of normality too soon by having store launches and press parties in the height of the pandemic, which resulted in the influencers in attendance also facing backlash along with the brand itself. 

Influencers that thrived in the pandemic

Our time in lockdown seemed to be the making of some influencers who really took off with their content and gained a mass amount of followers in a short space of time. For example, new YouTubers appeared as the public were more inclined to spend time watching longer video content. Those who were conversational, and really let their audiences get to know them and how they were getting through lockdowns and quarantines, really seemed to resonate. But there was one social media app that saw new stars being born on the internet over the past 18 months and shows no sign of stopping any time soon.

The changes we saw on social over the pandemic

One of the biggest and probably most noteworthy changes that happened on social media during the pandemic was the rise of TikTok. It seemed like the social app had appeared at just the right time during the lockdown as users were more inclined to get involved with the dance challenges and light-hearted nature of the app and as school kids were at home a lot of the time. It resonated mostly with the younger generation and has become the new popular social platform. 

And of course, where there are eyes, there is money. It wasn’t long until brands started filtering through influencer marketing on the platform, working with TikTok stars to promote their brand or product. 

Fast forward to today and TikTok now runs the music charts. If someone is to be number one in the charts today, they need to have a song that TikTok users will use in their videos. Other social media giants, such as Instagram and YouTube, have also developed their own version of the platform within their apps, and continue to roll-out features that we already see on TikTok. 

The TikTok platform has shown that our attention span is getting even shorter and that we have a thirst for fresh and new content, and the allure of the next best thing. With TikTok, you never know what the app is going to show you next and so you spend hours constantly scrolling, getting that adrenaline rush of excitement before seeing the next video on your screen.  

How the influencer world is slowly returning to normal

We are gradually starting to see the return of influencer events as the world returns to a new normal. Fashion Weeks were back across the world in recent months and some Christmas events are taking place for brands.

If anything, the pandemic may have accelerated the growth of the influencer marketing industry and shown that in order to sell to consumers, you need to be where they are, and that is mostly on social media platforms. 

Orlagh Shanks is a senior influencer marketing executive. She has recently spent time working in New York, Liverpool and London within public relations. Shanks is also an award-winning blogger and hosts The Orlagh Claire Podcast focused on career, education and living differently.