Influencer Marketing: A Covid-Proof Blueprint for Brands

2020 isn’t falling in line with previously forecasted trends. The global pandemic, crushing job losses, and long-term social distancing in the US and abroad have completely changed the game for influencer marketing.

Rather than waiting for things to get “back to normal,” brands should not only embrace new best practices but also redefine the relationship they have with online customers. 


Influencer Marketing: A Covid-Proof Blueprint for Brands:


The Long Tail Opportunity for Brands

For a split second, the fate of influencer marketing seemed uncertain. Collaborations and events were canceled en masse. Marketers across the nation hit pause on upcoming campaigns, and aspirational travel shots and photogenic brunch platters disappeared from everyone’s feeds.

Since stay-at-home orders went into effect, consumers have started to spend more time on social media, than ever before:

  • 32% increase in Instagram usage
  • 53% increase in Facebook usage
  • 3x increase in viewership on IGTV
  • 2x increase in viewership on Facebook Live
  • 33% live-streaming for first time

These trends continue to hold as we enter the potential long tail of quarantine in many states. 63% of people say they trust influencers more than brands, making them a valuable resource for tapping into emerging opportunities at a time when consumers are wary of brands’ intentions. 

There’s a real opportunity to reach a captive and engaged audience as consumers rethink old habits, values, and behaviors. Brands need to scrap the strategies that drove wins just a few months back and look toward partnering with relatable influencers who can drive commerce and positively impact the sales funnel. Consider using influencers on a quarterly basis with the intention to renew contracts with those who outperform the rest.


Caution! Self-Serve Influencer Marketplaces

Frequently, brands begin their influencer marketing journey by utilizing a self-serve marketplace the ability to “shop” a large talent pool from a single, centralized system seems appealing; however, even outside of the “COVID context,” self-serve marketplaces can be a liability for brands. Here are some of the red flags you’ll need to watch out for:

Hidden Fees

Self-serve marketplaces typically promise a flat rate fee, which is appealing at first glance. However, many fail to clarify that the original flat rate fee is only meant to cover the use for the platform itself. 

These platforms frequently take a percentage of the fee associated with each influencer’s rate. Yes, this means that you will need to pay a commission for each influencer that you decide to work with. This cost is layered on top of the ‘flat rate’ platform fee. The platform commissions can range anywhere from a tenth to a quarter of an influencer’s individual fees; the dollar amount that is paid directly to influencers accounts to roughly 75-90% of your actual spend.

IGC (Influencer-generated content) is a different kind of UGC

Brands love the idea of securing user-generated content from self-serve platforms...until they realize how time consuming the actual process is. IGC, in the influencer context, means high-quality content that evokes a user-generated feeling — “relatable” sponsored content that audiences crave.

Part of the issue here is that self-serve platforms aren’t always great at surfacing high-end micro/nano-influencers options that match both the content direction and organic target audience. Since they are opt-in networks, many of the influencers you hope to find may not be active on these platforms. 

Influencer marketing is a marriage of art & science. Influencer marketing agencies provide a lending hand by guiding and consulting influencers through both the creative and distribution process. 

Doing the Work Anyway

Influencer marketplaces are second homes for thousands of influencers; however, many marketers ultimately find themselves searching for influencers outside of these platforms. This creates complications — if you find a perfect match, outside of the database, you’ll need to onboard the influencer onto the platform itself in order to utilize your original investment budget. Reason being that these funds are most likely non-refundable. Altogether, this process wastes time, resources, and money.  

YouTube recently shut down its own self-service influencer program (FameBit) in July. In their announcement, YouTube stated that they've “learned a lot about how creators and brands can work together to produce amazing branded content...branded content only works if it's authentic and engaging for viewers.” The implication being that self-service led to inauthentic partnerships and poor results; it turns out that influencer marketing is as creative an endeavour as the content itself.

Source: Tubular

If Google couldn’t make automated influencer marketing work, can anyone? Google’s Famebit experiment showcased that influencer marketing, when done well, requires a human touch. Influencer marketing, like most things, takes time, experience, and effort to do well.


Strategic Partnerships & Market Research

Source: Engadget

New features on platforms like Instagram include polling and questionnaire filters. Influencers can act on behalf of brand partners to engage their audiences directly and conduct market research.

Aside from Q&A’s, brands have the opportunity to partner with influencers in more strategic ways, to ensure their marketing programs truly resonate with their consumers.  

I've had multiple brands take some pretty innovative approaches to the way we work together...locking in contracts with me to create content around a new launch and also a separate contract to consult on the launch of the new line to ensure it lands with audiences like mine well. I've also gotten opportunities to speak in a more formal way to brand teams about the current climate surrounding racial disparities and inequities. With my audience being predominantly Black women, and as a biracial woman who identifies as Black myself, brands are more eager than ever to hear our stories and create space for our voices to shine.” -Jade Kendle (@lipstickncurls)

Use Influencers as Production Partners

Partnering with content creators results in better-performing creative assets that can drive revenue when paired with a paid media budget. Brands should always consider repurposing organic sponsored content for this reason. This practice has become even more popular now, in the wake of COVID. 

Some brands have tried recycling old B-roll and stock footage from prior shoots, but even these workarounds have limitations regarding relevancy in a rapidly changing social climate. 

According to our recent brand lift study, influencer-produced content can drive as much as 68% more purchase-intent than content produced by brands — this makes sense, with audiences exploring social media to consume content that feels authentic to those specific platforms. Followers are quick to call BS if the content feels overly produced or “factory-made”. Let the influencer work their magic and resist the urge to micromanage this creative process. Afterall, chances are you selected them because of their unique & distinguishable characteristics. 


Radical Transparency

“Radical transparency” has recently become a crucial component of many successful influencer marketing strategies. This mindset is a direct result of our nation’s current social and civil unrest. Brands must be prepared to prove to influencers that they can be trusted. 

Influencers are now refusing to work with brands that don’t align with their core values. They want to see evidence and proof that traces back to social responsibility. The truth is, an unfit partnership could compromise the longevity of an Influencer’s career. 

“Tower28 launched an initiative to mentor and coach Black beauty startups that I thought was so awesome! This is the kind of investment that our community needs. Access to information and capital to support growth - that's how one business-woman or man can not only support themselves, but multiple Black families through job creation and opportunity. Many times, you don't see Black people at the top of companies. Why? There's multiple pipeline issues happening from the moment Black kids enter Kindergarten, to a lack of upper leadership having the bandwidth to mentor entry and mid-level Black employees. I felt that the program Tower28 posted about was a great example to combat systemic barriers Black people face.” -Jade Kendle (@lipstickncurls)

Accountability Goes Public

Companies are exploring what steps they can take to own up to past mistakes and commit to doing better. Internally, many brands are struggling with how to address diversity & inclusivity. How can they create processes for driving sustainable progress? And, how can they demonstrate that they value diversity without having their actions resemble a publicity stunt? Brands need to check-in with their own audiences and influencer partners on a regular basis with regards to how they want to contribute to a better world — and work with influencers who feel the same. That in itself is good for business.


Shareable Content in Short-Form

Source: TikTok @gymshark

Facebook was once the “cool kid” alternative to Myspace, then came Instagram. Now TikTok has infiltrated the scene. Despite news that TikTok is facing a potential ban in the United States, the fact remains that short-form content presents an opportunity for brands to diversify their channel mix and gain higher viewership.

As it stands, TikTok boasts over 21 Million active users in the US between 13-24, who spend an average of 52 minutes a day on the platform. TikTok’s content discovery engine, viral hashtags, and dance challenges make the platform a uniquely engaging channel. A viral video on TikTok can achieve a ROAS (Return on Ad Spend) you’d be hard-pressed to find on any other platform. 

Additionally, TikTok Influencers continue to remain underpriced when compared to platforms such as YouTube or Instagram. Take advantage of this before it’s too late. 

“At first, TikTok content was only related to music promos...people with 2M followers used to typically do sponsored content starting around $200, but as the platform has grown and interest has increased tremendously, we've seen an increase in rates overall on the platform, as high as 10x since the early days.” - Cheyenne Brink, Talent Manager at Gleam Futures

By leveraging native influencers on this platform brands can break out into an entirely new and growing audience segment. 


Final Thoughts

Influencer marketing has become a necessity, and it’s never too late to get started. Don’t let the intimidation weigh you down, there are influencer marketing agencies here to help guarantee success and provide end-to-end support. 

Influencers do their part by adding “magic to the mundane.” Adapting to the current and post-pandemic landscape means you must be prepared to pivot from the familiar pathways of the past, toward strategies best suited for a turbulent future. The right influencers can help brands successfully navigate this rapidly changing climate.  

This industry has become quite sophisticated over the past few years. It is no longer the “Wild Wild West.” We now have technology and data available to make informed marketing decisions, leaving the guess-work out of the equation. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Gary

Gary is the US Head of Brand Partnerships at Gleam Solutions, an influencer partnerships and consulting division at Gleam Futures. Gleam Solutions specializes in high-end influencer programs, offering an end-to-end talent solution that harnesses their experience in building people, brands, and businesses to deliver effective, creative, and innovative campaigns. With 10+ years in the industry, Gary has worked directly with influencer marketing leads at Disney, Airbnb, CVS, Ralph Lauren, Adobe, Live Nation, and more.

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