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Raw and real: A new era for influencer marketing

Opinion
A migration towards smaller influencers more deeply in touch with their audiences will shape how brands work in this new era

Influencers whose aspirational lifestyles feel out of touch with the reality of lockdown and inter-Covid lifestyles have been hit hard, according to some recent headlines.

Sponsored content on Instagram went from accounting for 35% of all influencer posts before the pandemic to 4% by April, according to a report from Ion. Instagram creators, meanwhile, lost on average one third of their potential income in March and April 2020 as a result of the coronavirus, cites another study by UK-based performance agency Attain.

For influencers, this is clearly not good news. Yet statistics such as these are just one part of a bigger story. For a start, coronavirus has fuelled a significant rise in the use of social media – in the US alone, time spent on social media platforms has increased by 62%.

In addition, demand for – and expectation of – credible information has risen exponentially. The positive role influencers can play in this respect was powerfully demonstrated early in the crisis by the World Health Organization’s partnership with influencer-driven platform Tik Tok to tackle the spread of misinformation relating to the virus.

Perhaps most crucial is that Covid-19 has accelerated a number of important trends already shaping the future of influencer marketing. Before the pandemic, opinion was already turning against macro-celebrity influencers posting shallow or tone-deaf content – the backlash against Khloe Kardashian's Febreeze endorsement in February 2020 is a good example. According to research by the PRCA, 43% of UK respondents say influencer content is inauthentic.

Demand was also growing fast for influencer content that was honest, community-focused and unifying – demonstrated by a shift away from the varnished Insta-look and the surge in Stories and equivalent offerings across a range of social platforms.

MyBeautyBrand
‘Brands having a point of view will also become increasingly important’

Now, however, it's clear that influencers can and should play a more central and strategic role in brand marketing as the peak of the pandemic passes in some nations. Looking ahead, both trends will accelerate, accompanied by greater demand for unedited, raw and real narratives, and a migration towards smaller influencers more deeply in touch with their audiences.

To capitalise on this, brands must develop longer, closer relationships with fewer influencer partners – working with them in ways that are collaborative and symbiotic. We can anticipate not only more co-creation and ceding of creative control but also greater drawing on influencers’ audience insights.

Sephora, for example, is already focusing on fewer, longer-term influencer relationships to ensure authenticity and continuity. My Beauty Brand is taking this strategy further by making customers themselves part of the brand, helping to shape its audience, reach, sales and new product development.

Brands having a point of view will also become increasingly important and, again, working closely with influencers in this way can have a powerful and positive effect. Brands will need to tread cautiously, however, as demonstrated by the recent criticism generated by attempts by some to show their support for Black Lives Matter.

L’Oréal, for example, provoked allegations of bandwagoning by transgender model Munroe Bergdorf – an influencer and the brand’s first transgender ambassador until she was dropped by L’Oréal in 2017 for speaking out against racism surrounding Charlottesville’s Unite the Right rally. After reconciliation between the brand and Bergdorf, she is now joining the company’s UK diversity and inclusion advisory board.

Make no mistake, the power of influence is set to grow. But all involved will need to remember it is a power that can cut both ways.

Ammar Nova is head of client success at Tailify, a data and psychology company working with global businesses.

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