Why Influencer Marketing Is Essential During COVID-19

GRIN also recommends: Quick Guide to Earned Media Value 

Four people in facemasks looking at their smartphones

Many shoppers are still experiencing concern and uncertainty due to the lingering global effects of COVID-19. But with the rise of new social channels and more creator content, brands are leveraging influencer marketing during a pandemic to connect with audiences in more meaningful ways and bypass the negativity brought on by COVID-19.

Why COVID-19 isn’t over yet

Many were hopeful after vaccine distribution, and initially, most first-world nations experienced the start of a return to normalcy. But as vaccination efforts stalled, new variants emerged with a more contagious wave of COVID-19.

Graph of number of new cases of coronavirus worldwide from January 23, 2020 to September 19, 2021 by day
Image via Statista
Graph of number of new cases of coronavirus worldwide from January 23, 2020 to September 19, 2021 by day
Image via Statista

So while in-person businesses remain (mostly) open across the United States, mask mandates, social distancing, and remote work have returned. The ongoing increases in new coronavirus cases make it increasingly difficult to maintain “business as usual.”

How has 2020 and 2021 affected the way people shop?

“Online sales hit $791.70 billion in 2020, up 32.4% from $598.02 billion in the prior year, according to Commerce Department figures. That’s the highest annual online sales growth of any year for which data is available.”

Digital Commerce 360

Many stores closed and were unable to reopen after COVID-19 reached its peak in 2020. As a result, it made sense for the greater population to stay home and take advantage of the growing ecommerce world.

Bar and line chart of retail ecommerce sales worldwide
Image via Insider Intelligence
Bar and line chart of retail ecommerce sales worldwide
Image via Insider Intelligence

Facing record-breaking demand, ecommerce DTC brands, marketplaces, and social media invested heavily in a more robust customer experience. Not only did buyers find the products and services they needed online, but they also welcomed the virtual features that lowered prices, offered fast shipping, and allowed more ways to pay.

The impact of COVID-19 on social media marketing

As more people picked up their phones in their free time, two trends dominated social media:

  • People are online longer and more often.
  • Social commerce is evolving fast.
  • Influencer marketing is increasingly popular and effective for brand-consumer connections.

People are online longer and more often.

Journalist John Koetsier at Forbes shared results from several studies showing that most people doubled their online activity in 2020. Ecommerce and streaming services dominated pandemic spending since social distancing and lockdowns resulted in increased consumer screen time.

Line graph of Social Networks: Average Time Spent by Users in the US, by Platform, 2019-2023
Image via Insider Intelligence
Line graph of Social Networks: Average Time Spent by Users in the US, by Platform, 2019-2023
Image via Insider Intelligence

eMarketer published a similar study (see above) demonstrating that social media use also skyrocketed at the start of the pandemic. Brands that wish to attract and maintain consumer attention must recognize the central role that social media activity plays on people during a global pandemic.

Social commerce is evolving fast.

Social commerce is the ongoing integration between ecommerce sales and social media. It allows users to connect over their favorite purchases, share deals, purchase products in just a few clicks, and so much more.

Social commerce has also allowed people to connect with like-minded brands and influencers. Consumers can join communities with shared values and lifestyles just as brands learn how to leverage social media to create more authentic content.

These social commerce trends greatly impact paid social advertising. For example, social ads are shareable, and in-app shopping capabilities allow users to shop and buy in fewer clicks. 

Marketers are also appreciating the value of repurposed user-generated content as paid ad content. UGC is far more affordable than ad agencies and production companies. More importantly, UGC resonates better with niche audiences.

Influencer marketing is increasingly popular and effective for brand-consumer connections.

The creator economy is stronger than it’s ever been. Users are learning to publish more authentic content and connect with those who share similar values and interests. The rising number of social media users creates fresh, new opportunities for brands to take their relationship with prospects and customers to the next level.

Bar graph of Coronavirus Impact: What Platforms Do US Marketers Think Are Most Important Right Now for Influencer Marketing?
Image via Insider Intelligence
Bar graph of Coronavirus Impact: What Platforms Do US Marketers Think Are Most Important Right Now for Influencer Marketing?
Image via Insider Intelligence

Influencers (particularly Nano and Micro influencers) are far more affordable than most digital marketing strategies. Brands can partner with creators to lower their acquisition costs and move customers through their marketing funnel with fewer touch points.

What is your corporate responsibility during COVID-19?

As a brand, you maintain a certain amount of influence and leadership. Corporate social responsibility (CSR) refers to branded efforts to promote ethical behavior and general goodwill among that brand’s customers and prospects.

During the current pandemic, CSR can take many forms. According to the World Economic Forum, the main ways that organizations socially innovate are:

  • Promoting emotional, mental, and physical health
  • Taking care of employees financially (even if they cannot work)
  • Investing creatively in local business

While not every organization has the ability to donate millions to local small businesses or send employees home with pay for weeks at a time, all brands can leverage their public message to promote empathy, charitable deeds, and hope to their respective audiences.

The same is true for influencers, many of whom are exercising their personal brand in accordance with CSR best practices. By partnering with influencers, your brand can both extend its reach and do more good for the greater population.

Influencer marketing benefits to the consumer

Consumers are still shopping, despite the obvious shift in demand. Similarly, businesses need to be able to operate and grow in order to keep up with that demand and provide consumer income.

Your brand will be most successful by creating value for the consumer in newer and better ways. This approach will both improve the quality of your products/service and the overall customer experience.

More so than most marketing channels, influencer marketing helps you connect with your customers using content that focuses on social awareness and positivity.

Influencers get the message out.

One of the best ways to help your audience is to spread the word about improving one’s health, safety, and overall quality of life. 

When news of an international outbreak prompted new safety protocols (such as lockdowns, hand washing, masking, etc.), many creators published content to generate awareness. E.l.f. Cosmetics teamed up with iLL Wayno and Holla FyeSixWun for a handwashing remix on TikTok.

@elfyeah

Y’all better lather up 🧼 Keep your eyes, lips, face safe! 👀👄🤩 #eyeslipsface #elfyeah @illwayno @hollafyesixwun

♬ Eyes. Lips. Face. Safe. e.l.f. Cosmetics – elfyeah

Brooklyn’s @theyoungsmiths encouraged her audience to “embrace the pause” during lockdown and invest time into mindfulness and relaxation. Jodenny (@theyoungsmiths) shared ideas for incorporating family members into creative activities to increase mental health during an uncertain time.

People trust their favorite influencers.

Buyers can easily spot those brands trying to exploit a worldwide tragedy for financial gain because they fail to engage their customers, establish trust, and nurture long-term relationships.

That’s why influencers don’t just do business with any brand – they partner with organizations that share their values and deliver benefits to their online communities. A creator’s dedication to engaging their audience is why followers trust their favorite influencers.

“Consumers are, more than ever, being swayed by influencers when it comes to purchasing decisions. Somewhat unsurprising, this is most true of 16-24-year olds, 60% of whom credit influencers with purchases they have made in the past six months.”

Takumi: Trust, transactions and trend-setters

By partnering with influencers to help you craft your message during a global pandemic, you will be able to earn trust with your audience and sell responsibly. More importantly, influencers can show you how to prioritize CSR in a way that best engages your ideal customers during and after the current COVID-19 crisis

Influencers spread positivity.

Influencers are professional creatives. They showcase resiliency in the face of difficulty and inspire audiences to thrive by making small, meaningful changes to their lives.

Instagram and YouTube influencer, Lavendaire, engaged her female audience with messages of self-love and personal improvement during lockdown. She posted “15 Self Care Ideas for Coronavirus Quarantine” and recommended self-care activities like learning a new language, organizing one’s home, and taking an online course.

Many influencers spread positivity simply by being entertaining. Whether creating engaging COVID-19-specific music videos on TikTok or using humor in a daily vlog, consumers are drawing hope and inspiration from creator content online on a regular basis.

Influencer marketing benefits to brands 

Influencers help brands close the gap between business goals and the needs of the average consumer. Creator collaborations during this pandemic are empowering brands to listen to and serve customers in more meaningful ways.

Influencer marketing positions brands as authentic and socially conscious.

Solidarity draws people together during a crisis, and brands that work with influencers can benefit from this sense of “strength in numbers.” 

Because influencers are authentic, they have a built in trust with their audience, brands benefit from that trust when an influencer shares a brand’s story.

Consumers are then able to see your brand as a leader within a broader social movement that empowers others, rather than one that makes money off of people’s vulnerability

Influencer marketing helps brands produce authentic media and content.

Influencers are uniquely qualified to engage audiences with relevant content. They are more in tune with their audience and can better understand the needs of their online communities.

This content marketing prioritizes authentic media over traditional advertising and manipulative sales tactics.

“The key ingredient to authentic media is ‘pandering-free’ content. This content is transparent enough to resonate and inclusive enough to digest for the average person”

– GRIN, Running a Successful Experiential Marketing Event with Influencers

Brands that want to create authentic media during the COVID-19 pandemic are most successful when they partner with influencers. Not only will influencers help your brand produce authentic messaging effectively, but they will also give you critical insights into the hidden needs of your ideal consumers.

Influencer marketing during a pandemic allows brands to maximize the message and lower their costs.

While many economic side effects of the coronavirus remain to be seen, you need your marketing dollars to go farther than they did prior to 2020. Therefore, any marketing approach you choose should generate more robust results.

Digital Marketing Institute (citing Tomson research) declared that influencer marketing generates over a 600% return on average.

In another study sponsored by Nielsen Catalina Solutions, experts found that influencer marketing, in some cases, surpasses PPC banner ad ROI by 1,100%.

Line graph of Share of US Marketers Using Social Media and Influencer Marketing, 2019-2022
Image via Insider Intelligence
Line graph of Share of US Marketers Using Social Media and Influencer Marketing, 2019-2022
Image via Insider Intelligence

Why is influencer marketing so popular?

First, it can accommodate both large and small marketing budgets. Influencer marketing managers can invest as little or as much as they want, depending upon what they can afford and the quality of an influencer’s engagement metrics.

Second, influencer posts spark ongoing user-generated content (UGC). Consumers and influencers will continue to engage creator posts featuring your brand for long after your campaign officially ends. This digital word-of-mouth helps you lower your acquisition costs, increase your website traffic, and raise brand awareness. 

Lastly, influencer posts are easy to repurpose for PPC ads. Repurposing UGC (with the influencer’s permission) lowers your production costs. Additionally, you can reuse posts that already performed well organically, further increasing your overall ROI.

Bringing Brands and Consumers Together

Brand #1 – MuteSix/Snibbs

Snibbs partnered with MuteSix to launch a new line of shoes in March 2020. But as the threat of COVID-19 rose dramatically, the brand altered their strategy at the last minute.

MuteSix and Snibbs recognized the great weight that the pandemic placed on doctors, nurses, and hospital staff. So they gifted as many shoes as they could to frontline workers. The campaign provided high-quality work shoes to a struggling workforce and created enormous support on social media.

Brand #2 – SmartSweets

With more time at home, people need more snacks. Years ago, SmartSweets founder Tara Bosch completed her “quest to Kick Sugar, Keep Candy.” Today, the brand sells delicious, healthy, sweet snacks.

During the pandemic, the brand leveraged their Instagram to create playful infographics modeled after well-known charts. In the example above, SmartSweets parodied Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs with stay-at-home favorites.

Brand #3 – Uber

In a radical step on behalf of their drivers and customers, Uber urged viewers to stay home and safe when the infection rates were at their worst in 2020. The video above showing people how to make the most of lockdown went viral almost immediately. Though somber, Uber remained positive and hopeful as it promoted nationwide safety measures to slow the spread of the virus.

In Conclusion: Transparency, goodwill, and authenticity is the key to brand-consumer connections during the current pandemic.

You want the bond between you and your customers to be as strong as ever in both the good times and the bad. Focusing on your social responsibility and authenticity will help you build those relationships for long-term brand affinity.

No other marketing approach earns trust with consumers quite like influencer marketing. As consumers grow closer to their favorite creators under these difficult circumstances, your brand can identify those creators with similar values and audiences.

Stop wondering whether your brand is making an impact with customers online. Manage creator relationships and partnerships in just a few clicks with GRIN.

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