The term itself often makes people cringe, whether it’s those behind the wheel, who often prefer to be called content creators, or those who are simply passengers, aka their followers! It’s uncomfortable, because holding influence over others will always be something we unpick.
We’re so used to ‘celebrity’, and in the marketing world those individuals have been used to sell products and be the face of brands for as long as we can remember. Influencers have simply taken celebrity into their own hands. Quite literally – as building their online presence has revolved almost entirely around the device at their fingertips.
So, what are influencers?
Although it’s a jarring term, influencers are usually experts in their field – or at least perceived as having a deeper knowledge on their respective subjects. Their followings are much like a celebrity’s fan base, although built in a very different manner, and are often incredibly engaged. They are trusted sources of information for their followers and create a special bond with their communities.
Most influencers fall into quite specific categories – fashion, food, fitness, lifestyle – and don’t often cross over, making them a very specialised and targeted form of marketing.
They can be broken down most simply into two groups: micro-influencers with followings between 5K-10K and macro-influencers with followers above 50K (the bit in the middle we’ll explain at a later date!).
The rise of influencer marketing
When YouTube and Instagram started to grow in success, brands noticed their marketing potential and pounced at signing big names on the platforms, capitalising on their ten’s and hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions, of followers.
Influencers curate their own spaces and followers, making finding the right audience easier for brands. As a result, this form of marketing is a lucrative one and since 2012, influencer marketing has continued to grow. Nowadays there are dedicated influencer agencies, talent signings – the works. However, what we have seen in the past few years is a complete saturation of the market.
The ‘Instagram lifestyle’ has become coveted. More and more people aspire to grow large followings and live the aesthetic and picturesque life portrayed by those bigger names online. Those who are paid by brands to frequent bars, restaurants and travel – to simply exist and share that existence with the world.
Covid-19’s impact on the influencer marketing industry
Whilst the influencer marketing industry has been constantly evolving over the years, the last 18 months have seen a real shift in focus. It’s definitely worth explaining – I am writing from the perspective of both a marketeer and someone who is dubbed a ‘micro-influencer’ or ‘content creator’ online. Alongside my day job, I run a small Instagram page and I have worked with brands big and small, which I guess gives me a unique insight into how the industry has evolved.
The beginning of Covid brought huge online marketing opportunities for micro-influencers, whilst bigger names saw their income dry up. Travel influencers’ whose livelihoods rely on frequent excursions across the globe and hotel-hopping were suddenly locked down in rooms with no content. The reality of their lifestyles and reliance on freedom to create content saw feeds stagnate. How can they promote travelling when for the forseeable future borders are closed and people trapped in their houses? Not only that but fashion influencers who are paid to attend events and promote luxury brands lost huge revenue as people had no need for new clothes, worries about disposable income and nowhere to go. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-52362462.
On the contrary, I saw a boom of emails flood my inbox at the beginning of the pandemic. As a micro-influencer, brands saw new targeted opportunities. A smaller, but highly engaged community and a fitness / lifestyle angle that could adapt to any location ensured my page was boosted rather than impeded by Covid-19.
Whilst micro-influencers may have a lower reach, their engagement is often higher than that of bigger names, making it a much-more cost-effective marketing channel for brands. I also think the more ‘realistic’ approach for micro-influencers has worked in their favour during the past few months, when experience driven content has been needed. The disparity between what is real and fake online has never been clearer and for brands this transparency is key. You want people to buy your product or service from genuine people who love it, rather than a celebrity face they know has been paid a lot of money to share content.
Coming out of lockdown
Noticeably, over the last few weeks, enquiries have started to slow, even at a micro level. It’s hard to say exactly why, but I expect it’s due to a slash in marketing budget. A lot of businesses continued to thrive with the help of furlough, but as we watch the economy try and restabilise itself – people are being careful. Not only that but crucial influencer events are being cancelled while companies try to find other ways of marketing. Like most forms of marketing though, it is not necessarily spending less – but being more astute with budget and thinking of clever ways around the circumstance.
Emily’s fruit crisps are a great example of advertising that had all the potential to go horribly wrong but was executed brilliantly. Launching a whole series of print ads across London, the company opted for funny corona-related jokes and then brought that discussion online. They haven’t necessarily used influencers, however have used a budget wisely to create lasting impact. https://www.businessinsider.com/how-coronavirus-is-changing-influencer-marketing-creator-industry-2020-3?r=US&IR=T/ https://www.forbes.com/sites/charlesrtaylor/2020/07/30/is-covid-making-marketing-influencers-more-influential/#43d9252f4200.
One thing is sure: the influencer world is fickle. It relies on a subtle balance of algorithm changes, sustained engagement levels and trust between influencers and brands.
And with constant algorithm changes, achieving consistency is near impossible. Content creators are searching for new ways to ensure they maintain good reach and engagement to continue delivering results for brands, whilst marketing teams need to secure more returns on a smaller budget. The full impact of Covid-19 is yet unknown for this industry – whilst fickle, it is also highly adaptable so I’m keen to keep a close eye on the direction moving forward.