Influencer marketing bounces back strong as pandemic lingers
Some marketers are continuing Facebook boycotts or social-media pauses. And the pandemic put many other plans on pause, took whole industries like travel largely out of the market, and made the self-indulgent tone of some influencer content seem wrong.
That should mean trouble for influencers. Yet influencer marketing appears to be bouncing back nicely from its early pandemic dip—and far faster than the broader marketing and media economy. Indeed, the field is even getting a boost from the crisis as some brands turn to independent creators amid production restrictions that make it harder for other production crews to do new work.
Branded content from influencers was up 21 percent in July from March across Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, according to Shareablee, which tracks content and engagement with content from more than 1 million companies and 9 million influencers. This comes despite sponsored influencer posts plunging 85 percent on Instagram and 57 percent on Facebook in April vs. a year earlier.
The recent wave of branded influencer content has been well received by audiences too, according to Shareablee. Engagement with branded influencer posts more than doubled to 57.2 million total actions in July compared with March, rising five times faster than the posts themselves. That may either signal that increased social-media usage is driving increased engagement, or that people are just bored, says Shafeablee CEO Tania Yuki.
The rise in sponsored influencer posts comes even as overall influencer posts declined 12 percent from March to July and despite a seasonal lull in other brand posts the past two years during that period, Yuki says.
Data from CreatorIQ tells a similar story: After sponsored post volume fell almost 17 percent in March and another 6 percent in April, it’s been rising ever since through July, when it rebounded past February’s level.
“Things got quiet right around the middle to end of March, complete silence, didn’t hear anything from anyone,” says Melissa Rosenthal, co-founder at Circle, a content-focused SMS tech platform for brands and publishers and a former executive with Cheddar and global VP of creative at Buzzfeed. “Brands took a few weeks to figure out how to position themselves for a new world. Now I’m seeing probably 5 times the outreach I was seeing pre-pandemic. Small brands, large brands, new brands, everyone.”
Now, the pandemic is probably benefiting influencers, given that alternative media or opportunities like out-of-home and sporting events have declined, Rosenthal says. Plus, she says influencers can produce work from home studios that bigger production companies and content studios have trouble doing under pandemic restrictions.
“I think brands are starting to use influencers more to get at niches,” says Andres Echenique, CEO and co-founder of Perlu, a community for brands and influencers. He also believes brands are focusing more on the quality of audiences and the work influencers create rather than audience size, given the growing importance of their role as creators.
Clorox Co. is one marketer getting back into sponsored influencer work after an early pandemic hiatus, and despite swearing off paid or organic Facebook or Instagram marketing for the balance of this year, citing the polarized environment of the election cycle.
Through the Reach Agency, Clorox recently enlisted YouTube creators The Try Guys to subject themselves to some of the world’s smelliest foods to demonstrate the ability of new Fresh Step cat litter with Febreze Freshness and Gain Scent to cover up horrible odors. The nearly 15-minute video generated nearly a million organic views its first day Aug. 15, and will get additional paid digital support as the first wave of a campaign that eventually will include conventional ad support via mcgarrybowen in the fall.
When planning the campaign in March, Clorox actually shifted from planning conventional ads toward starting the summer launch with influencer content because of the likelihood that the pandemic would make it hard to produce ads, says Deb Crandall, director of marketing and studio lead.
The Try Guys video taps into an approach similar to what Vat19 has used successfully for another Clorox brand, Liquid-Plumr, of putting the product to an extreme test. For Fresh Step, that meant seeing whether the cat litter could cover up the odor of durian fruit, rotten eggs and surstromming – a fermented Swedish herring.
Tonally, the work seemed right, Crandall says. “We felt like at face value this was very entertaining, and everyone could use some entertainment right now.”
Another wild card emerged as the project was under way -- Clorox’s decision to pause Facebook activity at the end of June.
“We have had to ask our partners not to post this on their Facebook or Instagram channels, and we’re not putting any paid support behind it,” Crandall says. “It definitely takes a channel out of the mix to reach our audience, but that’s why we’re excited about the results we’re seeing. To reach almost a million views without Facebook or Instagram makes us think we’re onto something.”
COVID-19, Black Lives Matter and the Facebook boycott have probably led to more “start and stop” projects this year than he’s seen in the prior seven years of leading influencer-focused agency Reach, says co-founder and managing partner Gabe Gordon. “I feel like people finally have learned to operate in a shifting environment,” he says. “People need to get on with business.”
To be sure, there remains plenty of wretched influencer excess that mainstream marketers strive to avoid. That includes a 21st birthday party for TikTok star Bryce Hall at the Sway House creator collective on Aug. 14, where more than 100 people attended, none wearing masks, before it was broken up by Los Angeles Police. Then there's Jake Paul, whose California home was raided by the FBI in August following his arrest in June in Arizona on a charge of criminal trespass during a civil disturbance.