Are Influencers the Escape Social Media Wants During Coronavirus?

Influencers, too, are navigating the coronavirus’ new norm.

Self-quarantining during COVID-19 has caused some, especially those in the travel industry, to take a bigger hit than others. Those who usually work from home have had to make less of an adjustment, though booking paid partnerships is a struggle industry-wide.

As a result, many influencers are getting creative with their social strategies. Those who are multiplatform and have more than one revenue stream are coming out on top.

Influencer agency Fohr, which works with nearly 100,000 influencers, saw its lowest number of sponsored content two weeks ago, said James Nord, Fohr’s founder and chief executive officer. That week, Fohr published about 35 sponsored posts, a steep decrease from its usual 200, but things picked up last week, when its sponsored content count climbed back up to 85.

Conversely, influencer monetization platform RewardStyle noted a 40 percent year-over-year increase within the commission on sales side of its business, said cofounder Amber Venz Box. RewardStyle has also seen a 30 percent increase in paid campaigns since the beginning of March. Within the Liketoknow.it app, conversion and sales are up.

That increase, said Venz Box, is due, in part, to RewardStyle’s use of “rationalized campaigns,” in which brands compensate influencers only if and when they drive sales.

“You do hear elsewhere in the influencer industry that campaigns are drying up,” said Venz Box. “That’s because those are the types of campaigns that are around reach or branding and alignment.”

Still, she said, “it’s definitely the time for creators.”

Generally, social media engagement is up. Users are left to their mobile devices while self-quarantining at home, driving Instagram engagement up by 20 to 50 percent, according to some influencer agencies. When Fohr polled its 100,000-member influencer pool — which includes Grace Atwood, Tiffany Benson and Sarah LouWho — 76 percent of respondents said their audience is engaging more with their content right now.

In the U.S., Instagram Live views have increased more than 70 percent in the last week, according to Facebook. Influencers have begun programming their feeds with Instagram Lives and takeovers, hoping to capitalize on users’ increased screen time. Some are even asking their followers directly whether they are open to seeing brand partnerships on their feed, said Reesa Lake, executive vice president of brand partnerships at Digital Brand Architects.

Influencers asked, followers answered: Social media seemingly still wants to see #SponCon during the coronavirus.

“The audience looks to [influencers] for entertainment and an escape from the heaviness,” said Lake. Brooklyn Blonde and Color Me Courtney were among those who polled their followers to gauge whether they want to see sponsored content, said Lake. In both cases, the majority of followers — 85 percent and 96 percent, respectively — responded yes.

“The root of social media was to connect and engage with people. We’ve always thought of it as an escapist platform,” said Jeffrey Tousey, founder of creative collective Beekman Social. Over the past couple of weeks, the collective has been helping brands re-allocate production budgets for influencer initiatives.

“In social, a constant funnel of content needs to be produced,” said Tousey. “We can lean on influencers to create content at home that can be repurposed on brands’ owned channels as well as the influencer channels.”

Allison Statter, cofounder of Blended Strategy Group, said she initially saw a “big decrease” in paid partnerships, but anticipates they will “slowly” come back.

“The reality is that social media is the main tool to drive any messaging right now,” said Statter.

BSG has helped Olly Nutrition adapt its social media strategy. This week, the vitamins brand unveils a six-week Instagram Live yoga class series, hosted by influencer and Olly brand ambassador Justine Marjan. Marjan’s husband, practicing yoga instructor Yoni Berk, will lead the series.

Olly’s digital initiative is in line with those that gyms, spas and salons have also enacted, as they have been forced to close temporarily due to coronavirus-induced government mandates. Influencers are doing the same, going live as a means of escape and entertainment for their followers.

After all, as Nord put it, “How much terrifying bad news can a person consume?”

Like Beekman Social and Blended Strategy, Fohr has been helping brands pivot to more relevant and appropriate tactics. One influencer campaign meant to highlight work attire is now a campaign featuring at-home loungewear. Another involving an alcohol brand has been altered from in-person happy hours to ones held over Zoom.

Fohr also asked its influencers whether previously scheduled brand partnerships have been paused due to the COVID-19 pandemic, to which 20 percent of respondents said all of their partnerships had been paused. Nearly half of respondents said they are reducing their rates temporarily, and about 75 percent said they are posting less sponsored content on their feeds.

Nord has advised influencers to expect to make 30 percent less this year than last.

“Everyone should be assuming they’ll make 30 percent less and adjusting their lifestyles accordingly,” said Nord. “Those influencers who have product lines [should] see them as something to continue to cultivate.”

Across industries, influencers are leaning into existing product lines as a mode of revenue. Amber Fillerup Clark of Barefoot Blonde brought her hair-care brand, Dae, to Sephora last week, and will soon launch it with RewardStyle and on the Liketoknow.it app, said Venz Box.

Influencer Rachel Parcell launched her clothing brand with RewardStyle last week and has already seen “high double-digit increase” in sales driven through the platform’s partnerships in promotion, said Venz Box. RewardStyle is moving up its launch of IVL Collective, the activewear line by influencer Emily Jackson (who is Parcell’s sister), as searches for loungewear within the Liketoknow.it app have increased by 1,030 percent.

Cala, which works with influencers and celebrities to create merchandise, has seen “a dramatic increase” in interest, said Andrew Wyatt, the platform’s ceo and cofounder. Cala’s average influencer has around 3 million followers, but the company is seeing interest from those with even higher followings in recent weeks. Already, it has signed three new clients and has added 30 influencers to the pipeline.

“Some of the biggest agencies are advising their talent to hold off [on launching merchandise] until the fall so that there’s more time for the consumer market to rebound,” said Wyatt. “What we’re advising is: to do a strong launch, you need three to four months. So if you start now, you can have everything ready to go late summer. But if you wait until late summer, when it’s certain that everything is improving, then you’re not going to be able to launch until probably Black Friday.”

Merchandise can be highly profitable for influencers, pending follower count and engagement rate. Influencers with more than 1 million followers and an engagement rate of 3 percent or higher can expect to bring home anywhere from $70,000 to $150,000 in revenue for their first collection, said Wyatt. The second drop is even more profitable: Influencers often take home between $150,000 to $400,000, said Wyatt.

Overall, influencers and influencer agencies are getting creative in order to sustain their businesses during the ever-evolving coronavirus.

“I do think COVID-19’s going to have a lasting impact on our industry. Overall, it will be positive,” said Venz Box. “Influencers are being challenged now to expand their content cross-category and lean into performance-based compensation as a safer foundation for them. We’re seeing that those influencers who are multiplatform, multicategory and multirevenue stream are the ones that are thriving.”

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