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Influencer Marketing: Will it Survive COVID-19?

Original Survey Reveals the ‘New Normal’

By Judy Lewis | May 4 2020

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Is the multi-billion-dollar Influencer marketing industry going bust? In recent weeks, there has been a flurry of commentary heralding the demise of the Influencer Age, mainly driven by the insensitive behaviour of a few high-profile Influencers. To paraphrase Mark Twain, I think “reports of the death of Influencer marketing have been greatly exaggerated.” There is no doubt COVID-19 has shifted our world. However, I believe that the role of Influencers will continue to evolve and grow in our new reality and beyond, demanding even more authenticity and empathy.

As leaders in Influencer Marketing in Canada, Strategic Objectives wanted to know what those “in the thick of it” think… so we asked. Strategic Objectives conducted an independent confidential survey of more than 80 of Canada’s highly regarded social media Influencers.

We asked about follower activity during these challenging times and perceptions on moving forward post-pandemic. We thank all respondents for their input and their candid responses. What follows are some of our survey insights, sprinkled with a few direct quotes from the social media Influencers.

Top 5 Realities of Influencer Marketing in our New Abnormal

1) Behaviours and Habits

“I am making some great connections during this time. People have been so responsive to my stories and I want to continue with that engagement post COVID-19. I’m feeling closer to others much more than before.” - Influencer Surveyed

Whoever proclaims, “Influencer Relations is dying,” hasn’t talked with key Canadian personalities. The SO survey shows:

  • 45% of those surveyed have increased their followers during COVID – only 9% reported a loss of followers
  • An astounding 81% of respondents say their engagement with their followers has increased
  • More than 1/3 of Influencers (38%) report more DMs from their community

These numbers indicate that consumers value their relationships with Influencers and brands, particularly in challenging times. This sentiment is supported by recent Canadian research** that reports the majority of Canadians (76%) believe brands should continue to communicate as usual and 71% want to hear about products that can help keep their family occupied while at home. If communication is done in a sensitive and mindful way, Brands have an opportunity to work with Influencers to share valuable content and messaging during these trying times, and in our Post-COVID world.

2) Brand Partnerships

Many marketers are questioning whether brand partnerships can – and should – be utilized in this unprecedented environment. The SO survey shows:

  • 94% of Canadian Influencers surveyed continue to post sponsored content on channels
  • 94% of these respondents received positive feedback and engagement with sponsored posts or brand affiliations over the past month
  • Over the next two months, all respondents – 100% – remain open to collaboration and sponsored programs
  • 96% are open to receiving packages of new products or gifts

While the Influencers and their followers remain open to sponsored posts, many marketers are shying away from promotions:

  • 71% of Influencers surveyed say their number of Sponsored Posts has decreased
  • 79% of those surveyed report fewer Brand Partnerships since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic

Is this an opportunity to zig when everyone else zags? Many brands have put marketing on pause in recent weeks, yet consumers are craving positive news and Influencers are seeking ways to enhance their meaningful relationships with their followers. Brand partnerships can be vital to this relationship. It is all about tone, authenticity and empathy.

“I have never received more swipe ups or brand clicks to the products I have been using. People want to know every single thing I am using.” - Influencer Surveyed

But marketers may not be able to sell same old campaign or the same old approach. Pre-COVID marketing may soon be nostalgia. Many Influencers told SO that they are using this time to re-evaluate their communications approach based on more fully connecting and engaging with their followers. Influencers are examining the types of partnerships and the opportunities that will build more long-term and relevant relationships. It is a good time for brands to follow suit and explore a common ground, collaborating with Influencers on new ways to engage their audiences.

3) What Consumers are Looking For

“Now more than ever, positive messaging is key to ensure brand pivoting of the unforeseeable future.”- Influencer Surveyed

When Influencers were asked what their followers are craving, here are the responses:

  • Inspiration – 94%
  • New Product News – 82%
  • Tutorials – 71%

This provides brands with an unprecedented opportunity to support consumers and their Influencer partners in providing news they can use. That being said, content is king. The relevance, integrity and utility of content has shifted: narcissistic content featuring unattainable living-the-life content has given way to real life, which is suddenly so much more interesting. This too provides opportunities for Influencers and consumer brands that sometimes feel they are unworthy of unattainable, lofty lifestyles. Influencers tell us that as they become more real, their communities are becoming even more interested in them and what products and services they use in their daily life.

Understandably, 91% of respondents say the current situation has had an impact on their content. According to the Influencers, the top three types of social content their followers want include:

  • Free content i.e. entertainment, recipes, workouts, tutorials, etc. – and these also achieve the best engagement rate according to 66% of respondents
  • CSR/Social Good Initiatives – community involvement, programs
  • Interactive content – quizzes, challenges, etc.

4) Emerging Trends

The pandemic has prompted significant shifts in trends. As the SO survey indicates, these situations provide opportunities for innovative Influencers and their fearless brand supporters to develop and build successful, long-term relationships:

  • The lack of professional sports leaves sports-focused Influencers looking for ways to entertain and connect with their audiences.
  • Travel bloggers are unable to see the world and share their adventures, and are forced to either look back to previous trips for look ahead to the next adventure.
  • Food bloggers are focused on at-home recipes, and some restaurant-focused Influencers are spotlighting great take-out options available in their communities.
  • The gaming industry has experienced an instant surge of activity and Canadians are both playing and watching. Gaming players have become high-profile social media Influencers with huge, engaged communities.
  • Mom Influencers are focused on the reality of their days, which involves a lot of hands-on time entertaining, looking after and teaching their children.
  • Corporate Social Responsibility has taken centre stage with many brands rediscovering their humanity and acting with greater empathy, integrity and purpose. The vast majority of Canadians (82%)** believe that brands have an enormous platform to do good, while still earning a profit, and followers look to Influencers to share this good news.

5) The New Normal

"People crave connection and friendship now more than ever. It’s nice to feel like you have someone who’s there for you even if you haven’t met them. That’s the power and trust of online relationships.” - Influencer Surveyed

The new normal seems to be bringing with it new priorities. The majority of Influencers (59%) believe that their content needs to inspire their community, and they shared key content drivers for their communities:

  • Inform – we are looking to Influencers to share relevant updates on products and services they are using to make their days more bearable
  • Create – parents are looking for ways to keep themselves and their children occupied.
  • Uplift – we want to be inspired and feel hope, especially in times of crisis. Followers want to feel good about something, which can ultimately have a halo effect on partner brands
  • Do Good – with many brands contributing to the public good, we are inspired by relevant CSR initiatives profiled by Influencers

Where Do We Go From Here?

“Those who are natural and creative will survive while the pretenders will fade.” - Influencer Surveyed

When asked if they believe the future of Influencer Marketing will increase or decrease in relevancy, a resounded 71% of Influencers surveyed predict that it will increase in relevancy. The world is going through significant change, and as a result, all industries, including Influencer marketing, will continue to pivot and rise to the occasion. One thing is for certain: all of us – agencies, marketers, and Influencers – will have to adjust and adapt towards a future that will certainly look different. Hold on… it is going to be an interesting ride.

“This period has really shown how valuable influencers and creators can be … While social media often receives a bad rep for being quite ‘anti’ social, right now, it’s what’s holding the world together and that won’t be forgotten.” - Influencer Surveyed

Strategic Objectives has spent many years cultivating strong relationships with influencers, bloggers and content creators. We are #SOproud to be able to share the views of our network of Influencers – many of whom commented that we were the only agency in Canada to initiate this important conversation. We recognize that in order to continue to create meaningful programs, we need to look to the evolution of the industry and take the appropriate steps now to guide our clients towards future opportunities.

Are you looking to explore an influencer marketing program for your organization? Contact us here, and let’s discuss ways that you can enhance your brand by building a strong consumer relationship to generate awareness of your organization.

*Strategic Objectives Survey
About this survey:
These are the findings of a survey conducted by Strategic Objectives from April 9 to April 20, 2020 with a representative sample of 80 reputable and recognized influencers and content creators across Canada. The survey was anonymous and conducted in English.

**Maru Reports Survey
About this survey:
The Maru/Reports COVID-19 Feel, Behave, Think Omnibus Tracker is brought to you in partnership by Maru/Matchbox and Maru/Blue. Maru is in communication with at least 1,000 Americans and 1,000 Canadians every weekday, and 1,000 in the UK twice per week. Each day, they will track how respondents are THINKING, FEELING, and BEHAVING during the coronavirus/ COVID-19 pandemic.

About Maru/Matchbox and Maru/Blue Forum surveys:
The precision of Maru/Report polls is measured using a credibility interval. In this case, the poll is accurate to within +/- 2.9 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, had all Canadians been polled. All sample surveys and polls may be subject to other sources of error, including, but not limited to coverage error, and measurement error.

About the Maru Blue Forum:
The Maru Blue Forum is Canada’s most well-known and trusted online public opinion community consisting of engaged residents across the country who answer surveys on topical issues that matter to all Canadians.

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