All good things come to an end, and hopefully the same holds true for bad things as well. Whether it is in the coming weeks, next year or the hard-to-think-about four to five years that World Health Organization scientists have predicted, the fact is that the COVID-19 pandemic will end.
What we do know is that the post-pandemic world could be very different, with handshakes and hugs being far less common, but the way people react to brands will evolve. Social media influencers have survived – and in some rare cases thrived – in the age of social distancing. As the world settles into a new normal what will the role of influencers be?
In part one of a three part series on post-pandemic social media marketing, a number of experts were asked about the role that social media influencers could play in the coming weeks and months, including how to reconnect with their audience and how to remain authentic.
It is a brave new world indeed.
Make A Reconnection
For social media influencers it has long been about making a connection with an audience, but as we come out of lockdowns and quarantines – even as social distancing needs to be maintained – the question becomes how influencers can “reconnect” with an audience that may not have been so focused on brands for the past two months.
“Since the lockdowns and quarantines began, influencers have been an important resource for readers, many of whom were new to cooking and needed their advice, tips and recipes,” said Laurie Buckle, founder of CookIt Media, an influencer marketing agency that specializes in food and lifestyle content creation.
“They weren’t so focused on what product to buy, since they often didn’t have a choice at the store,” added Buckle. “But now, with online shopping continuing to grow at a rapid pace, and readers discovering brands they love – and plan to keep buying – it’s more important than ever for the influencer to be truly authentic about the brands they use and share with their readers.”
It isn’t just the influencers that will need to adapt however.
“Coming out of lockdown, it’s not the influencers that need to reconnect with their audiences, it’s the brands that need to find more meaningful ways to engage,” explained Jared Augustine, co-founder & CEO of social media marketing platform Julius.
“Brands should focus on two things as they select influencer partners–storytelling, and engagement rate,” says Augustine. “They must ask themselves: which influencers can add depth to my brand, with content that drives engagement? As brands compete for consumer attention, possibly more than ever before, they must lean into influencers that can personally reconnect with target audiences. Marketers must remember that influencers already have a foot in the door with their target audiences, and in 2020, emotional currency is going to be the most important part of retaining attention as the world blossoms into a post-lockdown world.”
However, even as many people are ready to head to bars, restaurants and get back to “normal,” there are still as many who could be continuing social distancing.
“After spending months in quarantine, social media users will have a heightened interest in getting back to their pre-quarantine lives, and visiting the fitness, health, beauty, and fashion establishments they used to, but with caution,” admitted Marshall Sandman, host of the Instagram Live series @SpillingtheQuarantea and influencer marketing expert. “Influencers will need to be very careful in their messaging promoting these gyms, salons, and venues, keeping health guidelines in mind, and making a point to be sensitive in their wording.”
While no one expects social media influencers to look like they’ve come out of solitary confinement or have the island look of Tom Hanks in Cast Away, at the same time looking ready for the red carpet isn’t going to be the way to go either.
“They should also focus on being authentic with their content vs. ‘showing off’ – many are struggling or are overwhelmed due to the pandemic, so they may be able to relate better to influencers who open their doors to how this crisis has affected them, or that offer an escape via light and comedic content. Being overly promotional is a turnoff to most followers,” added Sandman.
In addition, influencers shouldn’t go too far to try to embrace pandemic-specific brands or products.
“Influencers should work with the brands they use in everyday life,” suggested Bucklet. “Instead of one-off posts, they should focus on creating true brand partnerships, and sharing their enthusiasm for those products organically in their content. And their content should highlight the ways in which the product solves a problem or provides a benefit – without being ‘sales-y.’ Finally, influencers need to be open and honest with their audience about their partnerships, something that’s especially important now.”
As the pandemic isn’t over and there is the possibility of resurgence of the outbreak, some influencers may still need to do their quarantine thing.
“Just like all of us, creators should lean into virtual events in order to connect with their audiences,” said Mahzad Babayan, vice president of talent management and partnerships at Fullscreen, which offers tools, services, and consultation to social media content creators and brands. “We are seeing virtual events getting more and more innovative and immersive and it’s likely where a lot of us are going to be spending our time over the next few weeks and potentially months.”