When the coronavirus pandemic hit, the last thing on many people’s minds was the influencer marketing industry. While priorities rightly lay with protecting people’s jobs and keeping businesses afloat, now that we’re settling into a ‘new normal’ and some industries are beginning to see a light at the end of the tunnel, could influencers be the way forward?

I spoke to fitness and lifestyle influencer Jenny West to explore how the pandemic is affecting the ever-changing influencer marketing industry.

Influencers play a key role in many brands’ marketing strategies, with almost 30% of respondents in the State of Influencer Marketing Benchmark Report revealing that they allocate up to 20% of their entire marketing budgets to influencer marketing. However, when businesses started seeing the disastrous impacts that the coronavirus pandemic had on the economy, marketing budgets were one of the first things to shrink. Understandably, many businesses had to focus their funds on paying wages and keeping the lights on, leaving many self-employed influencers with a dramatically reduced portfolio of upcoming projects. 

In a recent webinar with Vogue Business, influencer agent Jennifer Powell commented: “Our challenges are very much like the brands’, it’s about figuring out what is appropriate in terms of tone and how to create thoughtful, responsible content during this time.”

That sums up the main challenge for influencers now: how can they continue to create content that is true to their brand but fits into this new world? Obviously, international travel, meet and greets and events are off the cards, so what can fill their place and can brands still reap the same rewards from partnering with influencers now as they did pre-covid? 

Jenny West (pictured below), fitness and lifestyle influencer, and one half of The West Twins duo, said: “Budgets have been streamlined for a large portion of businesses, so brands are having to look at other ways of engaging with influencers. It’s a totally new environment to work within.”

Jenny West

Information is king

One avenue that influencers can strengthen during this time surrounds information. There are plenty of viewers craving banana bread tutorials, at-home workouts and tips for using the platform du jour Zoom, as well as diving into the space of webinars, podcasts and Q&As.

Jenny explained: “I’m focusing on what I can do in the present, not what I’m missing out on – helping to keep the nation motivated, fit and healthy, and encouraging people to exercise.

“People are looking for motivation, tips, and suggestions – they’re looking for accounts that are going to help them! I like to offer advice on nutrition and mental health too, so I imagine this has attracted a new and different audience.”

This style of content is a fantastic way for influencers to continue in their chosen field and share some advice, comment on hot topics and connect with their audiences. Continuing to build strong influencer-audience relationships can only make an influencer more appealing to a brand.

Fitness fever

With gyms out of bounds, many are taking to the internet for their daily dose of fitness. YouTube star and personal trainer Joe Wicks launched online ‘PE with Joe’ sessions to help children (and their parents!) stay healthy even without their PE lessons and lunchtimes spent running around the playground. Joe has now seen almost 70 million viewers tuning in and has raised £500,000 for NHS Charities Together.

“Fitness accounts like mine can act as a lifeline during these times,” Jenny added. “Just because the gyms aren’t open, it doesn’t mean people can’t keep working on their fitness.

“I have the same restrictions as everyone else. I don’t have lots of gym equipment at home so it’s important to be adaptable and to show my followers how to keep doing their thing even though the circumstances are different. There’s always a way if you want it and want to see a positive change.”

Life in lockdown

Some influencers may not be so lucky. The first who springs to mind is the travel blogger; with international travel on hold until further notice, how do they maintain their relevant audiences from their living rooms? While repurposing unused content from previous trips may tide them over for a few weeks, it is not a sustainable option.

In a chat with The Drum, travel influencer Alex Stead opened up about the situation saying: “Our jobs were among the first to be cancelled and sadly will most likely be the last to come back. It’s very obvious to most of us that travelling and working how we used to is going to take a long time to get back to normal.”

However, much the same as the rest of the world, travel influencers are finding ways of keeping busy. Alex continued: “Despite lack of work, many creators are using the time to edit and build their relationships with their communities; they’re spreading positive messages to their audiences to really push the messages of social distancing and also showing them how you can still create and reflect while staying at home.”

Being confined to the house has also had an impact on influencer duos, much like Jenny and Lucy West. Jenny said: “We’ve not seen each other during lockdown as we live separately. We’ve been sharing some throwback pictures, responses to messages helping to support our follower base and reposting some older content as well. Lucy and I are really using this time to focus on our individual accounts instead and supporting each other via our personal profiles. We seriously can’t wait to get back together and be back on our joint account!”

While the pandemic may be changing the influencer marketing industry for good, influencers themselves are showing their strengths and adapting to suit this new world. When brands who were forced to suspend activity remerge into the world of influencers, they may just find a more dynamic pairing with a stronger connection to their audience, changing the influencer marketing industry for the better.

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