The pandemic has made us, as consumers, reassess and reflect on exactly who we’re following online, and why. As the UK public put a spotlight on our everyday heroes – the nurses, bin men and shelf stackers fighting the good fight right there on the frontline – slowly we began to realise that influencer culture had got a little out of control.
From sponsored brand deals, collaborations and an all-expenses paid lifestyle – or at least, the illusion of one – influencers appeared to have been given an easy ride over the past couple of years.
Then coronavirus happened.
Sponsored posts on Instagram fell from representing 35% of influencer content in mid-February to 4% in mid-April according to a report by Launchmetrics. Covid-19 forced content creators to strip back all the luxuries and go back to doing exactly that – creating their own content. With no glamorous events, launches and comped travel to luxe destinations, influencers have retreated to their bedrooms, mirroring exactly what their viewers have been doing for the past four months.
Back to the bedroom
For those of us who remember YouTube’s ‘What’s in my Bag’ era when Zoella filmed her videos in a box room at her parent’s house and Tanya Burr still spent her weekends working on a makeup counter, there’s something satisfying in knowing that throughout lockdown, our favourite influencers were binging Normal People right alongside us.
Pretty much overnight, influencers had to relinquish control of their carefully curated content, pare back their aesthetically pleasing lives and go back to the drawing board to work out exactly what their fans enjoy (and balancing that with much needed hits and engagement) at a time when social media provided a much-needed solace for so many.
In some cases, it’s been refreshing. As we all dusted off our kindles, Beth Sandland launched her virtual book club and brought readers from around the world together. When restaurants and bars were forced to close, Ailsa from Edin Eats pivoted her content from recommending the best places to eat in the city to ‘Edin Cooks’, a series where she learned to cook from scratch in her kitchen.
Josie LDN has captivated Insta audiences over lockdown with her home renovation. Yes, it might be a glorious, million-pound Cotswolds bolthole rather than a one-bedroom studio with a shower above the toilet, but who hasn’t enjoyed a bit of lockdown DIY?
However, it’s clear that others have struggled with developing their style when the safety net is wheeked away (no names mentioned – in this blog post anyway…).
The behaviour backlash
Predictably, living your life online comes with a level of accountability and some influencers have been caught out. Creators such as Arielle Charnas were called out for flouting social distancing rules and travelling long distances – with their followers describing their behaviour as irresponsible, insensitive or just plain old out of touch. Suddenly, fans took off their rose-tinted glasses and instead started to view their favourite influencers with piercing clarity.
So, is this the end of the road for influencers? Despite the backlash, influencer marketing is still one of the most powerful and measurable forms of marketing. During times of uncertainty, people rely on those individuals with credibility to educate, entertain and inspire. That’s not going to change. Influencers just need to ensure that they’re being genuine with the content they’re putting out there and continue to be as authentic as possible.
The rise of authenticity and purpose
Authenticity is something PR professionals have been banging on about for years. But, some of the time, it’s been lip service. How many times has a client said they want to work with a Zoe Sugg, because they can’t see further than the follower count over engagement levels? They’re happy to ‘pay and display’ – pay a one off sum for an Insta Story, a tweet, a single post with #ad. But what’s the benefit for the brand, and ultimately, the end consumer?
It’s our prediction that there is going to be a rise of purpose-led content, and content creators that facilitate conversations and inform valuable two-way discussions with their audiences will come to the fore. Pushing out just one solitary, vacuous grid post isn’t going to cut it with audiences in a post-Covid world and PRs, brands and influencers need to recognise this.
The next few months are going to be an interesting time as opinion shifts. Beauty blogs? Meh. We’d rather see some more dancing bin men.