Influencer Marketing Post COVID-19: New Report Reveals Drastic Changes

Influencer Marketing Post COVID-19: New Report Reveals Drastic Changes

There’s practically no area of life that has been untouched by the global coronavirus pandemic. It has impacted daily lives and, as a result, the ways that businesses must manage their budgets depending on how they’ve been impacted. Influencer marketing post COVID-19 is no different.

In social media marketing, COVID-19 has shown its effects in myriad ways. Now, data from Socialbakers, a leading social media marketing platform, provides insights on how influencer marketing has changed during the pandemic.

In its State of Influencer Marketing Report, Socialbakers examined how the industry of Instagram influencers changed in 2020, particularly in the spring. While there were some significant decreases likely tied to the overall tightening of budgets, there were also some changes in strategy that could have lasting impacts.

Download the full Socialbakers report.

Commenting on the report, Socialbakers CEO Yuval Ben-Itzhak mentioned that despite COVID-19, brands are still investing in influencer marketing but with a distinctly different approach. One of the significant changes he pointed out was the continued growth of leveraging nano and micro-influencers, who are now seen as high-value resources and bring high impact without the big price tag of mega or even macro influencers.

He also said that tight marketing budgets will further push savvy brands to expand partnerships with these smaller influencers as part of a smarter social media strategy in the wake of the continuing worldwide pandemic.

Some of the findings include an overall decrease in both sponsored content from influencers as well as the total amount of brands partnering with influencers, as well as a drop in the effectiveness in many influencer campaigns. However, there also was a pivot to more niche influencers that showed positive results.

It’s that kind of change that could end up remaining a part of brand strategies as they look for ways to create authentic connections with their audience. Let’s look closer at what Socialbakers’ data reveals and the effects it may have on influencer marketing in the future.

COVID-19 Crisis Reduces Influencer Marketing

When the coronavirus started to spread more rapidly in mid-March, a lot of things went on hold. Many digital marketing budgets were lowered, including brand partnerships with influencers.

According to Socialbakers data, Instagram influencers posted less content and fewer brands worked with influencers. In fact, it was a significant drop compared to 2019.

socialbakers evolution of #ad usage by instagram influencers | influencer marketing post covid-19

The amount of Instagram influencers using #ad in a cooperation with brands – or local variations including #sp, #sponsored, and more – went down by 30% in April 2020 compared to the same month in 2019, according to the data. Additionally, the total number of Instagram influencers cooperating with brands reached its lowest point since August 2019.

The total number of brands cooperating with Instagram influencers fell by 37% when looking at April 2020 vs. April 2019. No one will ever be able to say exactly how much the global pandemic led to the decreases seen in Socialbakers’ data, the event has clearly had a large effect on the way that companies are conducting their digital marketing strategies.

Influencer Marketing Efficiency Decreases

In addition to the overall decline in the use of influencers, there was a corresponding decrease in the metric influencer marketing efficiency, which Socialbakers uses as the percentage of interactions on a post by an influencer that mentions a brand compared to that brand’s own posts. Basically, it’s an indication of the benefit brands get from influencer partnerships, and in the midst of the pandemic there wasn’t nearly as much value.

There’s an annual trend with this metric as it usually rises into the holidays and then decreases in the new year. That showed up in the 2020 figures as things started to pick up in February, but when the pandemic really hit in spring it dropped significantly, another indication of how much the global situation affected social media marketing strategies and effectiveness.

In April 2020, influencer marketing efficiency was 41% lower than it had been in April 2019. It also reached its lowest point since at least January 2019.

Not all industries were affected the same, though. In fact, several industries had very positive influencer marketing efficiencies in 2020.

At the forefront, perhaps unsurprisingly, was health care, which had an influencer marketing efficiency of 4.2X. Other industries included household goods (2.4X), FMCG food (2.1X), and alcohol (1.5X). Conversely, industries like software (0.3X) and travel (0.8X) didn’t succeed with influencers.

Overall, creating partnerships with influencers wasn’t nearly as effective as usual in April 2020. With that said, micro brands were still able to see positive benefits from cooperating with influencers no matter what size of audience the influencer had. So for those brands, strategies didn’t need to change as much.

Brands Seek Out Micro Influencers

Brands Seek Out Micro Influencers

With budgets tightening and the effectiveness of campaigns down, brands who still pursued influencer marketing partnerships turned to smaller Instagram influencers.

Since January 2019, about 40% brand partnerships took place with micro influencers (10k-50k followers). While that figure remained steady, there was a steep increase in spring 2020 in the use of micro influencers who had 10,000 followers or less.

Partnerships with micro influencers increased by 36.7% from the end of 2019 to April 2020. Some of that, as discussed before, is in line with seasonal trends. However, there was a sharp increase in spring that surged micro influencers to 31% of the overall Instagram influencer partnerships.

On the other hand, macro influencers with more than one million followers made up only 1-3% of all brand partnerships. For several reasons this does make some sense, when you factor in the lower total number of influencers at that size and the exponentially higher cost for an influencer at that level compared to influencers with smaller followings.

Small influencers were at the forefront in April. A third of the Instagram influencers who worked with brands had less than 10,000 followers, and nearly the same amount of posts (31.9%) containing #ad came from the same small size of influencers. Both of those figures were at their peak since at least June 2019, another sign that brands prefer smaller, more affordable partnerships in uncertain times.

About 94% of the brand and influencer cooperations analyzed by Socialbakers were influencers with 100,000 followers or less. While those kinds of partnerships don’t often make headlines, it’s clear that brands believe – and data suggests – that micro influencers who have audiences that really feel connected to them can achieve positive campaigns.

Topics Shift in Reaction to COVID-19 Pandemic

When you think about what an influencer talks about, what comes to mind? For many people, influencers seem to be living a dream life, traveling all around the world and getting into high-profile events.

The pandemic brought that part of life to a screeching halt, and travel influencers were suddenly left without anywhere to roam. For a while, at least, there were no music festivals or night clubs to party at, and the sudden change showed up in Socialbakers data about what Instagram influencers were discussing.

The interests that saw big decreases from mid-March to mid-May included parties (-35.6%), music festivals (-24.3%), and hotels (-18.5%). On the other hand, the situation brought other topics to the forefront, specifically insurance (+14.1%), recipes (+4.5%), and health care (+1.2%).

Some of that change comes from influencers shifting their areas of interest, while others just got more attention because people were suddenly more interested in their topics.

And while it has obviously been a difficult time for travel and event influencers, others, such as beauty or fitness influencers, have been able to effectively shift their strategies to create even stronger connections with their audience.

Long-Term Trend: Instagram Carousels on the Rise

Socialbakers’ study on influencers also noted a long-term trend that may have been accelerated by the pandemic but started long before.

While regular photos are still the main post type, Instagram influencers have posted fewer images, opting instead for carousel posts, which can contain both images and videos. According to Socialbakers data, over the last two years the use of carousel posts has increased by 34.2% while images decreased by 16.8%.

Meanwhile, videos have remained largely steady (about 9.5% of all posts) with a recent uptick in spring 2020. That could be an anomaly, or it could signal an impending shift in the way that Instagram influencers want to communicate with their audience.

The Takeaway on Influencer Marketing Post COVID-19

Influencer marketing isn’t going to disappear, that much is clear. While campaigns will certainly need to be adapted depending on how budgets bounce back (or don’t) in the coming months, brands have discovered that working with people their audience trusts will always be part of a winning strategy.

Moving forward, some of the trends to follow include tracking the effectiveness of influencer campaigns, specifically ones driven by micro influencers, as well as the eventual return of travel influencers. Does the audience have the same appetite for that kind of content, or has lockdown changed what they want to consume?

There’s still a lot that brands are figuring out about their campaigns right now. One thing we know is they will continue experimenting with influencer campaigns to see what works.

How has your company’s influencer marketing post COVID-19 changed? Please do chime in in the comments so that we can all bette understand the current trends together.

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Neal Schaffer
Neal Schaffer

Neal Schaffer is a leading authority on helping businesses through their digital transformation of sales and marketing through consulting, training, and helping enterprises large and small develop and execute on social media marketing strategy, influencer marketing, and social selling initiatives. President of the social media agency PDCA Social, Neal also teaches digital media to executives at Rutgers University, the Irish Management Institute (Ireland), and the University of Jyvaskyla (Finland). Fluent in Japanese and Mandarin Chinese, Neal is a popular keynote speaker and has been invited to speak about digital media on four continents in a dozen countries. He is also the author of 3 books on social media, including Maximize Your Social (Wiley), and in late 2019 will publish his 4th book, The Business of Influence (HarperCollins), on educating the market on the why and how every business should leverage the potential of influencer marketing. Neal resides in Irvine, California but also frequently travels to Japan.

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