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The end of influencers?

Updated: Jun 30, 2021

Influencers garner more trust than celebrities and athletes, and more than half of the world’s younger population aged 13 to 38 have made a purchase based on the view of someone in their social media feeds; 86% would try to do it on their own, given the chance.

But as social distancing crushes retail, dining, and travel – the holy trinity of influencing – many influencers have seen customary revenue streams drop drastically, even to zero.

Budgets are being trimmed, events about getting cancelled and everyone is looking for alternative revenue streams. Mostly, brands just want to ensure that they are being sensitive to the C-word situation. Despite the government’s best efforts, it seems pretty likely that we’re heading towards a global recession. The uncertainty of it all is probably the biggest problem right now, and survivalist fear instincts have set in: hoard, save, hibernate. No consumer is buying in a big way – besides keeping toilet roll and puzzle supplies stocked – so you don’t want to end up being the retailer that tells the world it needs five new dresses for another Saturday night of solo scrabble.

On the one hand, COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on the influencer industry… but on the other, it has boosted the business in fascinating ways, and perhaps performed the shakedown that influencer marketing really needed: separating the good, from the bad.

According to this Digiday article, over the last two weeks there has been a 76% increase in daily likes on Instagram posts with ‘#ad’, and a 22% increase in Instagram campaign impressions, in the first-quarter of 2020 compared to the fourth-quarter of 2019. So, if you’re an influencer – or brand, for that matter – who wants to survive, now is the time to get creative… really, authentically creative.

The balm to our current widespread chaos – from an influencer marketing perspective – will be working together. Audiences will want to hear from people whose content flourished during COVID-19, because tonally it hit the right mark. A lot of influencers and content creators are straight up out of work right now, so it’s going to be an incredibly difficult time financially for a lot of them. Many will have to muddle through this pandemic with no funds, adapting to this new life that none of us are experts at, by creating content that helps and comforts. Brands who still have marketing money and want to use it, will be a lifeline to influencers right now. As a starting point to potentially career/company saving work, we’ve outlined three problems, and three solutions that prove influencer marketing might just be the answer to helping our industry survive.


  • Problem: Right now, influencer marketing campaigns are being slashed left, right and centre. However, they don’t need to stop, they just need to be thought about differently, and carried off to a higher set of standards. Brands can’t afford to be opting for influencers who simply make nice pictures for the ‘gram right now – they have to stand for something, authentically.

  • Solution: Of course, this approach will mean fewer brand partnerships with influencers – but this is merely protective, not unproductive. Think about who you are partnering with, and the type of content they’ve created during this period of uncertainty. Have their engagement rates gone up, whilst everyone had been scrolling through their feeds more? If not, their audience are trying to tell you something.


  • Problem: Some brands, such as Emirates and Ulta Beauty, have temporarily paused all affiliate marketing. Affiliate marketing works when influencers drive a sales conversion through their social channels, in return getting a percentage of the sale for whatever they promote. This, for many influencers, is their main source of income. Right now, it probably feels safer for brands to market through social or email means, so that they get 100% of sale, and don’t have to siphon off a percentage to influencers.

  • Solution: If you really are having to pause affiliate programmes, let influencers know and explain why. Influencers have spent time building up a reputation for your brand, so don’t turn your back on them. Explain that times are tough, you will do your best to keep them on board in some way, and that you look forward to working with them soon.


  • Problem: As all brands struggle to keep up with this unprecedented madness, many will become the conversation – by getting it wrong – instead of staying in the conversation. It’s a difficult time and people don’t want to be talked down to by brands, they want peer to peer advice.

  • Solution: There are plenty of influencers adapting their content to become appropriately informative, comforting and helpful – which is exactly what the world needs right now. Instead of lugging the weight of your brand marketing needs around the internet alone, trying to play catch up with the corona chaos, tap into influencers’ insider knowledge of audiences and lean on those influencer partners that have driven strong results in the past. There are plenty of influencers out there doing this the right way. Take Chiara Ferragni for example, whohas been praised for her sensitive reporting of the pandemic from her home in Italy, and has adapted her content appropriately. Other influencers, such a Dr Alex George – the infamous Love Island medic – are working on the frontline for the NHS in London, but also busting COVID-19 myths via socials. There’s also people like The Food Medic who (whilst still posting recipes) has a COVID-19 highlight for her followers, which distils all the key points from the latest global health updates and government briefings. These are the influencers people want to hear from right now; these are the people brands should be partnering with, in a way that is genuinely helpful and informative for their audience.

Influencers, this will be a huge learning curb for you too. As self-employed workers, you will be experts at working from home, but perhaps this is the first time you have seriously considered saving up a crisis fund. Long structuring your income is important, to enable you to adapt, and a focus on consulting could be something to look into right now – don’t ever underestimate how valuable your opinion and insight is to brands, after all, you’re the bridge between them and their consumers. Perhaps you could be the one consulting companies on how to do the most good in the time of coronavirus. When all of this comes to an end, look for partnerships and opportunities that include year-long projects and contracts.

This whole unfathomable event is a swift reminder to take it one day at a time, to be nimble and innovative. The companies that are innovative during this time will rise to the top. Let this really be a time when you can re-situate yourself and refocus on what is important to you. Talk really candidly about the reality of it to your audience. Be open and honest. We are all in this together, so remember that even if the main driver is boredom, everyone’s being forced to create in new ways which could lead to something lasting beyond this pandemic. There will always be a need for creativity – it cannot be quarantined with the rest of us.

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