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The Role of Social Media Influencers During COVID-19

A decade ago, influencer marketing was limited to celebrities. Now, it seems everyone can be a part of this industry. With the advent of social media, influencers have been an important part of this information network. However, the pandemic has changed a lot of people's lifestyles. Not only are we posting our personal updates and reading the news, but we're also using platforms to provide business updates and spread important messages regarding positivity and social justice.

(Image is courtesy of Medium)

What are Influencers?

The idea of ambassadors and celebrities is not novel. Influencers in social media have built a reputation for their knowledge and expertise on specific topics. They have the power to affect others' purchasing decisions due to their authority, knowledge, relationship, or passion. What makes them different from celebrities is that they are more connective and reliable by sharing their personal lifestyles. They create regular posts or stories on any form of social media channels, such as Youtube, Instagram, Twitch, or TikTok. This then generates a large number of followers who pay close attention to what they post. Brands love social media influencers because they can encourage their followers to buy products and create trends. The forms of influence vary so much that no two influencers are the same.

Examples of Influencers

Kayla Itsines is an Australian personal trainer and entrepreneur with around 12.7 million followers on her Instagram page. She posts workout videos, diet options, and inspirational messages on her page. She is also the creator of Bikini Body Guides, which is a training program. Another example is Huda Kattan, who is a makeup artist with 48 million followers on Instagram. She regularly posts makeup applications, trends, reviews, and so on. She even has her own brand, called Huda Beauty. Food is another option that can be easily promoted. Mariam Ezzedine has her own pages on Instagram, TikTok, and Facebook, which feature easy-to-make recipes and emphasizes healthy food options. She also has kids to cook for, which connects with a lot of stay-at-home mums. Furthermore, she posts travelling experiences to appeal to a wider range of people. 

How has Coronavirus changed Influencing

As the coronavirus hit the world, many businesses and creators are trying their best to adapt to the new marketing industry. At first, influencers saw that many sponsorship opportunities and events were cancelled. A report showed that sponsored content from influencers has gone from an average of 35% down to 4% due to the COVID-19 crisis in mid-February. Many shifted their focus to alternative streams to allow themselves to continue to earn a living without leaving their homes. 

Since more people are staying at home, they now approach social media more often than ever. Scrolling through Twitter, TikTok, Instagram, and Youtube seems to be a daily routine for pretty much everyone. Due to quarantine, people are feeling stressed, lonely, and depressed. Thankfully, influencers play a significant role in the destigmatization of mental health. They share their struggles and spread positive messages, including tips for intuitive eating, meditation, or ways to sleep better. They create posts detailing anything from yoga movements to advice for a mental check-in. In regards to spreading messages, some influencers constantly encourage followers to keep social distancing and quarantine at home. The UK government has even worked with social media influencers to stop the spread of COVID-19 by promoting the NHS test and tracer service. Now, these services are important in the commercial field to drive consumption and have a positive impact on health and safety. 

As for specific industries, the fitness world has had an immense change. Many fitness coaches and influencers have shifted from gym workouts to home workouts. They try to motivate people to stay active even while staying at home by introducing quiet cardio workouts, HIIT workouts (which are short but intense), bodyweight workouts, etc. Some even go further by introducing what they eat in a day with creative, nutritious, and delicious meals. They publish and sell training guides, eating guides, cookbooks and collaborate with brands to earn more money and spread a healthy living mindset. Ultimately, some even rely on direct customer services instead of brand collaboration. To gain a wider audience coverage, fitness coaches are no longer sticking to their traditional routines. Instead, they cover beginner workouts, intense workouts, vegetarian meals, gluten-free options, and plenty of alternatives.  

Social media influencers are essential to sustain small businesses, including restaurants, clothing, and grocery stores. Amid the pandemic, shops are forced to close, and restaurants are not allowed to dine in. Nearly 100,000 establishments that temporarily shut down are now permanently out of business. To survive, some businesses approach social media influencers to help them promote their products. For example, some influencers tag the brand name of the skin product they use in their posts and share their own authentic experiences. Another example is encouraging followers to buy protein powder by giving examples of incorporating it into a healthy diet, such as in baking, smoothies, or oatmeal. Brands offer a discount code for influencers to share with their followers, hoping to increase their sales. In return, influencers gain free products, services, money, or discounts. As for restaurants, they approach influencers to share their dining experience. Nowadays, many brands and influencers collaborate by offering giveaways. Giveaways involve tagging friends, liking the post, following, sharing the content, and so on to drive more engagement. Influencers and businesses are tied hand in hand to keep their businesses going. If it weren't for the influencers, more small businesses and restaurants would have shut down amidst COVID-19. 

On the contrary, some people find posts from social media to cause more anxiety. The WHO says that they are fighting an international epidemic or pandemic and a social media influence. Social media accelerates misinformation worldwide, which is fueling panic and fear among people everywhere. For example, it impacted the buying crisis, which saw shortages of toilet paper, bread, eggs, masks, and other daily necessities. When people saw posts of empty shops, this incited panic related to food shortages. There has also been a worldwide increase in the spread of fake news, such as the origin of COVID-19. The sharing feature from one source to another can lead to a domino effect.

The Present and Future of Social Media Influencers

 A survey done by Influencer Marketing Hub discovered that 63% of marketers would increase their influencer marketing budget over the next year. According to a study, the influencer marketing industry is a $10 billion market by 2020. More than half of the world's total population now uses social media. In fact, social media statistics uncover that consumers are spending up to 3 hours on social media platforms per day. Seeing this, there is no doubt that influencers will stay. 

Brands have started to expand their influencer networks by associating with the right people. Before COVID-19, sunscreen lotion brands might've only approached the beauty or fashion industry. However, now they might collaborate with travel, sports, or lifestyle influencers to gain wider coverage. 

Businesses are also now realizing that less is more. Micro-influencers may be more effective since many influencers buy fake followers. Additionally, those who have fewer followers may have more time to maintain the bonds with the audience and foster higher engagement. They are also more reasonably priced than mega influencers. 

The influencers need to keep up with trends and maintain good competition since millions of people are in this industry. In the future, they will have to create all sorts of ways to keep their audience engaged. The industry may be rapidly growing in overall worth, but the uncertainty for any individual is high. If brands or companies see the graph plateau, they will stop the collaboration, and influencers will lose money. It is best to utilize effective marketing strategies, maintain good numbers, update frequently, etc. For example, Instagram has now launched a Reels function, which is similar to TikTok. Influencers can utilize this function to create short videos since people are more likely to view a fifteen-second video instead of a one-hour IGTV. They also have to be smart in how to incorporate promotions into their content. 

Final note

Social media is an incredibly important platform for brands and social media influencers alike. Due to the pandemic, influencers' role has expanded and changed to include spreading awareness and positivity and supporting small businesses. The power of influencers is tremendous, and it will continue to grow in the years to come. 

Article author: Michelle Lam

Article editors: Sherilyn Wen, Edie Whittington