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Opinion

Collaboration vs. Transaction: How COVID-19 Will Impact Influencer Culture

COVID-19’s social and economic toll has left consumers increasingly wary of content that appears superficial and transactional, placing a heightened value on influencers’ authentic relationships with brands. Here are strategies brands can use to elevate loyal influencer fans in order to succeed amid uncertainty.

As the novel coronavirus continues to disrupt life worldwide—particularly in the U.S., where many states are suspending, or reversing, reopening plans amid new surges in cases—it’s clear that the pandemic will leave a lasting mark on the influencer economy. Brands and creators alike are adapting to a new reality and must work together now, more than ever, to empower each other.

Additionally, the virus’s social and economic toll has left consumers increasingly wary of content that appears superficial and transactional, placing a heightened value on influencers’ authentic relationships with brands.

Here are a few strategies brands can use to elevate loyal influencer fans in order to succeed amid uncertainty.

Support causes that influencers care about

Influencers and consumers alike are highly sceptical of corporate “social good” initiatives that appear empty or opportunistic. Brands can avoid the perception that they are merely capitalising on a crisis by teaming up with content creators to support causes that both parties are genuinely passionate about, and taking concrete, progressive action. 

For example, while many brands postponed launches early in the pandemic, Fabletics moved forward with the April release of its Demi Lovato for Fabletics capsule collection, created in partnership with the singer, and pledged a portion of proceeds to the World Health Organization’s COVID-19 relief fund.

While mitigating the pandemic’s impact was top of mind for many people around the world in April, Lovato proved particularly invested in the cause by founding her own coronavirus-related mental health fund the same month. Thanks largely to Lovato’s authentic enthusiasm, mentions of #Demi4Fabletics garnered $639.5k in Earned Media Value (EMV)—a metric for quantifying the estimated value of digital earned media—in April, fueling the brand’s 24% month-over-month EMV growth. 

#Demi4Fabletics

Leverage partnerships to empower your community

Brands often pursue relationships with influencers as they would with traditional advertisers, using a “pay to play” model to purchase space on bloggers’ feeds. But without an influencer’s genuine affinity for a brand or enthusiasm about a partnership, this transactional approach generally results in short-lived bursts of content creation that appear superficial in tenor—and cease as soon as payment is suspended.

Instead, successful brands work together with influencers to inspire content that not only drives brand exposure but also helps creators tell their own stories and expand their own platforms. At a time when many brands and bloggers are strapped for resources, collaborative and symbiotic growth opportunities are particularly meaningful. 

Savage x Fenty, singer Rihanna’s lingerie brand, was one of the few top EMV-driving apparel brands to post EMV growth every month of the pandemic—an achievement fueled in large part by the support of its loyal, and diverse, #SavageXAmbassador community.

The brand, which is acclaimed for its inclusive sizing and messaging, has not only curated a family of brand partners who align with its values but also consistently empowered them with content creation opportunities around these values, resulting in posts that celebrate the bloggers’ individual passions and artistry. From January to May 2020, mentions of #SavageXAmbassador powered $33.3M EMV—56% of the brand’s EMV total—from 698 influencers as Savage x Fenty’s top-earning hashtag, increasing its EMV haul each month. 

Craft campaigns that genuinely motivate content creators 

With in-person events still off the table, brands will continue to rely more heavily on product sends and hashtag campaigns to drive online conversation. But as with partnerships, it’s crucial that brands design campaigns that influencers feel authentically connected to, and empowered by. Just as bloggers are more inclined to enter into long-term partnerships with brands that will help them build their own personal brands, the most impactful campaigns stem from influencers’ genuine investment in a campaign’s messaging. 

The coronavirus has dramatically shaken the influencer economy, and its impact will continue to be felt long after regions re-open. As brands and influencers alike face unprecedented challenges, it’s crucial that they listen to and support one another’s needs.

By working with content creators in a mutually beneficial, symbiotic capacity, and rallying around shared values, brands can continue to build and nurture enthusiastic and supportive communities into the future. 

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