Wow, what an insane and completely unexpected implosion the pandemic has been in the world of social media influence. Prior to the pandemic, social media was part of the marketing mix for most brands, from start-ups to the top 5 brands in each industry. With the total collapse of the retail infrastructure as we knew it, and the majority of the population being quarantined in one way or another, direct to consumer (D2C) became everyone’s go to. And with this paradigm shift, so did the valuation of content creators and how they had massive influence over their followers.
This influence was created and executed in various manners from branding, whether that was by selling, sending followers to a website to gain educational information, and many other ways as well. But what was clear on zoom calls all over the country between clients and agencies was the urgency to improve upon their influencer and affiliate marketing machine. Most companies had minimal infrastructure and vision for how the pandemic was going to change everyone’s reality. Out of the murky bog came a lot of companies that created CRM based aggregators of influencers. Many had outdated information, fees and contact information, but even the ones that were selling quality data didn’t see the explosion of representation firms signing creators at a record pace. From your largest of representation firms like CAA and WME to United Talent and others to the boutique shops like The Digital Renegades and CEG. The race was on for talent, and everyone was in the pool!
This was a seminal point in the evolution of influencers gaining corporate acceptance as well as fair compensation. Previously only influencers such as the Kardashians and Jenners got paid a fair wage, but now creators with 100,000 followers and above can make a living or a healthy side hustle. Agents brought legitimacy to the time, effort and creativity the creators brought to developing their content. Previously, brands saw athletes and celebrities as their big ticket spokespeople. But with the closing of arenas, movie theaters and production studios, the brands were forced to reassess how they viewed creators. Creators no longer were talked about like indentured servants, but instead were viewed as valuable assets in marketing and selling products.
Home delivery exploded: Instacart, Blue Apron, Thrive Market and so many others knocked on our doors. They wanted creators to be salespeople, and candidly it usually didn’t work. Not based on the fee that was being changed. But here is what else we found out, brands offering creators codes to highlight and earn commissions was a fairytale! There is ZERO way to gauge true attribution from a creator. You can’t add it up in sales because most people (more than 80%) do not use codes, so the concept of “testing” an influencer was so flawed and the brands knew it. Just because a creator has millions of followers or even hundreds of thousands of followers, there is still no guarantee that in one post a large percentage of these consumers will buy. The notion of one call closing is so contradictory to where the actual market currently resides.
Consumers want proof, education, great prices and the feeling they aren’t being sold. Well, tell that to the agencies that are pumping out creator campaigns like puppy mills! It’s really depressing that agencies are making sure they get paid, and blaming creators for their lack of vision. Is this all agencies? Of course not, but a majority are burning and churning clients during the pandemic. They keep selling brands on their data collection and the discounted fees they can get on influencer fees. But what I tell everyone still is “you get what you pay for ” in this and every business.
So the pandemic at worst was a forced education for everyone involved. Talent agents, influencers, brands, agencies, etc. We all had a good year to better understand what the circumstances are and how do we collectively navigate the landscape? Now with large numbers of Americans being vaccinated, what is next? How does this infrastructure morph into the next stage?
Let’s take a look at a few realities:
- Social media usage will drop this Spring and Summer. Why? People are on the loose. The increase in sales at places like Dick’s Sporting Goods shows that the consumer is feeling free to get out and explore. Outdoor experiences, AirBnB is seeing a massive rise in bookings, airlines are adding planes to their markets for the first time in years. All of this push to do things vs watch others do things will lead to a significant drop in viewership. This drop will just make dealing with creators that actually produce great engagement to be more expensive. Supply and demand folks!
- Brands will start pulling back experimental social media funds from social media campaigns to in store and on site activations. Sponsorships will take off. Concerts, trade shows, etc.
- Influencers will start to be utilized as a way to augment retail promotions and drive traffic in-store, not just to D2C channels.
- Influencers will start to diversify their content as they too can get out of the house. So social media influencers, let’s say who previously focused on food, now will add new content such as travel, lifestyle and beauty content.
- New platforms will likely not have as much success as the meteoric rise of TikTok because of the pandemic.
- Video content will now evolve to live streams. So platforms like YouTube and Twitch will benefit greatly.
The world of social media never stops changing because the consumer clamors for more and greater connection with those that they follow and idolize. The bar will be pushed to an even higher level. Brands need to be even more creative on how they gain attention by the consumer. Education will always be a focal point for many brands but especially the emerging all-natural, organic and plant based lines of food.