For the first time in history, we are living in a society in which most events are virtual. As companies transition to virtual platforms, branding becomes even more important- and more challenging- than before. Although the event industry is severely impacted by the pandemic, there’s a silver lining in this cloud: Online events present an opportunity to connect with broader, remote audiences that we might not have reached when the focus was on in-person events. So how can you make sure your digital footprint travels far- and hits its target audience?
One key answer lies in the psychodynamics of influencer marketing. Experiential markets thrive on personal connections, and influencers forge those connections. This is especially true during the pandemic, when the internet is most people’s main source of connection with the world.
Why Influencer Marketing?
Even before the pandemic hit, social media marketing was huge. Connecting with target audiences online and creating long-term, meaningful relationships with followers was vital then- and it’s even more so as we switch to virtual events. Why? For one thing, brands are transitioning. They’re figuring out a way to stay connected and deliver the same value online as they did in person. Considering the fact that experiences do change when they’re produced online versus in person, that’s no small feat. That’s why it’s important to keep your audience abreast of these changes- and what your brand is doing in this virtual culture- through innovative marketing. Part of that can be accomplished by promoting your brand during virtual events.
Times are Changing Fast….and Influencer Culture Can Help You Stay Relevant
One advantage of social media marketing is that it connects people through massive online networks. Because of this system of networking, speakers and influencers who may have previously been out of your reach might be more accessible than you think. While the pandemic has diminished in-person events, it’s actually created a wealth of online networking opportunities. Companies are connecting with remote audiences through giveaway contests, blogging, charities, crowdfunding, and more. Some online networks are functioning secondarily as support systems where people can go to connect and share similar experiences. And when you network online, you don’t just create spaces for your audience to connect with your business and each other. Broader networks can also help you connect with influencers and experts in your industry.
One way to infuse excitement into virtual events- and promote your brand- is to hire a speaker who is popular in your industry. As brands struggle to promote non-essential products during the pandemic, many of them are turning to social media influencers. Social media influencers may be more connected to changes in consumer culture than ad agencies. Because they connect personally to remote audiences, they may have valuable insight about their audience’s feelings, attitudes, values, and consumer habits during the pandemic. They’re called influencers for a reason- they have massive influence on consumers who follow them. When they ask questions, they get answers from their followers. Influencers have an idea of what’s most important to their audience, especially during a time when the main source of connectivity for people is online.
Influencer marketing is not unique to contemporary brands; some of the most classic brands, such as QVC, are relying on this strategy to help them adjust to the recent changes. The network has partnered with ShopStyle Collective, an influencer network of content creators, to launch a new campaign. The campaign is different from past ones used by the company because it lets influencers lead product assortment and content creation.
What Makes Influencers So...Influential?
Because people form a personal connection with their favorite influencers, they value what they think and say. If an influencer explains why she favors your brand, citing ethical or personal reasons why your company resonates with her/him, that influencer’s following will take notice. One of the main components of experiential marketing is emotional connection, which can be challenging to establish. Influencers can provide that missing link and connect brands more personally with their consumers.
Why is that emotional connection so vital in an experiential culture? As a whole, millennials value meaningful experiences over material possessions. They want to buy products and attend events that hold some personal meaning and have experiential value to them. This experiential culture is what gave rise to influencer brands and continues to sustain them.
Influencers know what content and messages resonate with their audience. By forming relationships with influencers or inviting them to speak at your virtual event, you are connecting with their massive audience, thereby broadening your reach.
How Are Influencers Doing Now?
When the pandemic first hit, many influencers lost sponsorship deals as events around the world were cancelled. At the same time, engagement on social media soared much higher than usual. This was not particularly groundbreaking; the more time people spend in isolation, the more time they would presumably spend on social media. But then we began to notice something interesting: Even industries we wouldn’t expect to benefit from these higher rates of social media consumption, such as the travel industry, began rebounding by mid-June.
So what did these influencers do to adapt to the crisis while still creating interesting, true-to-brand content? It seems that the pandemic gave birth to a collective moment of reflection. It may sound cynical, but it’s true: Many influencers, especially those in the travel industry, make a living from showcasing luxury experiences that most people don’t get to have in abundance. Some have tuned into the mood of reflection by posting content from past trips, such as favorite past explorations or city guides.
However, the influencer culture has received a lot of criticism for its superficiality and inability to realistically relate to the average person. It seems escapism is powerful, but not powerful enough to sustain a consumer culture that is grappling with some very real, scary issues during a global pandemic.
Furthermore, brands no longer have the advantage of sets that include personal stylists, so many marketing campaigns are leaving the styling to the influencers. For example, American Eagle partnered with several influencers for its 2020 back-to-school campaign. The content for this popular campaign, starring Addison Rae and others, was produced at home. The trendsetting influencers were self-styled, and the response has been overwhelmingly positive. Influencers are stepping up to be the link between brands and consumers, bringing content to vivid new life.
A New Kind of Influencer Culture
In recent years, a new kind of influencer culture emerged to represent average and under-represented people in society. This culture marked a turning point in society because it gave voices to people navigating chronic mental and physical illness and disabilities; models and everyday people in bigger or less “socially acceptable bodies”; and gay and BIPOC communities that don’t recieve equal representation in traditional media. Many critics have spoken out against the glossy, curated images posted by so many influencers post. The narrative is that “everyday people” compare themselves to those images and find themselves lacking in comparison. And of course, consumer industries and diet culture historically benefit from people- especially women- feeling as if they don’t measure up.
But recently, there have been some major changes in consumer culture. If anything, the pandemic has placed more emphasis on the need for relatable content. So when influencers switched their focus from exotic locales to lifestyle and reflection on the current situation, people tuned in.
While one perusing Instagram can’t escape shiny images of uber-thin, wealthy people luxuriating in excess, those images no longer define influencer culture as a whole. For every professional snapshot of a model on a yacht, there’s an “everyday person” snapping a cell phone picture of the Doritos they proudly indulged in that night. Cooking routines, self-care and beauty tips, and environmentally conscious content dominates feeds that once showcased luxury around the world.
It’s important to note that this content, which aims to be more universally relatable, also comes from entertainers, models, and influencers of all sizes. In other words, our feeds are now inundated with content from influencers who earn money by being allegedly healthier, more realistic role models.
Changing Your Message
Is this real progress? It depends on who you ask, but one thing is for sure: Media messages are changing with the times to be more compatible with liberal values and an experiential culture. This trend has been unfolding for a long time, and the pandemic seems to have pushed it even further forward.
Charity is also helping to change media messages to reflect an attitude of unity and humanitarianism. For example, Bonnie Rakhit is a former fashion magazine editor who now runs a popular fashion blog called The Style Traveller. Rakhit has used her massive influence to encourage her Instagram followers to volunteer through the British Red Cross. She has also invited her followers to volunteer for a program called “Clap for our Carers”, which is just what it sounds like: a program in which people in the U.K. cheer medics online from their homes.
Rahkit encourages other influencers not to add to the chaos and negativity, but to maintain a positive, educational tone. Other influencers have emphasized the need to be “raw and real”, filming even their moments of despair and sharing their deepest struggles with their followers. It’s undeniable that the needs of our society have shifted. Yes, we still need to collectively escape reality, and one way to do that is to follow other people’s lives on social media. But we also need to stay sane, connected, and inspired to adjust to a new normal in positive ways. We need to know that we’re not alone even when we are sick, anxious, or depressed.
Simply put, your company’s message isn’t shifting right now, you’re losing relevance. Partnering with influencers can help you put out a new message while maintaining your authenticity.
How Can Your Brand Work With Influencers?
There are generally two ways to go about partnering with influencers. You can either contact the influencer yourself or go through an agency. Agencies often manage a large number of influencers, who are contacted when a brand requests them or someone who fits their profile.
If you choose to skip agency costs and directly contact an influencer, be aware that it may take some time and strategizing before you score a partnership. Influencers with massive followings tend to take longer to respond to requests, which are generally handled by managers. We’ve said it in many previous posts: If an influencer with a moderate following fits the style and culture of your brand, contact them! In the larger-than-life world of social media, “moderate” influencers still have substantial followings. Remember, adjusting to the changing culture doesn’t have to mean making radical changes. Staying true to brand means reaching target audiences. While remote marketing presents an opportunity to reach broader audiences, niche marketing is more important than ever. Bigger isn’t always better- you may stand to benefit more from a moderate influencer’s following that fits your niche than a large audience that doesn’t.
If you want to attract the attention of an influencer and build a working relationship, start by following that person. Interact with their posts and share their message with your own followers, making sure to tag them in your posts. If they have a hashtag that they commonly use, work it into your posts in a way that shows support while still being genuine and authentic. In other words, use your voice to magnify theirs without compromising your originality.
The Bottom Line
Be persistent and don’t give up! It takes time to catch the eye of an influencer who fits your style and would compliment your brand. We recommend doing your research and making a list of influencers that you think you’d want to work with. This way, if your top choice doesn’t work out, you have more options to try. Social media definitely has its drawbacks and grievances, but one thing can’t be denied: It has enabled brands to be their own marketing agents and connect with remote audiences in ways they never would have before. Our advice? Use it to your advantage and network your way to your own authentic goals. Happy influencing!