Higher Standards, More Competition: The Post-COVID Influencer Reality

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As markets begin to emerge from lockdown restrictions and return to the workplace, influencers are adjusting to a changed world of social media usage and connection. Weber Shandwick Australia social media strategy director Mollie Fearnon explains in this piece.

Upon being impacted by the pandemic, video usage on messaging apps in most markets had a tendency to climb. In many, it more than doubled.

In some ways, it’s unsurprising. However, it’s a development that reflects a much broader shift for social media usage and the influencers, communicators, and brands that rely upon it. As COVID-19 separated us physically and geographically, it simultaneously fostered a greater need for connection, escapism, and expression than we’d ever had to contend with before – and things have changed.

In addition to more video calling and messaging, for example, content creation and consumption has similarly risen. Global Web Index found that over 80 per cent of consumers are consuming more content since the outbreak. Many have joked about the influx of new podcasts birthed under lockdown – but it goes much further. Digital content platforms of all kinds have seen boosts in creation and consumption.

It’s not likely to go away, either. Weber Shandwick’s research into recovery habits and intentions in China have revealed that, even months after lockdowns have been lifted, many of the habits and priorities developed under quarantine continue into recovery. Even as stores and centres re-open, many consumers will continue to be careful, remain indoors, and focus on the hobbies and passions developed under restrictions.

For professional content creators and communicators, it represents a new world.

Audiences for influencers, for example, have only grown larger. A number of major platforms reported usage had increased by over 40 per cent. The combination of increased screen time for consumers and new voices on content platforms has led to increased engagement from audiences – with nearly 80 per cent of influencers reporting higher engagement from their followers through the pandemic.

As businesses begin to re-engage with their stakeholders, it represents substantial opportunity. However, it also represents heightened risk. With increased audiences has come increased scrutiny and sensitivity. If a mistake is made, it can echo much further for influencers and brands alike. An evidence-led strategy informed by data and social listening, therefore, is more beneficial than ever.

As an industry, we’ve long since moved beyond simply picking an influencer with a sufficient following or jumping on a rising trend. But, in a post-COVID reality, there are even more factors to consider in developing successful social campaigns. The type of content, for example. Our larger and more engaged audiences are no longer as interested in distractions or aspirational aesthetics; they want something practical and substantial.

Whether it’s recipes, workouts, or tutorials, consumers are prioritising content and creators that support them in their personal growth and well-being. It’s consistent with emerging trends in China and Singapore that indicate consumers have returned from lockdown and quarantine with a new commitment to invest more in their own security, stability, and comfort.

It’s a tendency that’s already driving a new trend in content in terms of solution-based work. Increasingly, new influencers are delivering tutorial-style guidance with a focus on self-help, mental health, or wellbeing advice. The growing need for connection and heightened competition has also seen investments in more collaborative work between influencers and between influencers and their audiences.

To truly succeed in engaging stakeholders in a post-COVID influencer ecology, it’s these movements that brands, communicators, and creators will need to leverage – and leverage with greater strategic precision. As we all continue to reach out for greater connection, we’re reaching for deeper, more engaging content. Higher standards, greater competition, wider audiences, greater risk – it’s a new world.

 

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