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The (Re)Rise of the Influencer

May 13, 2020
Social Media Overload

As we’re confined to our homes and eyes shift to screens around the clock (have you checked your screen time lately?) it’s natural that consumers embrace social media as a primary source for staying connected. During the first month of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S., Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter each saw huge spikes in traffic (3.707 billion to 4.173 billion, 21.355 billion to 25.745 billion, and 4.543 billion to 5.5 billion respectively) over February—and the numbers continued to rise on Facebook and Instagram throughout April, as well. So, while COVID-19 forces barriers between us and our normal lives, it seems to be breaking them down when it comes to interacting on social media. With all of that traffic comes what feels like an increase in social sharing—it’s as if everyone morphed into an influencer overnight.

For brands that previously embraced paid social marketing, the shift to a primarily digital strategy was obvious and relatively easy. They had a leg up initially as less digitally savvy companies scrambled to catch up. But as brands collectively ride this wave, what’s the impact on the cost for each conversion? And when it’s all over, what will paid social and influencer marketing look like in its wake?

Our bet: Following the initial decrease we’ve seen in advertising costs as companies pulled marketing dollars and focused on their critical infrastructure, competition for paid social performance will increasingly grow over the next few months. As a result, CTR and ROI will suffer unless brands strategically target, optimize, and stand out.

And in the months and year to come, it’s likely brands will once again embrace influencer marketing over the more traditional paid social ads to which we’ve grown so numb—we’ll see a steady shift in digital ad dollars toward alignment with individuals who personify the brand’s values as a means for reaching more qualified leads.

Following an influencer strategy over the more formal paid social model has both its advantages and disadvantages. On one hand, many social media users tend to value the word of a trusted blogger or someone they view as a peer over “ads”—unlike celebrities, influencers live lives we aspire to live and may actually attain, so we purchase the products or services they endorse because if influencers use them, they must be the real deal, right?

But audience targeting using influencers is much less systematic than traditional paid social ads—you lose the value of algorithms, bidding, and optimization, relying on the actions of an individual to drive your ROI. It’s risky and doesn’t always result in reward.

Pros and cons aside, as influencer marketing surges among brands of all sizes during COVID-19, it’s reasonable to wonder how long before it, too, no longer serves as a trusted source for our digital audiences. Whether it’s paid social ads, an influencer campaign or the next big thing that has yet to come, oversaturation in any one medium is bound to eventually render us all tone deaf.

Brands, remember: The sweet spot in a sound digital marketing strategy will remain in the balance and integration of a multitude of marketing media that hits consumers across a variety of touchpoints, driving them through the conversion funnel. COVID-19 may have changed marketing forever—but the core principles will remain the same.

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