As billions began sheltering in place amidst the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, social media influencers were forced to find new ways of engaging their audiences while stuck at home. Many turned to livestreaming: On Facebook, live viewings have spiked by 50% during lockdown periods, while viewings on Instagram have surged 70%.

Several months into the pandemic, lockdowns are being lifted and economies are reopening. But while the new normal doesn’t yet resemble anything close to the pre-COVID world – particularly for key sectors like travel and others – the gradual return to routine has naturally given rise to the question of whether influencers’ shift to livestreaming is destined to be remembered as a temporary trend or a pivotal moment in influencer marketing.

Long after the crisis is over, livestreaming will remain a popular tool for influencers who are seeking a more intimate, authentic way of reaching their target audiences and new revenue streams.

Fostering real connections

Authenticity reigns supreme in the realm of influencer marketing, which is precisely why real-time, raw, unedited video directly from influencers can pack such a powerful punch.

According to a 2019 study, perceived authenticity positively impacts followers’ intent to purchase – hardly surprising, given that 86% of consumers say authenticity is an important factor influencing what brands they like.

Aside from presenting influencers in their most real and relatable moments, livestreaming – unlike traditional photos and even pre-recorded videos – offers followers the chance to be an active part of a session, allowing them to interact in real-time, with on-screen questions and comments. By breaking down walls of communication between influencers and their followers, livestreaming fosters a more genuine form of connection.

Standing out from the crowd

One primary challenge for livestreaming is the same faced by all other online content: While people are online more than ever before – with U.S. adults spending nearly half of each day interacting with digital media – that means standing out from the crowd in an ever-proliferating content landscape is no easy feat.

It’s one thing to get eyeballs on a sponsored still-image Instagram post; it’s quite another to get viewers to meaningfully engage with a 30-minute IGTV video. Someone can view and “like” a still image in a mere second, but viewing a livestream entails a much deeper level of engagement — which influencers on Facebook and Instagram, who turned to livestreaming during the pandemic, have managed to attain.

Whereas 70% of marketers say static content effectively engages consumers, a whopping 93% say the same of interactive content. Livestreaming, with its interactive live on-screen comments, maximizes direct communication with viewers, empowering them by allowing them to feel heard and valued – all of which encourages them to come back for more.

Creating a new path to purchase

How can influencers and the brands they represent know their livestreaming is generating the desired return on investment? Livestreaming tracking tools and analytic dashboards offer critical insights into metrics like audience demographics, viewership, and engagement – data that brands and influencers can wield to optimise future content and enhance their outreach.

Although the pandemic and the ensuing economic downturn have delivered a blow to influencer marketing, livestreaming can unleash new revenue opportunities, and major brands have taken note.

In June, Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba announced plans to recruit up to 100,000 influencers from across the globe to promote merchants and brands on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and additional platforms, which offer a variety of monetization options for live-content creators.

Alibaba isn’t merely latching onto a COVID-era trend, it’s also building on the success of its livestream Taobao network, which attracted 400 million viewers and raked in $28 billion in 2019 alone.

By creating a new path to purchase for consumers, livestreaming offers a high-ROI pathway to both visibility and sales – and that fundamental dynamic is set to outlast the current crisis. Much as the pandemic has served to accelerate other trends that were already gaining steam – remote work and online shopping, for example – it may well transform livestreaming from an increasingly popular aspect of influencer marketing to a core component of influencer strategy.

Livestreaming is redefining influencer marketing as we know it. The past three months have created unprecedented opportunities for influencers and brands to experiment with the format as a uniquely effective marketing tool. With more and more viewers eager to consume content, livestreaming is set to prove its utility during COVID-19 and beyond.

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