High Streets are busier, pubs have reopened and we can finally head out to beauty salons. If it wasn’t for the wearing of masks you might be forgiven for thinking things had returned to normality. But this lockdown phase has undoubtedly changed us and the world of influencer marketing will not go back to what it was. 

The irrelevance of the Instagram grid

In a normal year, Love Island would be one of the national talking points right now. The contestants would be generating millions of new followers on Instagram and looking forward to future careers generating income via sponsored Instagram posts. This branch of influencer marketing, so en vogue just 6 months ago, now seems incredibly anachronistic. It is remarkable how quickly the zeitgeist has shifted. As the pandemic hit and our movements were restricted, it felt disingenuous to present a sun-drenched perfect life, when we are all living through the same severe challenges. The blatant selling of products via Instagram posts also appears to have eased in these times.

According to research by Kantar 92% of people are happy for brands to continue to advertise but 77% expect them to be helpful. This is the changed environment influencers and brands now operate in.

Realism over perfection

The collective experience of lockdown inspired people to look for attainable authenticity and focus on productive entertainment. Content creators also faced the same limitations as consumers when it comes to access to resources and travel. Under lockdown, they have had to adapt. As a result, new habits have formed and the new emphasis on creator content is realism over perfection. While interest in the Instagram grid waned, there has been a new appreciation of long-form video content with a 20.5% surge in subscribers on YouTube across multiple channels. This huge spike in viewership has been accompanied by the discovery of new channels and ultimately creators adapting their video formats to at-home production on YouTube and other video channels.So what does this mean for the future? Patreon CEO and YouTube creator Jack Conte sums it up well when he talks about theimportance of authenticity and how ‘perfectionism isn’t perfect when you’re a creator’. This is the direction of travel for the industry and the influencers who work in it. Not being perfect is about being authentic. This is what audiences demand now – and may have been what they wanted all along. During challenging times, they want influencers to show their influence through creating feelings of empathy not envy.

Laughter is the best medicine

One of the most authentic human experiences is of course laughter. This perhaps underpins the growth of TikTok during COVID. TikTok saw a 27% increase in engagement during lockdown and much of this was driven by humour. In the age of an unprecedented health crisis, TikTok has proved the old adage that laughter is the best medicine. The medium has also given us access to a creator’s personal and family life, behind the scenes content and accessible dance routines (with relatable jokes included). No one can look aspirational as they mess around to a dance routine and these dance moves have captivated audiences worldwide.

Influencers as homebodies

While predicting the long-term future is impossible, one thing that is apparent is that the home will remain our centre of existence for some time. Doubts about the viability of foreign travel and local lockdowns have reinforced this. Also, working patterns seem to have fundamentally shifted with more of us working from home. Therefore content creators that speak to us in our home settings are going to be more in demand than ever, offering much-needed connection and ensuring we don’t feel isolated.

Game on

One of the beneficiaries of this home-focused trend is the gaming category, which has seen dramatic growth, up 30.8% over the lockdown period. There is little sign of decline as some social distancing regulations are relaxed.  Gaming offers the perfect way for friends to socialise while socially distant. Releases like Animal Crossing, The Last of Us and PS5, meant gaming has formed part of our habits and found a place in our routines. Gaming is such a great leveller, with people from all walks of life connecting over games. Popular influencers are relatable gaming obsessives, just like their audiences, delighting in the same challenges and overcoming them together. Some of the best-known influencers have come from this category, like Pewdiepie and VanossGaming, and there is a fresh generation coming through to entertain home-bound gamers. For example, TommyInnit has more than doubled his subscribers under lockdown playing Minecraft.

Family and pet content soars

With families working at home under lockdown, there has been unprecedented demand for animals and pets. Animal shelters are even running low on dogs available for rehoming. Lockdown has inspired new and aspiring pet owners to turn to influencers for advice and entertainment. The viewership for animals and pets content spiked in May, as people made the (hopefully) long-term decision to purchase pets whilst in lockdown. These new-found dog owners are going to continue to gravitate toward pet educational content. Meanwhile, people and blogs and family content only saw an initial viewership spike of about 17% in the first month of lockdown. However, as viewership of other categories has waned, viewership of these categories is still 7.5%-10% up in June. This content has captured viewer’s hearts and shown that creators who make personality-driven content hold viewers’ attention in the long-run.

Adaptability key in a changing world

So do these trends signal the demise of influencers in categories that have continued to suffer like travel and fashion? Not necessarily. Lucy Wood is an influencer who gained popularity for her fashion haul videos where she tries brands as an “average size 14 girl”. However, under lockdown views of fashion and style content have declined by 13.7%, so Lucy branched out and established her Home Vlog series. Her audience utterly loves the wholesome sense of comforting normality they get from seeing her real day-to-day life through the pandemic. As Lucy demonstrates, in a shifting world, influencers will need to be adaptable and be prepared to pivot to suit changing and uncertain times. As our behaviour has shifted so we now require influencers who recognise these changed lives and speak to us in an authentic fashion.

A multi-platform approach

As well as adapting in terms of the type of content created, future influencers will need to adapt to new mediums that have risen like TikTok. Having the ability to engage audiences across multiple platforms is a smart way to extend your reach and tailor your offering. Increasing numbers of YouTube creators are now adapting content for TikTok or Instagram Stories, appreciating the different way these platforms work. This will make influencers more appealing for potential brand partnerships.The present and future influencer will need to be authentic; put their personality at the forefront of their videos and have a positive response to today’s challenges. The future influencer will also need to be comfortable with long-form video content and lives centred on the home foreseeable future. Ultimately they will need to answer the public’s need for engagement and distraction during uncertain times. This is the best way to remain relevant, whatever the future holds.
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