Is It Nuts to Do an Influencer Program Right Now?

May 27, 2020

By Jim Lin, EVP, Executive Director, Digital

“Is it nuts to do an influencer program right now?”

If you’re a marketing or PR professional, you’ve probably been asked this a few times already. Perhaps you’ve hedged your bets a little by answering “well… not exactly, but…”

It’s what comes after that “but” that’s likely given you some pause. That was the question that I, along with Tulani Elisa of FOX Entertainment, Lisa Perez of Savage X Fenty, and Hope Trumbull of Social Native, sought to answer on a recent Social Media Week panel. Like all conferences these days, this one was held virtually. Aside from losing my internet connection for five minutes, this was just like a real panel. No, no it wasn’t. Nothing is like it once was.

Ignore my resting quarantine face. I was actually happy to be there.

And that is the important point here. Nothing is like it was. All things need to be re-thought, including influencer marketing. We discussed a number of influencer topics in the age of COVID-19 (and in general). Long story short, it’s not nuts. However, there are some key “buts” to keep in mind when the environment for marketing can be touchy.

Know your context

Yes, people are engaging with influencers more than ever, now that social media usage has increased. However, be mindful of what people are turning to influencers for. It could be for tips, how-to content or inspiration while the world is locked down. Be mindful of this context with your influencer program. Work with the influencers to create content that is sensitive to this context and find a relevant way to integrate what you’re promoting into their (and their audience’s) reality. Find relevance, not sunshine and flowers. Pandemic or no. 

Be helpful

Related to the above, consumers are looking for content that helps them deal with our reality right now. Does your influencer content help them with that? Use this as your lens for whatever influencer program you embark on, so that you can enhance, not clutter, their feeds. “Not helpful” might be ignored in normal times, but in times of uncertainty or anxiety, “not helpful” will more likely be seen as tone deaf, insensitive or opportunistic. And it doesn’t have to be a recipe or craft. Right now, even a good laugh is helpful.

Be relatable

There’s a reason that many quarantine photos from celebrities are experiencing backlash on social media right now. Most of us can’t relate. Influencers stuck in their apartments, though? Relatable. Anxiety over 4th grade math? Very relatable. This is not time for aspirational content. Double down on influencers with whom consumers can relate. Work to create content that audiences can identify with. Right now, consumers are looking to influencers for ideas they can use right now, not one day.

Audiences as focus groups

Everybody knows that influencers influence. However, influencers can also elicit reactions from their audience. This is gold. Don’t just look at numbers. Take a good look at the qualitative data that comes from comments. Comments are the best barometer to inform your brand where your audiences’ heads are at. What do they care about? What resonates best with them? Take some time to read the comments and you’ll discover insights about your brand or potential customers that your marketing team might not have predicted. Comments are one of the best ways to assess your brand “in the wild” to see what’s most relevant right now because I’m sure you didn’t measure “how our brand would fare in a pandemic” in your last focus group.

Amplify with care

Who doesn’t want to take content they’ve spent money creating and get it in front of more people? Sounds easy enough right? But keep in mind one thing: when you remove the audience from the influencer, the influencer ceases to be an influencer—they become a creator. Before boosting an influencer’s content, make sure that their content is compelling enough to stand on its own with an audience that has no connection to that influencer. If this passes the test, make sure you’re targeting the boost to an audience that matches the influencer’s audience in interests and demographics. Content is not one-size-fits-all. This is one reason why influencers are such an effective tactic in the first place—they appeal to their specific audience.

After reading this, my hope is that you’ve probably come to the conclusion that all of these tips apply to any situation, in any time. If so, you’ve gotten the point. Relevance applies anytime, anywhere. Strive to be relevant at all times, and your influencer program will enjoy success.