How COVID-19 has halted Influencer marketing – and what to do about it
Kristina: There was a massive uptick in the use of influencer campaigns starting about 18 months ago. COVID-19 has nearly halted influencer spending – why is that?
Mike Ong, VP, BIGO Technology: COVID-19 has severely disrupted businesses and created unprecedented uncertainties all over the world. The halt in influencer spending is a reflection of these uncertainties as more and more people are under various forms of movement restriction, unemployment continues to surge and consumers become more discerning in their spending.
That said, it has opened up new opportunities and hastened the pace of digitalization across all sectors of the economy. This is because more people are getting connected online and spending more time surfing the internet. The online captive audience is perhaps the largest ever in history. Techcrunch reported a record $23.4 billion spending on apps in Q1 2020 and social media today reported an increase of 20% time-spent on apps. These point to an increase in online activities and consumer spending. So, we see this as merely a pause in influencer marketing as businesses make adjustments to their marketing campaigns and spending patterns shift from businesses to consumer’s direct spending on influencers.
Live-streaming is one such avenue in which influencer marketing holds great potential during these difficult times as it also enables social interactions amidst people grounded in their homes. We are seeing more influencers getting onto platforms such as Bigo Live, Facebook Live, LiveMe, Twitch and Youtube. And herein lies an interesting difference between Bigo Live and other platforms. Bigo Live enables the influencers to have dual sources of revenue – from the marketing company and from the viewers who reward the influencers using virtual gifts purchased in-app. The virtual gifts cost as little as $1.00.
Kristina: Was the influencer space due, so to speak, for a bit of an adjustment anyway? Did the pandemic simply make that adjustment a bigger deal than it might have been on its own?
Mike: Influencer marketing as a concept is not new and has been around for a long time. Over the years, the industry has been gradually adapting to the increased online and mobile connectivity of people as well as the wide array of social media apps through strengthening their online marketing presence. The COVID-19 pandemic has, without doubt, quickened the pace of digitization for the industry, not only for survival but also to take advantage of the increased demand for online creative content during these times.
Beyond digitalization, we also see that the competition for views and ‘likes’ will become more intense as more and more ordinary folks enter the influencer space during this period. Live-streaming apps, in particular, democratize broadcasting and the “celebrity” experience. It empowers everyday people to be creative in their own ways, interact with others, and win over followers. Further, the pandemic has increased viewers’ demand for real-time social interactions and this will reshape the influencer market from the text- and image-based content to real-time live-streaming content.
With these shifts, we have seen the rise of notable non-celebrity influencers, such as Kristina Kuzmic (a mother who shares real-life struggles online), Khalid al Ameri (an Emirati who shares his Islamic life journey with his friends) and Nas Daily (a travel blogger who shares 1-minute snippets daily). On the other hand, we have also seen celebrities take to vlogging and live-streaming outside the confines and safety of their professional studio; Dwayne Johnson, Trevor Noah, Ellen DeGeneres are but a few who have taken on this new way of interaction.
Kristina: Is it all influencer spending that has slowed or is the slowdown more focused on stagnant Instagram or Facebook posts?
Mike: As mentioned earlier, the industry is adjusting to the shifts towards digital content and real-time social interactions as people seek to maintain contact with the ‘outside world’ during this period. People are also looking for creative content instead of static text/images to occupy their time. Hence, we also see the increasing popularity of the short-form video space dominated by TikTok and Likee, in addition to the live-streaming and gaming space.
Unlike the usual popular social media platforms where the dominant content is static imagery, short-form video and live-streaming formats differ and appeal to Gen Z and Millennials as they capture their imagination and demand for creative, interactive content instantaneously. Companies are also becoming increasingly aware that investment into traditional digital platforms may not reach out to these groups of people.
Kristina: What is stepping into the gap created by the slow-down of influencer campaigns?
Mike: This is just a pause in influencer marketing as businesses make adjustments to the new realities under the pandemic. We will see this picking up and becoming more intense in the coming months as the influencer space becomes more creative and competitive through live-streaming and short-form videos. Traditional digital platforms have a higher barrier to entry and a more complex way of monetisation. Sometimes, it takes a long time before the influencer is able to monetise and build mindshare. Compare this with live-streaming where the barriers to entry are lower and less complex, with the influencer being able to monetise almost immediately. This encourages more content creators to take to apps like Bigo Live as an alternative to other platforms.
Kristina: What does live-stream broadcasting bring to the table that earlier influencer posts did not?
Mike: Live-streaming apps not only democratize broadcasting and the “celebrity” experience, but it also offers real-time social interactions between influencers and their followers. With live streaming, there is an endearing rawness that is presented. Unlike edited videos, you are unable to have a “do-over” and there’s no hiding behind filters. The increasing popularity of live-streaming commensurate with the changing demands of viewers from text- and image-content to real-time live-streaming content.
Kristina: How can brands harness the power of live-streaming content?
Mike: Brands can showcase their products via influencer experience. Not only will it be a product showcase, but it is also now interconnected with personal opinion and experience. Consumers who are interested in the product can ask questions and have them answered in real-time. Brands can then leverage the creativity of the live-streamer to engage viewers, thereby creating a unique infotainment atmosphere.
On Bigo Live, some of the live-streamers use their streams for e-commerce purposes. They organize virtual bidding, which then adds a different layer of excitement. Companies who wish to expand their consumer base can partner influencers to distribute their products for market penetration and increase brand awareness.