The rise of a global pandemic is prompting brands and companies to pause and evaluate their marketing strategies, from traditional ad placements to influencer marketing. Now is the time to stop and think about where your marketing dollars are being spent.

Social media usage among consumers has seen a sharp increase during the Covid-19 pandemic. According to data from Kantar, social media engagement “in later stages of the pandemic” has increased by 61 percent over normal usage rates. The use of video platforms is also steadily increasing, and we’re seeing celebrities and brands leveraging Instagram Live to entertain and connect with their audiences. Just in March, TikTok saw a 27 percent increase in downloads from February, with 6.2 million downloads.

During this unprecedented event, trusted social media influencers continue to be a reliable source of information and an effective, authentic way to communicate with your audience. In the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report: In Brands We Trust, we found 63 percent of 18-to-34-year-olds trust what an influencer says about a brand more than what the brand says about itself in advertising. We also know influencers earn trust, advocacy and ultimately sales for brands.

However, influencer marketing is only the right path forward if you’re doing it for the right reasons and in partnership with trusted influencers.

Working with trusted voices has always been important, but it has never been more critical than it is today. The decisions you make now will have long-term effects on your brand. In fact, 71 percent of those surveyed for the 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer: Special Report on Brand Trust and the Coronavirus Pandemic agreed that brands and companies seen placing profits before people during this crisis will lose their trust forever.

So, how do you know if deploying a new—or continuing an existing—influencer marketing strategy in a Covid-19 world is the right move?

Is influencer marketing the right strategy for you during the Covid-19 pandemic?

Before you decide to reallocate funds toward, or move funds away, from influencer marketing, ask yourself, your team and your agency partners these difficult but important questions:

  • What is the goal of my proposed or current influencer marketing strategy?
  • How does my influencer marketing strategy solve a problem or bring value to the audience it is targeting?
  • Am I providing information they will perceive as valuable in the current landscape?
  • If I were someone who has been deeply affected by this pandemic, how would I respond to seeing this influencer campaign? Could it be perceived as insensitive, tone-deaf or opportunistic in any way?
  • How are we adding value to the community and our audience outside of our influencer marketing? Are we donating meals, money or time to help our community?

Once you have decided to move forward, ensure you have an airtight plan in place, with contingency plans for each step of the way.

How to execute a compassionate, authentic influencer marketing strategy in a Covid-19 world

  1. Audience integration: Take extra care to ensure you’re choosing the right influencers and partners that match your brand’s voice and values, fit within your budget, and reach your target audiences on the right platforms for your campaign. The wrong influencer partner can make even the most inspiring campaigns fall flat.

    Ask yourself questions, such as: Who is the audience I’m trying to reach? What do I want the audience to do once I reach them? What tier of influencer makes the most sense for my campaign—micro-influencer, top-tier influencer, celebrity?

  2. Intelligent vetting: We know partnering with trusted influencers is more important now than ever. Ensure you’re getting true impact with your target audience through intelligent vetting.

    Use influencer marketing tools and spend time manually vetting potential influencers to review and analyze metrics, such as engagement, follower spikes, audience geography, comment quality, percentage of fake followers/likes and social history for offensive content, competitive partnerships and their approach to Covid-19.

  3. Co-creation: Influencer content can’t be directed or created in a vacuum by the influencer or the brand alone. The most impactful influencer marketing campaigns will be the result of genuine collaboration between the brand and the influencer, resulting in compelling and compassionate content that leaves a lasting impression on its intended audience.
  4. True impact: Your influencer marketing strategy is only as successful as your measurement plan. If you’re not accurately analyzing and measuring your influencer campaign from start to finish, there is no clear way to understand its impact. Spend the time to develop a measurement strategy by establishing KPIs across the funnel and throughout the customer journey to ensure your influencer marketing strategy is delivering its intended effect.

    In addition to measuring traditional KPIs such as impressions, engagements and link clicks, make sure you’re analyzing audience sentiment in the context of Covid-19.

Influencer marketing plays a critical role in your overall marketing strategy, but it’s nuanced and requires thoughtful strategy and planning based on your specific goals. As this situation continues to shift, we will evolve the work we do in real-time to best serve the ever-changing needs of our clients.

Amanda Mizrahi is Vice President, Digital; Crystal Duncan is Senior Vice President, Influencer Marketing; and Andrew Schwalb is Vice President, Influencer Relations & Business Affairs.

Edelman is supporting businesses and organizations looking to better understand the Covid-19 pandemic and its public health implications; manage communications with employees and customers; and receive guidance on strategies and policies for effective preparedness and response efforts.

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