There is no question that things have shifted during the past few months — personally, professionally…everything. And while many businesses have pivoted (#1 word of 2020) in positive, impactful ways, one thing that’s gotten much more attention than usual is influencers and influencer marketing. Between a lot acting tone-deaf to many partnerships paused and affiliate programs slashed or eliminated, influencers are having a make or break moment. So what does this mean for their future? Here’s my take.
The Few, The Proud and the Ignorant
Last month, social media went crazy when several bloggers from NYC (I still call them bloggers) went against all the CDC and government guidelines and fled. Not a good idea but especially not after blasting to your half a million (impressionable) followers that it’s OK to leave the #1 hotspot for COVID in the United States and spread the germs around the country. Most notably, Arielle at Something Navy (who I don’t follow but you can read all about her fall from grace here) and then Naomi over at Love Taza, who I have followed for years and genuinely like but always thought living in a tiny New York City apartment with five small children to be my nightmare. But hey, to each their own. No wonder she wanted to flee for (literally) greener pastures and ended up in Arizona. I’m sure her children were happy to be able to have space as it’s important for kids to get outside and play. But she got SLAMMED on social and dragged through the negative press on her decisions. And then she posted an #ad which she quickly took down after backlash. Here’s more on that.
In addition to these specific cases, a lot of bloggers continued to post business as usual content, ignoring the fact that there was (and still is) a pandemic, and life as we know it is not the same, and they were still asking followers to swipe up for their $385 bracelet and whatnot. Which is OK, but as long as you do so with tact. A lot I saw would mention what was going on and say they are keeping things “light” around dark times. Others actually helped the cause. There was a lot of good, but a lot just kept posting despite some of their followers being laid off or furloughed or struggling to make ends meet. After all, there was a loss of 20.5 million jobs in April in the U.S. It’s tough because that’s literally their job but at the same time, have some empathy for your network. A slippery slope, indeed.
The Fall of the Affiliates
Sorry you’re bankrupt, J.Crew, but I need my swipe-ups”
Next, the case of swipe ups be gone. This month, J.Crew sadly filed for bankruptcy (which is commonplace any more with retail), but it also joined the ranks of Macy’s, T.J. Maxx, Ulta and more when it suspended its affiliate marketing program due to COVID-19 and budgets. And that’s not all: Amazon also reduced its affiliate revenue rate last month. Now first, I get it. Influencers make a lot of money on these affiliate links. I use affiliate links here and there and have made like $26. So if they choose to spend their time elsewhere because of this, that’s totally fine. But it’s HOW some did that backfired. Case in point, Sarah of Sassy Red Lipstick. I don’t follow her but an internet friend DM’d me with this when it happened and my mouth dropped:
As Stephanie McNeal from Buzzfeed so eloquently put it, “If an influencer admits the only reason they are sharing clothes with us is because they’re getting paid, it completely destroys the trust.”
NAIL ON THE HEAD. I’m sorry, but the things you share online should be things you genuinely like. Most influencers say this time and again that they only promote things that “align with their brands.” This blogger’s response is just so whiny (I do NOT feel sorry for you that try-ons take “hours”) and she clearly only does it for money. And again, this is her job and she should get paid, but it’s how she said it. If she would have said it a different way, again with empathy and honesty, I would have said OK I get that. And moved along.
On the other hand, another blogger Carly, stated things oh so perfectly. I didn’t follow her before, but now I do. Here she goes:
YES YES YES. Again, it comes down to tact. I love what Carly said and she genuinely loves J. Crew (I do too ever since I bought clogs from their catalog in like 1999). It’s all about how you say these things (and then follow through). I’ll be curious to see if J. Crew brings this program back and Sassy Red Lipstick does these try-ons again if that’s the case (my money’s on yes but I won’t be swiping up on hers, I’ll swipe for Carly).
Influencers for this period of time are kind of at a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” phase. Which sucks for them. But I’ve said this for a while that you cannot put all your blogging eggs in one basket. While it’s the dream to see a lot of these women not only doing this full time, but their husbands have also quit their jobs to work for them. Sounds great. But what if the bubble does, in fact, burst and affiliate links and partnerships go waaay down (or go away for good). Then what? Having a diversified income is key for long-term success. I hope the bubble doesn’t burst because it is a lucrative career. So what should influencers do?
- Get back to basics: I miss 2009 blogging where that’s what it was: blogging. Now, it’s beautiful Instagram posts and story after story and now throw TikTok in the mix where you have to be extremely creative or a great dancer. No wonder it’s a full-time job. But amongst the craziness of the world the last few months, a lot of brands are stripping their social down and getting back to basics by being just that, SOCIAL. No more curated images but rather talking one-on-one with their fans and asking what they want to see or providing different content to fit what’s going on. Many brands are already doing this and influencers should follow suit. I’m biased because I work for Beautycounter but the brand has definitely pivoted these last few months talking self-care beyond beauty. I love how they’re utilizing IGTV, live and stories to show content beyond skincare and makeup. Influencers can do the same – maybe do a roundup of small businesses in their areas and spotlight them. Or show ideas of how you can help different causes. Target also does posts and stories asking their followers what they want to see or just things that make them feel good, activating their community.
- Think like a brand: While yes, influencers and their channels are still a bright spot in dark days, they need to think more like brands. This can be taking a stance on things that could be polarizing, showing things that are in fact dark, and real, or even partnering with more brands for good. Take Chiara Ferragni, and Italian influencer who made a personal donation of 100,000 euros to a GoFundMe campaign to help hospitals in Italy (which has made more than 4 million dollars). And not as impressive but something small that goes a long way: Beth at Seersucker and Saddles has a new cookbook and as I was scrolling stories today she said 100% of the proceeds are going to No Kid Hungry Today. Smart, easy, impactful.
- Diversify and have a long-term plan: WWD just reported that influencers are losing 33 percent of their income right now, due to COVID-19. As I mentioned, diversifying right now is key to long-term success as an influencer. Who knows what lasting impact this will have on budgets. Even the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale, the influencer “Super Bowl” is postponed. Business Insider has a new article about how influencers continue to make money. And pro tip: DO NOT buy followers! Loop giveaways are all the rage right now (I hate them) and while many gain followers from this, these are NOT high-quality followers and this will kill your engagement numbers in the long run, which is way more important than a follower count.
I will be curious to see what the influencer industry looks like in six months, and then one year. While I don’t think it’s going away, it’s definitely shifting, and smart influencers (and the brands who work with them) need to think more about the proper ways to shift with it, to stay relevant and keep making money. What are your thoughts?