Influencer Marketing During Coronavirus: Do’s and Don’ts for Brands

As people all over the world have adapted to life during the coronavirus pandemic, brands have pivoted their marketing and communications plans accordingly. A key element of those strategies that must be reevaluated and reimagined for our new reality is influencer marketing. While still new territory for many companies, influencer marketing has remained an effective method of connecting with audiences throughout each phase of the quarantine, making it an even stronger platform for present and future campaigns.

So, what should brands be doing when it comes to influencer marketing amidst a global pandemic? To help you navigate the best path for your business, our Influencer Relations Team pulled together a guide of do’s and don’ts, informed by our current client work, industry trends and conversations with our network of trusted influencer partners.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Influencer Marketing During COVID-19

DON’T miss the opportunity to connect with your audiences at home
As people all over the world spend more time at home and practice social distancing, 44% of internet users say they have increased their social media usage to stay informed, fill time and connect with others. Social media influencer and blogger Danasia Fantastic of @theurbanrealist shared that views of her Instagram stories have more than doubled since before stay-at-home orders began, and she has seen higher engagement from many of her followers. Similarly, Heather Brown of @mylifewellloved says she has “noticed an increase in online engagement and interaction as more moms are home with their kids and have more availability to be online.” Brands may not be able to reach their audiences through large events or other out-of-home channels, but they have a captive audience in social influencers’ followers – and those followers are hungry for content that makes life easier or more enjoyable while spending time at home.

DO tailor your content to at-home audiences
Brands should not simply lift and shift their previously planned out-of-home communications to execute influencer campaigns. Branded influencer content during this time should either meet a need or offer encouragement. According to Kantar’s COVID-19 Barometer, nearly a third of consumers say they want brands to help them through this difficult time or provide advice, such as tips for maintaining fitness while at home or staying motivated while working remotely.

When restaurant dining rooms closed, Alyssa Fagien of @atl_bucketlist began rounding up and promoting Atlanta locations offering takeout and delivery to appeal to her followers who may be looking for nearby options for lunch and dinner. And as restaurants in Atlanta reopened, she spotlighted locations with al fresco dining options. Similarly, Danasia has been sharing home improvement DIY tips, and Heather has been compiling creative ways for moms to keep their kids entertained, like a scavenger hunt printable. “Since I am in the same boat as these mamas, I want to make them feel supported and validated,” says Heather.

Because time spent outdoors is increasingly important right now – and it’s the peak of mosquito season – JS recently executed an influencer campaign for Orkin Pest Control that helped homeowners keep pesky mosquitoes away. By treating influencers’ yards for pests, Orkin worked with influencers to provide helpful tips and information about a home service that many people may find useful or necessary during this time. And, as an added bonus, Orkin tied a CSR component to the campaign by making a donation to the American Red Cross for every person who signed up for Mosquito Control Service throughout the month of May.

DON’T be tone deaf
“My #1 criteria when vetting a partnership is whether or not it would come off as tone deaf to what we are all going through,” says Alyssa. Brands and influencers can miss the mark and risk backlash with posts that are blatantly promotional, self-congratulatory, overly upbeat or appear to disregard health guidelines. If you have even the slightest concern that your campaign could potentially be considered tone deaf, we recommend postponing it until later in the year or even canceling it altogether. However, if you’re questioning how your campaign may be received, it also can be helpful to run the concept by a trusted influencer partner for a second opinion – after all, they know their followers best!

DO explore philanthropic opportunities with influencers
According to Kantar’s COVID-19 Barometer, 47% of consumers expect brands to support hospitals during the pandemic, either by donating funds or using production facilities to create equipment. Some brands are working with influencers to get the word out about the steps they’re taking to help frontline healthcare workers, while others are partnering with influencers to promote timely products (e.g., facemasks) for which all proceeds will be donated to charity.

In Dallas, our JS team recently leveraged influencers to drive donations for The Thanks-Giving Foundation’s Serving Up Gratitude program, an initiative that provides meals from local restaurants to frontline heroes. Leaning into our influencer network in North Texas, we were able to engage a combination of micro- and macro-influencers across three content niches – lifestyle, food and Dallas-specific – to boost awareness for the program. Using Instagram Story challenges and other shareable content, we helped create a ripple effect of influencers tagging one another and driving conversation around Serving Up Gratitude. The program was met with overwhelmingly positive feedback from the community and surpassed more than $200,000 in donations in less than one month.

DON’T forget influencers are small business owners
It’s important to remember that influencers are also small business owners supporting themselves through a recession. As you would with any business partner, approach them with compassion, and look for ways to collaborate based on the interests of their followers.

Many influencers’ sponsored campaigns have been significantly reduced due to the crisis, so it’s important – always, but especially now – that brands are good partners when it comes to executing mutually beneficial campaigns and meeting payment deadlines. “As a small business owner where I’m my only full-time employee, I didn’t qualify for the SBA aid or the PPP, and I don’t qualify for unemployment since I work for myself,” says Danasia.

DO vet potential influencers for appropriate messages and actions
Through all this chaos, how should brands be vetting influencers and finding the right partnerships for their business? One important consideration is how the influencer is responding to current events. If influencers appear to disregard social distance regulations, make insensitive comments or share tone-deaf messages, they can hurt your brand’s reputation by association. Review the content each influencer has posted over the last few months and consider how it could be perceived by others. Keep in mind that influencers you approach will vet your brand for shared values as well. While brand alignment is always important, it is pertinent, especially now, to choose partners who can enhance a customer’s trust in your company. Consumers are hyper-sensitive to how brands are conducting themselves during this time, and the decisions you make now can have a lasting impact on opinions about your company and its future success.

Although COVID-19 has put a lot of marketing efforts on hold, it also presents an opportunity to reach a captive audience through the channels to which they’re turning for helpful, relevant content during a time of uncertainty. Depending on the goal and concept, influencer marketing may be a wise solution for brands looking for a cost-effective and scalable marketing strategy that will be remembered well beyond the end of isolation. If you need help thinking through the right influencer partners, messaging and approach for your brand, we’re here for you and would love to help!