Laura is an Account Manager working across several FMCG brands in Edelman, including Coca-Cola, Diet Coke, Coca-Cola Energy, smartwater, Fanta, Honest Organic, fuzetea and Danone Yogurt. With a wealth of experience in influencer marketing for several successful campaigns, Laura reflects on the impact COVID-19 has had on the area, sharing her learnings and insights on the subject and predictions for the future.  

COVID-19 has undeniably impacted brand strategies for 2020 and in turn influencer marketing: product launches have been delayed; sponsorships have been paused; big moments and campaigns are on hold. The Irish marketing landscape is almost unrecognisable compared to a few months ago. Brands have had to adapt to the current climate, and rightly so. At Edelman we understand the importance of aligning our clients’ brands with the right content creators and influential voices. Having a detailed framework in place, which ensures each influencer’s reach, authority, relatability and accessibility matches the brand’s objectives, will mean a well-matched partnership. However, we too have had to adapt to reflect the current climate. The content we once would have seeded out may no longer be as relevant or sensitive to our new environment. Ensuring the content from the influencers we work with reflects this, is extremely important.

The challenges when it comes to influencer marketing during this time could have never been predicted. Both brands and influencers have had to revaluate how they communicate and what is appropriate. Thoughtful and responsible content is a must and brands and influencers need to acknowledge what is happening in their community. An honest check of who their followers are and what they need is something all influencers need to consider if they want their community to continue to thrive in this environment and stay relevant.  We power partnerships between our client’s trusted brands and​ influencers to drive cultural relevance and evolve, promote and protect their brands and reputations. This has not changed during COVID-19, if anything it has enabled us to create new types of content for brands during such unprecedented times. Our overall approach to influencer marketing has had to change. Working alongside our influencers we have created content that is both sensitive to the times we are in, but also adds value to our target audience’s lives. For our Snickers campaign – launching their new light and crispy bar, Snickers Crisp - the type of content became more important than before. We conducted in depth social listening to assess the environment and it became apparent people were craving light humour to keep them entertained. We knew we needed to be sensitive, but mindful that Snickers’ tone of voice is cheeky. Partnering with influencers to create light and fun content around our ‘new normal’ – such as zoom calls, quizzes, home haircuts and making banana bread – which had not necessarily been commonplace before, ensured both the brand and the influencers maintained their own tone of voice but also encouraged a light sense of relief for their audiences.

I spoke to TV Presenter and Stylist Darren Kennedy to hear how he has adapted his approach to content, he said ‘I’m always very in tune with gauging the sentiment of what’s happening in the world and in life, and obviously a pandemic has affected everyone globally. I am conscious I need to be aware, that for example clothes, which is something that before this I would post regularly, is not necessarily a top priority for a lot of people. People have lost their jobs and have been affected in various ways. It is being sensitive to the fact that we are stuck in our houses and in the early days I didn’t feel it was appropriate. As much as I have been very real, I’ve also tried to bring a touch of positivity into my content’.

At Edelman, social listening and being in tune with what is trending online is essential to creating great influencer and branded partnerships. Acknowledging Darren’s creativity and trusted influence we partnered with him for our Aperol campaign where the product was featured as a part of his Cocktail Hour for the June Bank Holiday weekend.

Darren Kennedy has brought new kinds of content to his Instagram page during this time, with his Cocktail Making Classes and Secret Life of Celebrity Pets Interview Series: ‘When you encounter an obstacle, you should get creative and knuckle down and you have to find ways to overcome it. When COVID hit, I knew I needed to do something that was very authentic and genuine for me and that will feel fresh, have an uplifting vibe to it and will be interesting and engaging and that is what I did with The Secret Life of Celebrity Pets and my weekly Cocktail Making Class. We all need to adapt, and I needed to adapt to reflect the new world we’re in now and keep business going’.  

I don’t believe this is the end of Influencer Marketing. If anything, it is a new beginning we never knew we needed. It is important to note that Influencer Marketing shot to the forefront of brand strategy for many reasons, the main one being – it works, and works well. Influencers will always have an impact on brands, what we buy and our social beliefs. COVID-19 has allowed for a welcome shake up among influencers and the brands they work with. It has been an opportunity for both brands and influencers to pause and reflect on the content we produce and the purpose of that content.

Well known Irish foodie and Hike Life Founder Roz Purcell is adamant that now more than ever people of influence need to be conscious of what they are using their platform for, she said: ‘I think, and this is what I have always stood by, that content needs to add value. With anything I share I always ask, what is the value in the post that will benefit my audience? Whether it is a workout or a recipe or good news piece – I always make sure all my content offers something valuable and I think this will be the expectation going forward. I do think influencers will need to be mindful of the brands they work with and the products they promote, and we’ll need to become more creative in how we share content’.

While social activity during a pandemic should be approached with caution and care, there’s still a place for brands and influencers to tell stories – and with social media engagement growing, there’s an opportunity for brands to link with influencers who can help them create useful, inspiring and entertaining content. The importance of human connection has never been more apparent as it is now. This is a time to create goodwill, increase trust with audiences and use social platforms for good but let’s not forget, being creative doesn’t happen at a snap of a finger, especially during a pandemic, it takes hard work and dedication to get into that space from both the brand and the influencer’s perspective.

Singer Songwriter Erica Cody can attest to this when asked about the challenges she faces during this time; Plucking creativity out of nothing really. I write about life experiences/relationships - even just spending the day out with friends helps me get inspired. So, it’s been a bit of a challenge in a creative sense’.

36% of influencers are seeing a significant increase in their impressions and engagement through their Instagram audiences over the last 2 months. Lifestyle Influencer Niamh O’Sullivan has seen a dramatic growth in her engagement ‘I’m so grateful to have seen growth and an increase in engagement and views. It’s a huge motivator for me. I think people are more inclined to send a message in response to stories and posts now, purely because they have more time’.

Roz Purcell has also seen this shift ‘The followers and engagement on the Natural Born Feeder Instagram page has grown significantly in the past number of weeks and likewise on my personal account. People are looking to connect and engage with others online and to find a sense of community now more than ever before’.

Although some brand partnerships may currently be on hold, influencers should use this pause to take the time to focus on their creativity and showcase content creation skills, delivering relevant messages and forging connections. If you are asking for people’s attention during this stressful time you need to be able to support them by offering a solution or outlet - creating entertaining content, supporting the community, or inspiring and uplifting spirits. While it is okay to share light-hearted, aspirational content, it’s important to do so without coming across as insensitive.

Social distancing and government guidelines in Ireland, and across the world, have massively affected the areas where brands use influencers the most - retail, dining, and travel. As the country begins to open up again from the end of the month, navigating this new marketing world requires both brands and influencers to be flexible, to pivot and adapt their approach. The future is a little unknown, but what we can do at this time is get creative, build relationships, and seek out opportunities. Influencer Marketing may be changing, but brands and influencers that adapt in the right way will not only survive, but they will thrive during and after COVID-19.