All hail a new-breed influencer has arrived. They look different, they sound different, and they provide a much-needed dose of realism, and commercialism detox. Over the past decade (circa 2007 more accurately) and most notably in the past five years we’ve seen influencers become people-powered celebrities through the democratisation of self-published, content creation at scale, via social media platforms.
And the influencers that consumers have looked to and that have had most of the marketing budget real estate are historically the genetically blessed. Fashion, lifestyle, travel and wellness influencers with model proportions have been filling the social media pipes en masse, promoting skin care ranges they’ve never used from a fully sponsored tropical destination alongside generic, personal development life advice. All with questionable follower numbers in what has been a game of ‘faked’ reality and reach.
In 2020 the power is shifting – accelerated by Covid, and amplified by the Black Lives Matter movement and of course earlier this year the Australian bushfire climate crisis. Consumer consumption of and engagement with social media during Covid Times is showing a lean in to influencers with advocacy credibility and away from the over-saturated highlight reels that they can’t relate to or connect with.
A marketer recently declared that influencers will become obsolete and fast. My opinion however is this; influencers aren’t going anywhere. They’re just getting warmed up. But the game has transformed in a matter of months along with consumer attitudes and with it our attention.
We want truth, authenticity, we want activism, we want to shop more consciously, we want to shop local and support small business, we want influencers with a cause beyond themselves and we want escapism that energises and doesn’t leave us feeling depleted by the curse of comparison.
We collectively care less about materialism, over-sponsored posts where it’s obvious that the endorsement came based on the exchange of a marketing budget and we care more about the greater good.
This year has been one of the most disruptive in living history. It’s left most experiencing unemployment and financial hardship as well as compromised health and psychological wellbeing – if not all of those things, all at once.
Because of this, we’re seeing aspirational affiliate, content marketing quietened and instead consumers drawn to people whose content is centred on giving back, value-based and deeply saddled in the cause to help others or something beyond themselves – influence through activism; cause-PR.
This shift doesn’t mean that aspirational content will disappear but consumers are asking themselves more than ever; does this inspire me or deplete me? Does this content creator help me or hinder me? And if I join them and their cause what are the values we’re sharing? What does supporting them, say about me?
There’s a fine line between aspiration and inspiration-turns-depletion and during Covid times consumers are more conscious about protecting themselves against content that de-motivates or compromises mental health. We have reached visual fatigue in the form of unattainable aspiration and embraced the seeking of content with more meaning.
Collaborating with influencers as a powerful PR strategy wont be obsolete anytime soon but the influencer-scape is indeed changing.
Social media voices of the now, fast-tracked by Covid are trusted changemakers who can swing the pendulum of discussion from politics to products with purpose. And the influencers with cause-PR narratives are growing a stan-like fan base with loyal fans who are responsive on calls to action. They join the influencer as a part of their own personal branding and identity.
While stuck at home with social lives stifled and limited physical contact we’re turning to social media to fill the void. This has meant that there’s been a significant shift in people going from being passive followers to proactively engaged and loyal contributors; seeking people of influence – or more so to engage with their captured community as a form of connection, purpose and support.
The trend to shop consciously, more sustainably, and support small and local business as well as join brands with a ‘just’ cause is not new; but it’s that we’re seeing it accelerated in Covid Life.
So what does this mean for the future of influencers or for businesses shuffling their ad-spend, marketing efforts, and PR budgets?
It means that now is the time to pause and evaluate your influencer investment and align with advocates who:
- Have a greater cause beyond commercial gains
- Consistently share aligned brand values at scale and position well with your business visually
- Consistently produce content across channels centred on value and giving back
- Lean in to the local, conscious, inclusive, and/or environmental movements
- Encourage and respond to community discussion beyond selling
- Produce content with transparency and foster goodwill and trust
- Deliver on information, entertainment or escapism in a thoughtful way that considers the impact of social issues and adjust the discourse appropriately ‘reads the room
While the influencer landscape is highly nuanced and fragmented it continues, to be an important and relevant piece of the PR puzzle to elevate and position a brand.
It’s not enough these days to just have beautiful packaging and design as well as an excellent product, service, user experience and digital journey (that of course make the lives of others better). Brands must absolutely stand for something beyond themselves. And to seek influencers that align with shared values and a greater cause as an important part of positioning and path to purchase.
What marketers must leave behind; the vanity metric of follower figures and likes on post numbers and lean into influencers who are producing content of value, and with shared values.
Influencers will continue to benefit from the capacity to be roving billboards for businesses looking for more affordable ways to advertise while traditional media continue to do the hot-shoe-shuffle; that wont change.
It is now the influencer era of doing good and supporting good, which can only be good for us all. It was time.
By Jade Roberts.
Jade Roberts is the founder and creative director of raraPR, a boutique creative PR agency based in Melbourne, Australia. Jade is dedicated to changing the discourse around what PR is, how it works and educates and implements sustainable PR strategies for businesses doing good in a kind PR environment centred on mentorship. Jade is a published writer for both national magazines and retail brands and has extensive agency and in-house consumer-led PR and brand strategy experience across two decades.