Influencer marketing was already a rapidly growing industry – estimated to be worth around $6.5 billion last year – but COVID-19 is fast-tracking development in the space, most notably in the area of social commerce. 

With consumers spending more time at home and unable to ‘go shopping’ in the traditional sense, they are increasingly reliant on the internet and ecommerce. In particular, shoppers are flocking to social media platforms such as Instagram – which saw views double in a week during the peak of the pandemic in Italy. These platforms provide a source of inspiration, entertainment, exploration and play, and users are impulse buying based on social content and the recommendations of influencers or creators.   

This sudden shift in behaviour is pushing brands to alter the focus of influencer marketing strategies. Instead of simply using influencers as brand ambassadors to promote awareness and affinity, brands are taking a more performance-based approach, working with influencers to create content around specific products and services and directly drive sales. Unlike conventional brand ad campaigns which require a studio-based production team, influencers can create engaging content for any sector from home, making influencer marketing an attractive proposition for brands at this time of social distancing. Ecommerce tech for influencer marketing is developing rapidly, allowing brands to put checkouts behind shoppable tags within social content and enable one-click purchasing; a simpler and more streamlined evolution of the affiliate model. 

As influencer marketing and social commerce accelerate it is becoming an integral element of the wider marketing plan rather than a stand-alone tactic. But while this is an incredibly positive trend, brands still need to ensure the fundamentals are in place before embarking on an influencer strategy. The key concerns marketers have around influencer marketing – such as transparency, brand safety and the ability to prove effectiveness – haven’t been swept away by the pandemic, but the technologies are now developing to allow them to be addressed.      

Auditing influencers and their audiences 

Before deciding to work with an influencer, brands need in-depth insight into their audience – beyond just number of followers – to ensure a good fit with the brand’s own target audience. Using the latest machine-learning technologies, brands can audit influencers’ active audiences, gaining granular insights on age and gender split, geographic location, psychographic characteristics, and frequently used hashtags. Brands can investigate audience quality, revealing how many followers are genuine consumers and how many are other influencers, mass followers or suspicious accounts that may be fraudulent. They can explore active times of day to ensure they are running campaigns at times of peak traffic on the influencer’s channel. 

In addition to assessing audiences, brands can audit influencer activity. They can assess existing content to establish posting frequency and determine average engagement rates, likes and comments for recent posts. They can assess brand mentions to see if the influencer works with similar brands, and can see if these posts resonate with the target audience. These audits should be based on dynamic, real-time data collected from avatars, hashtags, comments and location tags, to give an accurate picture of the influencer at the moment of analysis. Results will only be achieved by the right influencer with the right audience, and finding that perfect combination means digging into live data rather than relying on historical information.  

Ensuring brand safety in influencer campaigns 

Influencer marketing is a highly engaging channel, with 80% of marketers believing influencer-generated assets perform the same or better than brand-created assets. Creators are at the forefront of social trends, know how to capture their audience’s attention and bring unique personality to their content. But the same characteristics that make influencer marketing so effective can also make it feel risky for brands as they can’t control or predict what creators will do and how that could impact their brand. 

Advanced analytics can go a long way to reassuring brands about the safety and suitability of influencer content. Tech can be used to asses existing posts – including images, captions and comments – to ensure they don’t relate to inappropriate or potentially damaging themes such as violence, nudity or spoof, and to score content against a brand safety index. Content and comments can also be analysed for sentiment to determine how positive or negative they are and to quantify the strength of emotion they evoke. Images can be examined to ensure they are authentic and not simply copied form the web. All these data points can help marketers establish whether their brand is in safe hands.   

Ongoing campaign monitoring and analytics 

While analysis of audience, activity, brand safety and sentiment can be used to audit an influencer prior to working with them, these techniques can also be used to monitor and analyse campaigns in-flight. Marketers can understand who their campaigns are reaching and how audiences are engaging with branded content, as well as continually monitoring audience quality and brand safety. They gain full transparency into influencer campaigns and can see which creators and strategies are the most effective, ultimately delivering competitive advantage. By automating insight, brands are able to work with multiple creators which enables them to achieve scale in influencer campaigns.   

COVID-19 has pressed fast-forward on influencer marketing, and related developments around social commerce that the industry wasn’t expecting to see until at least 2021 are already happening now. But before brands get too carried away with the new possibilities of performance-based content creation and social commerce they need robust analytics in place to audit influencer partners, ensure brand safety and provide full transparency into their influencer campaigns.