Have influencers come of age during the COVID-19 crisis, or have they just grown up?

Amid the uncertainties that the global pandemic presents, two things are clear: first, people are spending way more time consuming social content, and second, there’s a clear demand for credible and helpful information.

Influencers are a powerful voice during the coronavirus crisis, writes Kerry Sclater
Influencers are a powerful voice during the coronavirus crisis, writes Kerry Sclater

This has led to a steep growth in the impact of influencers and a profound realisation of the power they wield.

A cornerstone of this has been the World Health Organization’s partnership with influencer-dominated platform TikTok to tackle the spread of misinformation. 

The WHO’s profile on the platform quickly amassed more than one million followers, leading it to be dubbed by Forbes as the ‘World’s most important influencer’.

We’ve also seen social platforms unify influencer content with interface developments (such as the 'Know the Facts' button on Twitter) and the Instagram ‘Stay at Home’ sticker legitimising influencer content, by curating and spotlighting it at the top of everyone’s Stories. 

Beyond social platforms, influencers have had an impact on the news agenda on traditional mass-media channels, which often feature them as representatives of national opinion. 

One example is Joe Wicks, whose live home workout sessions have resulted in countless interviews across news channels, and an alleged deal with Channel 4 to create new shows.

More revelatory than the practical content created by influencers to entertain and occupy us while at home is their consecration as public opinion leaders. 

Influencers are having an impact on the national, political and news agendas on a scale that we’ve never seen before, mobilising key elements of rhetoric like ‘Stay at home. Save lives.’ 

We saw #ClapForOurCarers go from a single social-media post to a national event, largely thanks to influencer shares and endorsements.

We’re also increasingly seeing a power-shift away from traditional celebrities towards influencers, with the backlash to celeb-instigated viral content like the ‘Imagine’ cover demonstrating that influencers can be more in tune with the nation.

Perhaps this is more an example of how celebrities are losing impact compared to influencers.

The growth in time spent online has also spurred a revival of ‘content for content’s sake’, with a focus on the authentic, funny and surreal over the polished, filtered and staged. 

This presents the perfect opportunity for a savvy brand to invest in influencer content, with the caveat that collaboration and trust in their nuanced understanding of the audience is critical.

So what does this all mean? 

Influencers have become proxies for public opinion and are already having a manifest effect on the nation’s behaviours. 

We can also see that influencers continue to have an impact on the brands and platforms that originally dictated their content – a shift that can only be beneficial for brand partnerships if they respect the influencers’ expertise.

Taken to its extreme, does this mean influencers will be called on as official mouthpieces, political proxies, or even policymakers in the virtual democracies of the future? 

It’s a dystopian idea for some, but a more representative landscape for others.

Among the many designations influencers have attributed to them – bloggers, creators, talent, ‘post-influencers’ – it seems a new one should be added: impactors.

Kerry Sclater is senior account executive, content and strategy, at Good Relations


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