Usually at this point in April, we’d be midway through the ‘influencer olympics’ that is Coachella.
But Instagram – like the rest of the world – is a very different place to this time last year. With the world in lockdown, the familiar palm trees, ferris wheel and denim hot pants have been replaced by loaves of freshly baked bread, home workouts and tie dye lounge wear. Like the rest of us, influencers are having to adapt to their new normal.
Following such widespread disruption, all industries will be impacted, even once things go ‘back to normal’. But rather than revolutions, experts are predicting COVID-19 will accelerate trends that were gaining traction before the pandemic, like flexible working.
In the influencer space, the same will be true. The effects both content creators and brands are experiencing now, will see the following movements gain momentum.
#1 From curated to candid
While Instagram used to be a sea of perfect selfies and far flung destinations, lockdown has changed the game. It has given us a window into influencer’s everyday lives. More than ever before we’re seeing their off duty sweatpants and messy corners of their homes. But the trend for a less polished aesthetic had been becoming more popular, even before lockdown.
Consider TikTok. The app that is loved by Gen Z the world over is a very different place to Instagram. It’s more focussed on entertainment than aspiration. The New York Times called it “a place where people can let down their guards” and “act silly with their friends”. The videos that go viral on TikTok are funny and candid, not beautiful and considered.
This less contrived stream of content had begun to influence the Instagram aesthetic and we were starting to see more spontaneous content break through. Creators began sharing honest ‘before and after’ editing pictures and embracing body positivity. Curated was giving way to candid.
Australian influencer Jade Tunchy is a prime example. She runs two successful Instagram accounts, showing two very different sides of her personality. There’s @jadetuncy with it’s beautiful imagery, colour coordinated feed, and big brand collaborations. Then there’s @therealjadetunchy, a behind-the-scenes look of the less-than-perfect parts of her life. With it’s unfiltered outtakes and impressions, it’s the side of influencers you rarely get to see.
Then of course there is social sensation that is Emma Chamberlain. The 18-year-old engages millions across YouTube, Instagram and TikTok with her unpolished and relatable style. While it’s a word often over used in the influencer space, Emma’s irreverent content is truly authentic.
The popularity of TikTok – and accounts like Jade’s and Emma’s – prove social audiences’ appetite for a new kind of candid influencer content. As influencers continue to share their reality through lockdown, this is a trend we’ll see continue.
#2 Skillsets will diversify
Many influencers are losing collaboration gigs because of the coronavirus – and even those that aren’t are having to get creative. We’re already seeing the diversification of content. Fashion influencers, lacking their usual locations, are showing off their cooking skills. Travel influencers, grounded for the foreseeable, are sharing their yoga practise. But it’s the creators who can also diversify their skillsets that will thrive through this period.
Brands still need content. Influencers who are also photographers, videographers, stylists, can fill the gap left by cancelled brand shoots. Most are already used to working independently and at home, so are well placed to deliver branded content within isolation restrictions. Not to mention their extensive knowledge of what resonates on social media.
As the influencer space has become more competitive and the standards of content creation have soared, brands have already begun using these creators as photographers and videographers. By tapping into them as a diverse network of freelancers, they have been able to get their hands on engaging assets, quickly and cheaply.
If influencers can capitalise on their skills and diversify their revenue streams, this is likely to secure more reliable work for them now and into the future – and give brands a more extensive network to choose from. Influencers have proved themselves agile entrepreneurs in the past. I believe this is a pivot many will take to help them thrive through lockdown.
#3 Brands will find value in virtual
While regular influencers grapple with isolation restrictions, virtual influencers are experiencing no such hardship. In fact these CGI creations can go anywhere their creators send them.
In recent years we’ve seen a small subset of digital influencers hit the mainstream, like @lilmiquela and @shudu.gram. Even KFC debited their own virtual influencer. Now this pandemic and its restrictions could see the trend propelled further.
In recent weeks, Knox Frost, a virtual influencer with more than 1 million Instagram followers, has worked with the World Health Organisation to spread reliable COVID-19 information. Or rather his creators’ Influential did in a pro bono campaign.
The collaboration was seen as a good way to connect with Gen Z and Millennial audiences. After all, that’s what these virtual influencers have been designed to do. Knox Frost has covered issues like anxiety, loneliness and mental health on his account before and – real or not – his million followers clearly connect with the content.
While some brands have made the leap and collaborated with virtual influencers, for many others it has been considered just a step too far. Now with so many restrictions in place, more brands could be tempted to make the transition. If they get comfortable and see results now, it could drive the trend further post-lockdown and see the demand for virtual influencers increase.