Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Has COVID impacted our trust in influencers? It doesn’t look like it…

By Sanna Ödmark Head of Marketing at Cure Media

Whether it’s Holly Willoughby and Philip Schofield eviscerating an influencer’s trip to Dubai or Rita Ora flouting the rules for a birthday bash, there’s no doubt that some influencers misjudged the public mood during lockdown. But, have these foot-in-mouth episodes been enough to dent our faith in influencers as an institution? 

Firstly, it needs to be said that trust is an incredibly valuable commodity in marketing. It gives brands the credibility that forms a conduit between their content and consumers. This is even more the case when it comes to influencer marketing, as brands primarily invest in influencers because audiences judge their content to be authentic. As such, the notion that the industry has lost the public’s trust is something we should all be concerned about. 

The good news is our recent research has found that public trust in influencers remains high, despite a number of high profile gaffs during lockdown. 49% of us still think that a recommendation that comes from influencers is more trustworthy than that which comes from a brand. Moreover, 48% think that influencer content is more authentic than other marketing methods. 

So, in the face of an apparent media storm, why have influencers managed to retain that coveted mark of trust?

Social media’s role during the pandemic has likely played a big part in this. Being confined to our homes and cut-off from physical contact has heightened the importance of social media’s power to connect people. In the past year, people have spent more time than ever on social media, and both our consumption and posting have increased significantly. No surprise, maybe, as most of us have depended on social platforms to socialise, find inspiration and be entertained. And, influencers have been at the forefront of responding to this need – creating quality and engaging content, even within the confines of lockdown, that resonates with their audiences. This includes live Q&As, DYIs, home workout videos, which has made them forge an even stronger bond with their followers. 

The authenticity of influencers’ content has also helped increase public endearment. Since we have not been able to leave home, our lives have become less polished and audiences have resonated with a much more relatable style of output. Low key content is something that nano and micro-influencers are typically renowned for and as a result, their popularity has soared, with 56% of consumers saying they are now the most trusted level of influencers in the UK. Influencer marketing has long been one of the few marketing channels able to produce relatable content. But, the confines of the pandemic has definitely helped bring the industry back to its roots in authenticity and audiences have responded positively. 

All of this has not gone unnoticed. The pandemic has increased brands’ awareness of influencer’s ability to create strong and lasting connections with consumers. As a result, there is something of an influencer ‘arms race’ underway. Brands now count influencer marketing in the top two channels with the most growth potential and 76% of marketers plan to increase their influencer budget in the next three years. 

So, not only is it fair to say that influencers have retained that crucial trust mark during the past year, brands are actually judging that its importance is only set to increase. This presents brands with a number of key questions – “what role does influencer marketing play in relation to all other streams”, “what are the strengths and the weaknesses of IM”, and “how do I make sure my marketing mix complements each other in the best way possible?”. And, unfortunately, these questions will become more pertinent as brands put greater resources behind their influencer activations. However, this is nothing marketers haven’t grappled with in the past on other marketing channels. 

Ultimately, the past year has signalled that influencer marketing is rapidly maturing and so it’s time for us to adopt a more sophisticated approach. This is in terms of not only how we incorporate influencers into our marketing mix, but how we track their return on investment. Once we have addressed this, influencer marketing will allow brands to truly capitalise on the trust they can so evidently build with audiences.