coronavirus influencer marketing arielle charnas

Superinfluencers may be posting themselves out of relevancy during the coronavirus.

In April, a series of missteps from influencer Arielle Charnas landed her in hot water on social media. After securing a test for COVID-19 through personal connections, Charnas revealed to her 1.3 million Instagram followers that she had indeed tested positive for the coronavirus. The influencer proceeded to break New York City’s shelter-in-place mandate to temporarily relocate to the Hamptons, prompting online backlash for what her followers deemed a reckless decision. Her husband, Brandon, inserted himself into the drama, calling followers “irrelevant” in direct messages, according to screenshots.

Charnas eventually issued an apology in the form of a video she filmed in the backyard of her Hamptons house. “I never in a million years wanted to hurt anyone and we’re not bad people,” she said. But the damage had already been done.

Nordstrom began to distance itself from the influencer, with whom it has collaborated on a number of Something Navy collections.

“Our partnership with Arielle Charnas ended in 2019, and we have no foreseeable collaborations,” the retailer wrote in response to a tweet. Just two years ago, Nordstrom copresident Pete Nordstrom sang Charnas’ praises in an Instagram Live video.

Charnas’ flop exposed a greater lack of self-awareness of the sense of entitlement she and her superinfluencer peers have developed via social media. The gap between their privileged lifestyles and that of their followers has only widened in recent years, fueling the influencers’ aspirational — if no longer relatable — appeal. But now, during this time of crisis, that gap has started to take the shape of something that, for many, is no longer even aspirational.

A collective change in attitude toward superinfluencers has percolated over the past few years, giving way to the trend toward microinfluencers. The coronavirus seems to have accelerated that trend. According to several influencer agencies, brands have expressed an increase in wanting to work with micros — or, as some like to call them, “regular people” — in recent weeks.

In its State of Influencer Marketing 2020 Report, Linqia found that 77 percent of the marketers surveyed said they want to work with microinfluencers, whom Linqia defines as having 5,000 to 100,000 followers. By contrast, 30 percent of respondents said they want to work with mega-influencers (500,000 to 5 million followers), and 22 percent said they want to work with celebrities (5 million or more followers).

Zyper, a platform that matches brands with their (non-influencer) social media “brand fans,” has seen a 139 percent increase in inbound leads, with the most interest coming from fast-fashion, luxury and sportswear retailers.

“There are more customers in our pipeline honestly than ever before,” said Amber Atherton, Zyper’s founder and chief executive officer. “The whole sentiment toward influencers not being trusted, that’s played out with a lot of our customers. Now they are looking for a way to do effective storytelling with true fans of their brand.”

Zyper recently worked with New York & Company on a campaign involving 110 brand fans who produced more than 630 pieces of content. The average engagement was 10 percent.

“As we evolve our marketing to unlock new customers and channels of engagement, our partnership with Zyper has allowed us to efficiently scale a microinfluencer platform that has delivered robust content and engagement rates that are a multiple higher than our typical rates on social media,” said Robert Ferrario, the retailer’s senior vice president, strategy & growth, marketing & testing, in a statement. “Importantly, given the challenges in the current environment, we have leveraged our program with Zyper to increase our native organic content, which can be repurposed in other channels.”

Influential, an influencer marketing agency that averages more than 500 campaigns a year, has been focusing on “real people, real stories” during the coronavirus. That angle, said ceo Ryan Detert, applies best to micro- and macro-level influencers.

“No one wants to watch the luxury influencer with their travel woes,” Detert said. “It’s not about aspiration right now, it’s about what are the consumption behaviors of influencers that relate back to the consumer.”

Billion Dollar Boy has noticed a shift toward niche influencers who can fill brands’ content creation void during this time.

“We’re actually not using any superinfluencers for [paid campaigns],” said Permele Doyle, cofounder and president of Billion Dollar Boy.

The agency has seen work with microinfluencers, whom it defines as having between 10,000 and 100,000 followers, increase from 44 percent to 77 percent of all of its contracted influencers. Work with macroinfluencers (350,000 to 1 million followers) has decreased from 17 percent to 9 percent. Hero influencers (more than 1 million followers) has decreased from 5 percent to 1 percent.

Niche categories have experienced an increase in Instagram engagement in recent weeks, noted Billion Dollar Boy, with gaming engagement up 23 percent from April 13 to April 19 versus the week prior. WWD previously reported on the uptick in viewership that financial influencers are seeing due to the coronavirus’ economic impact.

The rise of niche influencers is emblematic of the content social media users want most right now, namely that of utility.

“You either fit in this bucket of entertainment and you’re escapism content or you decided to figure out this utility bucket,” said Vickie Segar, founder of Village Marketing, which handled more than 50,000 influencer contracts in 2019. “The fitness and financial influencers are fitting into this utility bucket. Some of the other categories we’re starting to see are at-home learning and activities. I think we’re going to see mental health content pop up more.”

Perhaps sensing their followers’ fluctuating interests during COVID-19, a handful of superinfluencers have changed their content in an attempt to be more of service. Camila Coelho has hosted a number of Instagram Live workouts. Chriselle Lim recently launched @bumobrain, a virtual learning program with subscription options of $199 a month and $599 a month. Danielle Bernstein recently launched @wegavewhat, a platform for post-pandemic resources.

As James Nord, founder and ceo of Fohr, put it, substance is making a comeback.

“At this point, if you’re a macroinfluencer in fashion and beauty, you’re doing very, very well. You’re a one-percenter,” Nord said. “The backlash that some of the top influencers have been seeing has to do with their actions and responsibilities they have in having a platform, but I think it also has to do with the anger people feel toward those who are doing really well and have money and are not doing a good job of understanding how different their context and their lives are from their audience’s.

“Two months ago, the idea of showing this incredibly luxe lifestyle was really appealing,” Nord continued. “You have to read the room. There’s more of a desire for substance. In this time of crisis, it’s natural that what [social media users] want is information and people who are true experts. How influencers got followings initially was by having some unique knowledge, some point of view, being able to give really great advice.”

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