influencer taking video of herself

10 Tactics for Pandemic-Appropriate Influencer Marketing

By: Allison Fitzpatrick and Paavana Kumar

July 2, 2020

Many marketers are hesitant to engage influencers during the pandemic. They’re concerned with seeming out of touch.

Indeed, marketers could face significant PR backlash over an influencer campaign. For example, they could get hurt with campaigns that promote luxury goods to consumers who lack basic necessities. In addition, campaigns could subject marketers to legal liability. Examples include influencers going off-script and making unsubstantiated claims about health benefits of products to treat the novel coronavirus. (Additional legal concerns are below.)

Despite these risks, influencer marketing can reap significant benefits during COVID-19. Influencers are uniquely poised to capture consumer attention, particularly as social media becomes many consumers’ primary communications outlet, replacing in-person interactions with friends, co-workers and even family.

Faced with a largely homebound fanbase, marketers can harness the power of influencers to connect with consumers in a genuine and authentic way, provided campaigns are structured appropriately.

Below are some ideas for structuring influencer marketing campaigns during COVID-19.

Build Goodwill

While marketers hire influencers to tout the benefits of their products, this is not the messaging consumers want to hear now. They want to know the positive steps brands are taking to help during these tumultuous times.

Influencer campaigns should shift their messaging from product benefits to an organization’s charitable endeavors, such as a recent donation to a COVID-19 relief nonprofit or efforts to support small businesses.

Influencers should encourage followers to promote worthy causes, thereby offering positive messaging that ultimately builds consumer goodwill.

Provide Help

Many consumers are bored and isolated. They’ve run out of stay-at-home activities. Influencers can provide activities that fill the monotony.

Influencers can offer projects and other at-home activities that do not require substantial purchases. Food influencers can promote easy-to-make recipes with ingredients that most people have on hand. Travel influencers can take followers on virtual tours of their favorite places. Mommy bloggers can share homeschooling tips.

Take Advantage of Technology

Consumers typically want to go to the same restaurants, bars and hotels as the influencers they follow on social. As we know, frequenting restaurants, bars or hotels at this time is not possible for many.

Instead, influencers can encourage followers to meet them on Zoom and similar platforms. Once there, influencers can eat, drink and discuss a new product.

Influencers can also use video-conferencing software to connect consumers with unique first-to-respond-type experiences. For example, they can offer virtual cooking classes with themselves or other celebrity partners. Influencer live streams or virtual meet and greets may go over well with fans feeling increasingly isolated as a result of COVID-19. See, for example, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Zoom performance of “Hamilton” that surprised a 9-year-old fan.

Be Authentic

People follow influencers with whom they have a connection. Influencers need to be themselves in order to make that connection. During these challenging times, brands should allow–and even encourage–influencers to post more authentic, personal content that does not specifically plug the marketer.

One such example might be talking about a relative or friend who is sick. However, influencers should generally avoid posting about receiving a test for COVID-19, due to the perception that celebrities are getting tested more easily than regular citizens.

Don’t Neglect Humor

The goal is to strike a balance between grasping the gravity of the pandemic and consumers’ need to find levity. Marketers should brainstorm ways for influencers to be humorous without downplaying the situation or making inappropriate jokes that could backfire (e.g., one K-pop star’s April Fools Instagram post falsely claiming that he had COVID-19).

Structure Promotions Appropriately

Sweepstakes and promotions are powerful tools, particularly now. Influencers can be a marketer’s best mouthpiece for generating interest in promotions, provided they are structured appropriately.

Instead of awarding trips, influencers could offer gift cards for restaurants and retailers that the virus has hit hard. In addition, influencers could promote contests that award groceries and home goods to consumers most in need of them. An influencer could help marketers select and notify winners, thereby leading to greater one-on-one communications between influencers and the marketer’s customer-base.

Review and Approve Cautiously

Like all marketing, it is critical that influencer campaigns avoid appearing tone-deaf. An example is an upbeat post in the days following George Floyd’s killing.

As noted above, influencers should not make unsubstantiated claims, especially as they relate to health and wellness.

Marketers need to review and approve content prior to posting. For example, if an influencer video showcases physical contact, improper handling of masks or lack of social distancing.

Marketers should review setting and tone as well. As an example, consumers may not connect with influencers who complain about isolation from their mansion. Marketers also need to ensure influencers are not overpromising on products’ benefits. Such claims could lead to regulatory action, particularly if influencers are making unproven claims about treating COVID-19.

Don’t Forget Clearance Issues

If influencers are creating content at home, marketers should give them clear guidelines with respect to intellectual property rights, such as third-party music, videos, photos and GIFs. For example, if an influencer posts about self-isolating at home with movies and books, and shows movie footage, actors and book covers in her content, the post could expose the marketer to legal liability.

A good rule of thumb: Influencers should avoid mentioning “Star Wars,” the Kardashians or the Super Bowl–unless they have explicit permission.

Update Influencer Contracts

World events are changing so quickly that no one knows what tomorrow will bring. Accordingly, marketers need to have maximum flexibility administering and possibly postponing or terminating influencer campaigns. Marketers should update influencer contracts to ensure they have the ability to postpone and terminate campaigns at any stage—even if they must pay the influencer for services performed to date.

Influencer contracts should include alternate campaign dates in case an effort cannot launch on time. Consider: (i) reducing travel requirements or including a contingency clause where the influencer can render services from home; and (ii) adding pandemic situations or similar public health crises to force majeure clauses (but building in recourse if talent is not prevented from attending a future shoot later in the year but is simply nervous about doing so).

Ensure Compliance with the FTC

Be aware that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) continues to focus on deceptive influencer marketing practices–perhaps even more so given the proliferation of influencer fraud.

Remember to ensure influencers understand their obligations under the FTC’s Endorsement Guides, including disclosures (e.g., #ad, #sponsored). Monitor and terminate influencers who fail to comply. As noted, marketers are responsible for influencers’ unsubstantiated claims.

Allison Fitzpatrick is a partner and Paavana Kumar is an associate at the law firm of Davis & Gilbert, LLP

Note: A version of this content appeared in the June 2020 edition of Social Shake-Up sister publication PRNEWS. Visit PRNEWS’ subscription page for more.

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