This year has been every bit as unexpected as could be imagined. It’s hard to fathom that lockdown started nearly 9 months ago across the world. That’s a lot of time. A lot of lifestyle changes. A lot of business insecurity. Within those 9 months, we’ve seen a lot of changes and a lot of feeling like we’ve finally got this, only to realise that that isn’t the case.
Despite this, the influencer industry has maintained itself – going from “are we even relevant anymore” to “influencers are providing the support we need” to “influencers are essential to maintaining revenue”. On the latter point, you may have seen our recent article on debunking the failing relevancy narrative when it comes to influencers. In this article, we demonstrated with our data, how influencers have indeed excelled this year.
As we look back on 2020, it’s important to assess what happened in order to learn how to grow and innovate. We’ve thrown our hat into the ring to provide you with 2020 Influencer Year in Review.
Q1 – setting the scene, the Drop
The calm before the storm. A number of our clients were riding the wave of their hard work from last quarter of 2019 and started the year off on a high.
Things took a turn during the middle of March when the lockdown was announced. In a strange circumstance website traffic dropped on average 30-40%. Some saw their traffic exponentially rise. Although changes were seen across the board, there were clear industry-based trends on whether traffic went up or down.
Queue the panic for brands and influencers alike who saw overnight drops. What we observed in the aftermath were influencers taking the bull by the horns by pivoting, pushing for content across all channels and focussing on providing support to their audiences. All of this in an environment where advertising spend plummeted, brand partnerships stalled and in some cases cancelled altogether. Fohr reported that 18% deals were cancelled, 58% deals paused and 30% reduced their rates for partnership deals (Fohr survey). This lead to an overall reduction of 74% in sponsored content on IG.
An interesting point to make here though: a majority of these changes happened due to changes in search behaviour. When looking at which channels that caused traffic drops or rises, it was Organic Search and Pinterest. This alludes to the idea that people are using search engines strategically, more specifically, actively looking for content that has value.
It wasn’t just on-site too: Social engagement significantly grew.
We also saw a pivot to live content. Focussing on the value once again, influencers spent their time on how to provide real-time support and fun for their audiences given that they would be compensating time out with greater social media time. We saw lives being used to innovate in a space where in-person experience also was held back, with the likes of John Legend, DJ D-Nice and many more, using live content to provide a sense of community, exclusivity and learning. With the launch of Your Live Guide to help facilitate audiences discovery of live content – akin to a TV guide – this became a content type that is set to evolve gong into 2021.
Q2 – the recovery
The type of content needed by audiences changed. As the average person placed greater value in content to provide answers and relying upon search engines more and more, the nature of content that provided the most engagement went from diverting to useful!
This is supported by Webindex data that looked at consumer need for content which saw a 34% increase in need of how-to based content a month after lockdown – note this was a global sample too! There was also surprisingly an 11% increase in want of influencer content specifically.
We began to see early signs of recovery. Behaviourally, we saw this demonstrated during the BLM protests. Like with lockdown announcements, traffic dropped as the world pivoted its attention. Site traffic recovery bounced back at a much quicker pace than during the middle of March, however.
There are a number of things to unpack here….for e.g. political discourse having yet another consequential effect on digital behaviour overnight. The significant use of social media to spread the movement’s message was also notable. This could have been exemplified by content lessons learnt after lockdowns were instated. The recovery was swift in terms of traffic, which could also indicate that content creators and audiences alike have become more efficient in the search for and the providing of content during a crisis? If this is the case, then we can expect audiences to bounce back more rapidly during like times. We can expect influencers to pivot more efficiently too. But equally, we can expect politics to be part in parcel to website traffic.
Later on, in Q2, there were website traffic indicators of recovery across the board. After reviewing our client’s data we found that sessions, pageviews, users were reaching pre covid levels for the first time (if traffic had dropped as a result of lockdown – increases due to lockdown maintained its growth). This was a great sign of future relevancy for the industry. Taken from our Debunked article …
The influx of traffic was now setting the scene for quite an explosive 2021 when lifestyle searches such as travel and apparel…will come back into force.
What was incredibly interesting was that omnichannel conversions saw pre-covid recovery. However, the distribution of channels that attributed to recovery weren’t the same as before. Email came out as king…ahem…QUEEN…of channels in lockdown. It, in fact, compensated for normal traffic lost from organic search for a lot of brands.
As we were stuck at home without our daily commute, email almost became a communication-based ritual to signal the boundary between work and personal time. The spike in email engagement maintained itself over the course of the year – indicating that this is a channel to be reckoned with next year.
What about revenue? Brand partnerships began to resume – although slower in the gate. Products were beginning to be launched again in fresh new campaigns. Here are some thoughts from our clients during this period and how this has shaped their business going forward:
Q3 – the waiting
This is the period to which holiday campaigns are traditionally mapped out. This includes Halloween, cyber week, black Friday, thanksgiving, cyber Monday and of course, Christmas. However, brand partnerships were sparse, causing confusion and hesitancy for influencers as they too, planned for their business.
This is especially strange given that pinning and search behaviour had its earliest onset EVER for holiday-related searches.
There may never be another holiday season quite like this one. Pinners started searching for holiday ideas in April.
Audiences wanted Christmas content with even more vigour. They were monetising for the holiday period earlier than ever (indications of Holiday conversions as early as late August). And yet, for a brand, it wasn’t clear how to communicate with a precariously yearning audience. The link between holiday content and audiences became increasingly emotional.
As a result, there was an influencer shift in pushing for affiliates instead. There was a notable increase in our client’s outbound event traffic (when a user clicks on an external link – this is often an indicator of heightened commercial activity on-site) per user year on year. As influencers previously focused more on providing value and harnessing the increased engagement with their content in March, they had an opportunity to better understand their audience’s consumption needs. Moreover, they were better positioned to understand the emotional context of their audience’s needs. This paved the way for more efficient affiliate monetisation cross-channel. In fact, it inspired other aspirations too…
Here is what our clients said about their conversion.
Q4 – the rushed activity
2020 is clearly taking its toll — and that’s before we’ve even looked at how people on social media actually feel.
According to our analysis, sentiment-segmented online conversation was 77% negative over the last nine months, while emotion-categorized conversation was revealed to be 43% angry, 27% sad and 7% disgusted. This tells us that people are taking to social media in droves to vent, complain, and despair.
What’s clear is that people are stressed and upset with this year. With three months still to go, let’s hope the world finds solace in something to turn things around.
In a season designed to inspire joy about spending time with loved ones – 2020 made it a ridiculously tricky environment to plan a campaign. As Brandwatch’s quote above indicates, the negative sentiment shared by the average person was pretty extreme. No thanks to the US election either. Those who weren’t prepared for this extreme emotional sentiment likely halted on campaigns, meaning yet another delay (like in March) on projects for end of year. Again, influencers were made to push for affiliate monetisation by creating holiday content early and working on effective re-promotion throughout the season.
Queue in Thanksgiving week – deals were still sparse. There were greater indications that black Friday/cyber week plans fell through for brands as they too had to pivot without much time. Despite this…Black Friday was a resounding success with approx 22% year on year increase in revenue (US Abobe Data).
One thing our clients noticed during earlier sales in the year e.g. the annual Nordstrom sale, is that consumers were becoming more conscious of their expenditure as a result of lockdown. Questions such as: Where is it from? Who made it? Is it valuable to me? etc were being asked before purchases finalised.
What this means, is that consumers are spending as much as previous years but being extra purposeful with what and how they are purchasing. Consumers were planning their purchases ahead of time and with an idea of where to buy. This was no different during Cyber week as clients found old content monetising at just as high a rate as holiday-specific content. This will shape sale periods going forward as we can imagine that the content needed to convert during these periods will need to be made earlier than before to capture the now mainstream: planning consumer.
Cut to post-Cyber week and the deals are now flooding in. Short-form, quick turnaround, malleable projects were key. Affiliate monetisation was still rife with a significant uptake from Instagram convertible traffic. For the first time this year we saw a steep rise in swipe ups from Instagram Stories of on average 969.5% increase in IG Stories sessions from Nov-Dec compared to 2019 (chloédigital data). The reach of IG and swipe through has been a contentious issue for the past 3 years. This unified increase was amazing to see for influencers to capitalise on this period.
Does this mean that this will be sustained going into 2021…likely not, but it’s worthwhile to note how important it was for content influencers to keep abreast of changes, especially IG algorithm fluctuations in maintaining their agility this year. Those that were able to flex the agility muscle were able to boost their business with greater financial resilience.
Going into 2021
As cliche as it sounds, we are in fact living in a fundamentally changed world. A lot of the lessons we learnt to be resilient this year will hold up as valuable for 2021. Digital will be built upon these new changes rather than go back to normal. What wisdom have you gained this year that can help you grow? A vital question worth asking yourself to prepare for 2021. The chances are, you’ll be needing it.
For more 2021 predictions, from content themes, to tactical ideas…check out our 2021 Predictions webinar!