Just over a year ago, influencer campaigns were soaring, but since January, brands have all but stopped influencer spending. Among the many economic casualties of COVID-19, influencer marketing has fallen victim as the private sector debates whether or not to fund campaigns during a crisis and an uncertain time.
However, even before the crisis, the value of influencer campaigns fell into question as a widespread competition for likes and engagement became the industry’s primary currency.
Technology is already adapting to the new influencer landscape. Brands are turning toward ROI metrics to justify their influencer spend: metrics beyond previously tracked likes and social engagement. Further, audiences are looking for more meaningful interactions with influencers. The result: technology adapts to democratize social media so that influencers can meaningfully interact with audiences and brands can find real value in those interactions.
The COVID-19 crisis has put pressure on this aspect of marketing, specifically because likes and engagement are soft numbers that don’t necessarily move the ROI needle. Therefore, the spend can’t be justified right now. Marketing budget cuts placed influencers in the lurch who depend upon brand revenue to continue with their platforms and also impacts audiences who now must find other forms of entertainment as influencers close up shop.
But there’s another way. Livestreaming technology, now surging in popularity on platforms like BIGO Live, Facebook Live, LiveMe, Twitch and YouTube are enabling influencers to continue social interactions from the safety of their homes and using AI-driven technology to connect people with people, thus democratizing social media. Now, communication and connection is more important than likes and follows.
In the case of BIGO Live, influencers can earn money through rewards given directly by their audience, virtual gifts for as little as $1. Now that people are online more than ever before—and spending a record $23.4 billion on apps—it’s a perfect time for influencers to access revenue from their fans instead of brands.
The idea of rewarding creators for their work isn’t new. Indeed, the rise of Kickstarter has shown that independent creators can fund projects quite successfully. Patreon has also demonstrated that people will even subscribe to a creator over time just so that they’ll continue to produce. Livestreaming outlets like BIGO Live now applies that concept to influencers and content creators as well.
Livestreaming is poised to reign supreme after COVID-19, as the industry shorts toward real-time social interactions to maintain contact with the “outside world.” We already see increased popularity in the short-form video space dominated by TikTok and Likee, as well as in livestreaming and gaming through platforms like Twitch and BIGO Live. Brands will eventually take note and look for ways to engage with influencers as a part of their livestream worlds.
After COVID-19, influencers may not be so dependent upon brands. Sure, brands will be back once they’ve maneuvered through the crisis. Still, livestreaming will finally provide influencers with direct access to their audiences and build multiple forms of revenue from both audiences and brands.
Livestreaming will present the opportunity for anyone to be a “celebrity” by being their authentic selves and making meaningful connections with the people with whom they entertain and connect. Brands will have an opportunity to leverage influencers in this space, but fortunately for the influencers, they won’t be the only ones keeping their lights on.
Mike Ong is Vice President of BIGO Technology.