Jennifer Quigley-Jones
Jennifer Quigley-Jones 14 October 2020

The New Age of Influencer Vulnerability and Why Brands Should Take Note

The world of influencer marketing has shifted rapidly in the past six months. We have moved from the age of 'look at me' to the age of empathy and brands need to take note of these changes.

The collective experience of lockdown has created a sea change in consumer behaviour and the content we watch online. With time on our hands and a need for stimulation and connection, people sought out ‘useful content’ by creators who convey vulnerability and empathy. Viewers also started to reject the more aspirational/boastful lifestyle influencer content that previously dominated our Instagram feeds, preferring inspection, vulnerability and reality during a global pandemic.

As we settle into the rhythm of the new reality it is clear we have fundamentally changed with no desire to turn back to the old world. We have moved from the era of ‘look at me’ to the new age of empathy. There has been no greater leveller than Covid and brands need to take note.

Content Creators Showing Realism Over Perfection

The lockdown period inspired people to look for attainable authenticity and focus on productive entertainment. In the initial post lockdown phase, video content views soared. YouTube subscribers rocketed by more than 20%, as a locked down population sought out everything from educational and fitness content to mental health advice to DIY tips.

Meanwhile content creators faced the same limitations as consumers in terms of access to resources and travel, so under lockdown they needed to adapt. As a result, new habits formed and the emphasis on creator content is realism over perfection. A stark reminder of this is in the cancelling of reality shows like Love Island that previously spawned lifestyle influencers promoting fantasy lives on Instagram. The new search for authenticity has been the catalyst for the huge spike in viewership, the discovery of new channels and ultimately creators adapting their video formats to at-home production on platforms like YouTube or Tik Tok. Viewers lives have fundamentally altered and so have influencers’.

Short-Lived Trends

Some trends that initially spiked during lockdown have proved faddish. This includes educational content for parents who suddenly became teachers at home and the consumption of news content. Views for these categories have now returned to pre-pandemic levels as virus news fatigue has taken hold and parents have gratefully returned their children to school buildings. However other categories have stayed popular and won viewer attention in the long term.

In fact, according to a recent report The Age of Influence from, two-thirds of consumers who follow influencers say they’re likely to continue using social media in the same way post lockdown. The thirst for authenticity is real and is being felt keenly.

Gaming and Pet Related Content Soars

Views of gaming content steadily increased over lockdown, with little sign of decline as social distancing regulations relaxed. Searches for gaming on YouTube have doubled since March and overall the category is up an astonishing 31% since the start of lockdown. Gaming offered the perfect way for friends to socialise while socially distant and with virtual worlds offering escapism from the ‘scary’ real world.  Releases like Animal Crossing, The Last of Us and PS5, meant gaming has formed part of our habits and found a place in our routines.

With families working at home under lockdown, there has been unprecedented demand for animals and pets, up 21% since the start of the pandemic. The companionship, calming effects and unconditional love a pet can bring has never been more appreciated. Animal shelters are even running low on dogs available for rehoming. Lockdown has inspired new and aspiring pet owners to turn to YouTube for advice and entertainment to keep their new additions happy.

Personality-Driven Content Holding Viewers’ Attention

Meanwhile people & blogs and family content only saw an initial viewership spike of about 17% in the first month of lockdown. However, as viewership of other categories has waned, viewership of these categories is still 7.5%-10% up in June. This content has captured viewer’s hearts and shown that YouTube creators who make personality-driven content hold viewer attention in the long-run. In today’s world with the heightened stress we all feel, we want people who reflect our concerns rather than watching filtered and false views of reality.

Additionally during lockdown, many people learned to cook for themselves, workout at home and do basic home improvement. With no end to the virus in sight, people are still planning to live more cautious lives with more time spent at home. There is no sign of these self-improvement habits going away. Furthermore in these winning categories, the top performing YouTube videos have a length of 10-20 minutes. In the age of Covid-19 our attention spans have widened with more time on our hands and a ‘slower’ pace of life.

Distraction Through Dance

Of course at the other end of the spectrum has been the stellar performance of Tik Tok. Snackable content that is defined by being short. TikTok has doubled its reach among 15-24 years olds from 14% to 30% during this time according to a recent IPA Touchpoints report. However, despite the different length of videos, the same principles that have engaged viewers on YouTube apply - vulnerability and authenticity. You are arguably never more vulnerable than trying out a dance routine or trying to make people laugh - both huge drivers of the medium! As we adapt to the new world we live in, brands will need to ensure they remain relevant and work with influencers who convey realism.

The Advertising Medium of Our Time

Although Tik Tok has seen an enormous spike in new users and engagement, YouTube remains the most successful in video content platforms in terms of purchase consideration, translating into real sales. This is a function of the long-form nature of the content and the chance for brands to really embed themselves into relevant content. Content that offers something substantial and meaningful during a crisis.

Online video platforms, unlike TV and other more conventional production mediums, also offer creators the safety to be able to produce content at home in a much shorter time frame. Working with video creators also means brands can produce video, photography and paid advertising content at a fraction of the price, whilst these creators work safely in their own living spaces.

Harness The New Trends and Category Peaks

In order to succeed, brands should explore ways to harness new format trends and category peaks; integrating themselves into the new categories that are inspiring consumers. Brands should find ways to integrate their products into gaming, lifestyle, self-improvement or pet influencer content on YouTube.

Brands should also look to partner with creators who have emotionally supported their audiences through lockdown. They have developed deep, trusted connections with their viewers, which will pay off both commercially and personally. In the new world we live in vulnerability is king.

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