Welcome to the second portion of our sound off blog series where we ask three experts in an industry the same questions and see what they have to say! This week, we are talking to some of Dallas’ most beloved influencers to learn about some of the changes they are experiencing in the influencer landscape during COVID-19. From brand partnerships to increased engagement, here is what they had to say about what it means to be an influencer right now.
The Power Group: How have you seen brands transform their partnerships and offerings to influencers during COVID-19?
Kara Shannon and Lily Kramlich-Taylor, Dallasites101: Things are changing so fast so you can’t really plan for the future right now, and we are seeing partnerships form with that mentality – more one-off or short term. Also virtual engagement became more important than ever before, so we actually transformed our own offerings for brands, specifically with the introduction of IGTV. While our business certainly isn’t “per usual” and our revenue has been significantly impacted by COVID-19, we still have seen partnerships especially if (1) the brand had worked with us before and sees success with us, (2) the brand’s business is booming and they have the budget to invest in keeping the momentum going (for example, alcohol and DIY brands), or (3) the brand was interested in trying IGTV.
Paige Martindell, Co-Owner & Creative at Class Studios: It has been so interesting to watch brand collaborations and partnerships evolve (and not evolve) during this time. I’ve loved seeing content that speaks to what we’re all going through. I’ve been really inspired by the brands that made the quick pivot to speak to at-home workouts, exercising outside, healthy recipes, meal-prepped foods, mental health and well-being, etc.
Sarah Mize, Dallas Love List: At first, there was an abrupt pause or cancellation, understandably, on all existing partnerships. With that said, there were many brand partnerships I’d never had the opportunity to work with in the past that arrived in my inbox. I saw a massive rise in alcohol partnerships, including bourbon, tequila and local Texas wineries. Although there were not as many partnership opportunities to go around, that didn’t stop local Dallas bloggers from posting list after list of what’s open for takeout, who has the best to-go margarita and great alternatives to sitting in line for Chick-fil-a. Personally, I focused on acquiring a few bigger, national brand campaigns. That allowed me to continue to have at least a bit of an income while not charging restaurants and small Dallas shops for both feed and story coverage.
TPG: Did you purchase anything to assist your blog/Instagram content while sheltering in place?
D101: We didn’t actually! Our content lends itself to enjoying Dallas so those types of items that a beauty influencer as an example might purchase don’t really apply to our content. We did shape our content in new ways though and photograph things we never thought we would be posting. That looked like doing a wrap-up post on the best TV shows to binge and photographing our TV, and a wrap up of books to read and photographing a pile of books we had. We did have to get creative with keeping our backgrounds interesting though, since our food and drink posts were shot in our homes!
PM: Fortunately, as a photographer, I already had a nice tripod but did have to purchase the tripod extension for my iPhone, because I’d only ever put my DSLR cameras on it. I didn’t purchase any additional products; I wanted to keep my messaging and content as authentic as I could. I removed my false lashes, haven’t had my hair or nails done in weeks, and have stopped wearing makeup outside of my mascara – it’s honestly been so wonderful.
DLL: Although I didn’t purchase anything, I did revisit old food photography courses I hadn’t finished. I used my extra free time to brush up my photography skills. I’ve actually really enjoyed shooting local restaurant coverage at home. I can control the lighting, and not have to feel silly taking photos of my food in front of a full restaurant.
TPG: What is the most interesting thing you have come across as an influencer during COVID-19?
D101: Not sure if it’s as interesting as it is sad…we have seen a lot of people using COVID to make fun of influencers suffering during this time. Because of the negative connotations associated with being an influencer, along with the fact that our platform isn’t about us but about Dallas, we don’t consider ourselves influencers. However, we do know so many who have poured so much time and effort and love into their platforms. There are of course some influencers who do take advantage of the perks that come with having an influential platform. However, many do it because it’s their passion, which means it’s purely an investment and they are putting a lot of money and time into an account purely out of love. Things are a lot tighter now and someone who could afford to go out and eat and share that on social media, might not be able to do so anymore. Also if someone’s account revolves around say concerts, or nightlife or sports, then their content is non-existent right now. It’s sad to see people laughing at others’ hobbies and passions disappearing in a time when we need community and community LOVE more than ever – and that includes love from influencers who still have the ability to give it.
PM: I think in this season, it’s all about adaptability. Those who have been able to adapt and speak to this season, I really applaud. We’re truly all in this together so keeping a posture of positivity, grace and love has been my biggest priority. There has been a lot of beautiful encouragement come from online platforms during this time.
DLL: I have absolutely had a massive spike in engagement, likes and new followers during COVID-19. I also do social media management for a few different restaurant clients and their engagement and following is up as well. I think everyone is incredibly connected to their phones right now.
TPG: Post-COVID predictions? How do you think this will affect influencers long term?
D101: We think some people will no longer be able to afford to be an influencer, if their brand wasn’t at a point where it could sustain itself monetarily. Therefore, we will see a lot of influencers “close down.” Or if it isn’t because of funds, it might be because of priorities…maybe a mom blogger now has to teach her kids during the day instead. We also think it will weed out a lot of people who were taking advantage of social media marketing, because we think businesses will also be a lot more careful about who they work with, with tighter budgets. But we also think more businesses will realize the value in social media marketing because so many businesses have relied on Instagram to update their customers during this time. We think a lot of businesses who might not have ever thought to use social media, might have realized how important it can be, during COVID.
PM: Many of my partnerships were canceled during this shelter in place season and it’s pretty heartbreaking. Those were partnerships I had worked so hard on, but understand these businesses don’t have the resources to keep us on when their main priority is surviving in the first place. I know it’s going to take quite some time to rebuild many of these relationships but I’m staying as patient as possible, especially since I don’t use my platform as a source of income, it’s more relationship-based than anything. I plan to stand beside these businesses as they rebuild so that our partnerships are even stronger in the future!
DLL: I’ve put in hours and hours and hours working on listicles and guides on my blog and Instagram page, in an effort to support restaurants and shops in Dallas. I really hope to improve the reputation “influencer marketing” receives, that we aren’t just in this for free stuff. So many of our local Dallas bloggers showed up during the COVID-19 pandemic to provide coverage and resources to make it as easy as possible for our following to support and save restaurants. I also am super excited for influencer marketing and advertising to pick back up because people are more engaged right now that I have ever seen in my many years of blogging. People are buying what we’re posting, now more than ever. I’m having more saves and sends on Instagram than I can even imagine. I had a photo get 19,000 likes during this pandemic. I can’t wrap my head around it. Personally, I’ve majorly slashed my advertising prices for local businesses. What other advertising platform is out there that allows you to reach your exact DFW target market, for such a small monetary investment? A post on Dallas Love List is a fraction of the price of a full-page spread in a magazine, you don’t have to do ANY creative (I do all of that work for you), you get beautiful images that you can reshare on your social platforms AND you can reach up to 50,000 engaged Dallasites in dire need of the information you’re trying to put out there, in less than 24 hours! People are at home, they don’t know this new world, and they’re turning to pages like Dallas Love List to navigate this new normal. Also, I’m really hoping we can keep the to-go margarita.