From Joe Wicks to baking tutorials, the nation has become hooked on video content during the lockdown. These content creators have become real heroes for stimulation-starved consumers, providing a connection and useful guidance or distraction. Many brands are now looking to work with online creators for the first time. With lower costs and safe video production from home, it is an attractive proposition. But what are the rules of engagement and how can you ensure your brand values are communicated in the right way?

Reassessing the role of the brand

Many brands are fundamentally reassessing how they define themselves and communicate with consumers in the light of the ongoing pandemic. Some of this is driven by practical considerations. Traditional glossy shoots have not been possible rendering many traditional broadcast formats redundant. Another key consideration is mental well-being. Many people have been struggling, are uncertain about the future, and a little scared. Continuing to sell things in the old ways will not be received well. This is backed up by evidence from Kantar who found that 92% of the public is happy for brands to continue to advertise. However, 77% of people expect brands to be ‘helpful’.

Getting the tone wrong could be hugely damaging. While previous EE TV commercials focused on movie-cult legend Kevin Bacon sending up his film career in a jokey way, more recent ads involve him earnestly thanking the NHS and offering free minutes to NHS workers. This is just one of many examples of brands reappraising their public face.

Explosion of useful online video content

During the past few months, there has also been an explosion of interest in ‘useful’ online video content. According to Global WebIndex, 38% of people are now watching more online videos as a result of coronavirus. People are turning towards platforms that either educate or entertain. From fitness videos on YouTube to listening parties on Facebook Live, online content creators are able to quickly react to trends and reach large audiences. Overall, there has been a 23% increase in YouTube views during the lockdown, Instagram has 22% more impressions, and TikTok has seen a 27% increase in engagement, according to Obviously. They are filling a void and TV production houses are struggling to provide polished content – which, anyway, seem ill-suited to today’s changing world.

Content creators: used to working at a physical distance

For many brands, the opportunity to work with influencers on these platforms is an alluring prospect. They provide an authentic voice with an established audience that trusts them to provide support or distraction during troubling times.

Working with influencers who know their audiences is also a smart way of staying on the right side of consumer sentiment. A great example is content creator Lavendaire providing 15 tips for surviving isolation, sponsored by Skillshare. One of the top tips was on keeping stimulated through online learning, which referenced the online education provider – a relevant mention embedded in helpful editorial, aligned with the brand’s values.

At the same time, these creators are well suited to the times we live in. According to the study by Obviously, there is a 50% decrease in costs when working with influencers as production houses, compared to TV advertising. From a branding perspective, it offers some of the benefits of a TV format with the ability to produce video, photography, and paid advertising. However, the crucial difference is that creators are working from home – they are used to physical distancing.

Many brands will be nervous about using influencers for the first time, and letting go of the sort of control they have in a TV or print format. So what are the top tips for brands working with influencers for the first time?

1. Apply a data-led approach to choosing the right partners
The first consideration for brands looking to work with content creators should, of course, be their audience. A traditional criticism leveled at the influencer industry has been a lack of science to the discipline and a previously poorly defined connection between influencers and brands. The reality is that tools, platforms, and agencies can make sure brands are working with influencers whose viewers are your target customers. This is one of the main reasons it is worth buying a data tool or working with an agency that has access to audience demographic information. Different genres and messages can then be tested in highly sophisticated ways and used at scale when they work.

2. Be flexible with how your brand is integrated
Many brands can be too prescriptive with how they are mentioned and try to give influencers a script. However, it is crucial to remember that their audiences watch and trust them because they enjoy their style of content. Let them be creative and trust them to reflect your brand in the right way. A great example (pre-lockdown) was a campaign by Trainline who was keen to communicate the ease and convenience of their app to a young audience. Popular young vlogger George Mason used the Trainline app to go on his first-ever Valentine’s Day, blind date to Bristol, and produced a video about it. This was an authentic way of communicating brand messaging in a playful way.

3. Let the creators create
When working with creators, the sky really is the limit when it comes to creativity. There are so many niches on YouTube that you can fit your brand into almost anything you can think of. That’s one of the many perks of working with online creatives. For example, Rainfall Projects is a YouTube creator with a woodworking channel, who talks about his sponsors whilst making their logos out of wood. It keeps his audience watching and gets the brand message across.

4. Communicate your brand values clearly
Although it is important to allow influencers some freedom in message integration, clear communication is also critical about the brand and how it needs to be integrated into the video. It is vital to be upfront about which content and assets you expect. Brands should brief in timelines and dates as well as reporting and budgets. Good influencers are likely to be inundated with requests so it is important to be clear and make it easy to work with your brand.

The world we live in is a changed place. Consumers are seeking out brands that provide help and have a purpose. In this changing environment, many brands will consider following the trends and working with content creators who have built large, trusted audiences on the back of providing useful content. This has been especially in demand during the pandemic. Following best practices and trusting relevant influencers will enable brands to piggyback on the huge emotional connection creators have with their audience. It is the perfect time to realize the power of influence.

Cover image source: Mateus Campos Felipe