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6 Ways COVID-19 has Impacted B2B Influencer Marketing

by | Jan 28, 2021 | Best Practice,

COVID-19 has forced the world to go through a deep digital transformation, with most professionals working remotely, in-person events coming to a standstill and more time being spent at home in front of a screen due to national lockdowns. With this comes both an opportunity and challenge to reach and engage our target audiences online.

We know that influencers are great at driving awareness and engagement online, so does this mean that influencers are able to have more of an impact? And what does this mean for Marketing and Comms professionals?

We are pleased to say that we partnered up with the wonderful team at FTI Consulting to look at the effect COVID-19 has had on B2B influencer communities and the impact that these communities are having on conversations online.

Our Methodology:

We analysed the influencer communities in 5 key industries that will have been impacted negatively or positively by COVID-19:

  • Healthcare – with COVID-19 being a global health crisis, we were interested to see how the conversations shifted amongst the healthcare topical communities.
  • Finance – to explore COVID-19’s impact on businesses, the economy and personal finances.
  • Tech – to explore tech’s role in the the digital transformation conversations and enabling the shift to remote working.
  • Energy – whether the focus shifted away from climate change concerns with carbon emissions decreasing due to lockdowns.
  • Transport – looking at the impact on the travel and transport industries due to remote working, closed borders and lockdowns

With these key focuses in mind, we analysed the following topics:

  • Healthcare topics: Mental Health, Treatments, Diseases, Health & Well-Being, Health Tech & Digital Health
  • Finance topics: Blockchain, Fintech, Business, Operations/Cash Flow, Lending, Personal Finance, Mortgages, Job Market
  • Tech topics:  5G, Big Data, Automation, Future of Work & Productivity, Cybersecurity, AI
  • Energy topics:  Air pollution, Decarbonization, Future of Energy, Renewable energy, Oil & Gas, Autonomous vehicles, Green Mobility
  • Transport topics: Intelligent Traffic Systems, Business Travel, and Supply Chain Optimisation.

The time frames we looked at were December 2019 – February 2020 as our “pre-COVID-19” time frame, March 2020 – May 2020 as our “during-COVID-19” time frame, and June 2020 – Aug 2020 as our “post-COVID-19” time frame. This is in-line with when most of the western world went into their initial national lockdowns. As a disclaimer, while this is in no way implying that COVID-19 was no longer a concern after August 2020, it is the time in which the initial panic and dust was beginning to settle across businesses and some level or normality was starting to resume. We have deciphered the data from this, and combined it with supporting evidence from external sources, to quantify the impact that COVID-19 has had, and could have, on marketing and comms teams across the globe.

Trend 1: Social media users are far more engaged with influencer content

In all industries except energy, engagement with influencer posts on Twitter increased. Tech saw a 440% increase, finance a 250% increase and transport a 200% increase. The levels of engagement with influencers’ posts on topics around energy didn’t decrease, but stayed at the same level; this is a trend that we see with the conversation around energy as a whole, as influencers seem to have repositioned their focus onto healthcare topics.

A lot of the increase in engagement that we have seen across tech, finance and transport can be put down to an overall increase in social media activity as a whole, with 44% of global internet users spending more time on social media. But why has this not translated into energy? Interestingly, energy influencers aren’t posting about energy less, or about health more, but their audiences are engaging with health-related content more now (See Fig. 1). This could be put down to audiences shifting their focus to COVID-19, as it’s a more prevalent and imminent threat when compared with energy topics such as climate change.

 

Figure 1 – Volume of posts by topic for Energy influencers

 

This overall increase in engagement is important for marketing and comms teams to consider. It shows that influencer content is already penetrating further within their primary audience, and this effect trickles down through secondary and tertiary networks as the content is shared and retweeted further and further.

People are spending more time on the internet, and with this comes an increase in social media activity, meaning that digital content is going to reach further and influence more but only if the content is on topic and relevant to audiences.

Trend 2: Employees are more active on social media

This overall increase in activity is also seen among employees. In the three months before February 2020, the 2,000 most influential employees in tech posted over 37,000 times, this number almost doubled to over 72,000 posts between February and April 2020.

Employee social media engagement is at an all-time high, perhaps due to remote working. In January 2020, the 2 biggest topics being discussed were AI and Big Data, with 4,719 and 2,017 posts respectively.

The topics that employees were discussing in February 2020 and March 2020 were largely related to COVID-19 topics in a finance and health context, although AI and Big Data stayed as the 2 biggest topics after Diseases.

In March 2020, there were 25,439 posts on the topic of Diseases, 3,244 on AI, and 1,892 on Big Data. Although the volume for AI and Big Data went down from January to March, some topics saw increases, such as Future of Work, which increased by 34%, Treatments, which increased by 548%, and Health Tech, which increased by 14%.  – they’re generally talking about their sector topics less. (See Fig. 2).

Figure 2 – Volume of posts by topic group, for tech employees

 

There’s a goldmine of data there that brands can leverage from a HR perspective in regards to employee wellbeing but there’s also a huge opportunity for marketing and comms teams to activate their employees to be their biggest brand ambassadors.

Trend 3: Influencer rankings have seen a huge shake up due to COVID-19

Influencer communities are inherently volatile – something that COVID-19 has only heightened. We developed an algorithm that compares influencer rankings from different time periods to identify and quantify the degree of change. This algorithm looks at: 1) how many places in the rankings have changed ownership and 2) how many influencers have entered or left the rankings.

We did this to have a numeric representation of how much of a “shake up” influencer communities have faced due to COVID-19, and which new influencers have gained traction and entered the space. (See Fig. 3).

Energy, Transport, and Healthcare have seen the highest degree of shake up in influencer rankings, suggesting that new influencers are now entering the space, making it even more important for marketing and comms teams to have accurate rankings and data for their influencer marketing strategies.

Here are some examples of this volatility:

Example shake ups in Energy:

  1. Helen Branswell, Senior Writer @statnews – catapulted from position 277 to position 1 on the topic of renewable energy
  2. LenaSun, Health Reporter at The Washington Post  – show up from position 254 to position 3 on the topic of renewable energy
  3. Ari Natter, Industry Practioner at Bloomberb – went from position 200 to position 5 on the topic of oil & gas

Example shake ups in Transport:

  1. Antonio Grasso, Professional Tech Influencer – went from position 155 to position 8 on the topic of business travel
  2. Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, Content Creator & Industry Practioner at Biocon –  shot up from position 108 to position 2 on the topic of Green Mobility
  3. Boyd Cohen, CEO @IoMob_net – went from position 101 to position 9 on the topic of Green Mobility

Example Influencers for Healthcare:

  1. U.S. Surgeon General, Government Figure – shot up from position 194 to position 3 on the topic of Health Tech
  2. Brett Giroir, Government Figure – went from position 103 to position 9 on the topic of Health Tech
  3. Bill Kristol, Political Commentator and Editor – catapulted from position 150 to position 1 on the topic of Mental Health

Figure 3- Shake up metric by topical community

 

Tech and Finance are most stable in influencer rankings, although conversation has increased in volume over both topics, suggesting that it is paramount that marketing and comms teams engage with the top influencers in these spaces, as they are commanding more and more of the conversation.

Trend 4: COVID-19 has seen political figures become crucial follows in the Healthcare field

At the heart of health discussions online, sit many political figures, given the responsibility that has been placed in Governments’ hands. Amongst those at the top of Onalytica’s influencer rankings for health topics are (see Fig. 4):

This is also further reflected by the appearance of many journalists whom typically cover political stories, also ranking near the top of the list such as: Robert Peston, Political Editor and Presenter of ITV’s Wednesday night Politics Show Preston, and Christiane Amanpour, CNN Chief International Anchor.

Figure 4 – Health Industry Influencer Ranking for Feb-May 2020

Top accounts discussing healthcare topics:

Influencer Name Topical Authority On Topic Posts Followers Role
Secretary Alex Azar 100 568 80.6K Political Figure
U.S. Surgeon General 82 716 882.2K Political Figure
Bill Gates 69 36 52.5M Charity & Tech Figure
Jake Tapper 52 2774 3M Political Figure
Scott Gottlieb 49 2191 440.5K Health Figure
Nancy Pelosi 49 110 5.9M Political Figure
Francis S. Collins 48 92 155.5K Health Figure
Administrator Seema Verma 46 638 42.2K Political Figure
Mayor Bill de Blasio 42 763 1.5M Political Figure

Trend 5: Tech reigns supreme

Due to the new predicaments the pandemic has thrown us all into, and the new challenges and scenarios they have presented, conversation around technology is of even greater interest across multiple fields than it was before COVID-19. In the field of transport, despite business travel being interrupted across the globe, the key influencers in this sphere remain those who discuss the progression of autonomous vehicles and the use of AI in transport. (See Fig. 5)

In addition to this, it is tech sub-communities such as the Autonomous vehicle community that have remained the most stable through the pandemic. (see Fig. 3)

There is also more demand for remote working, as shown by the BBC’s analysis into how COVID 19 is changing the workspace. With only 12% of Slack workers wanting to return to the office, and Workplace Insights showing that 60% of people want to see a permanent increase in working from home after the pandemic, software companies must come in to fill the gaps and connect workspaces digitally, to ensure efficient remote working and effective collaboration. This is one of the main reasons why tech has seen a boom in the past 6 months.

Figure 5 -Business Travel Influencer Rankings for Feb-May 20

Top accounts discussing tech topics:

Influencer Name Topical Authority On Topic Posts Followers Role
Nicolas Babin 100 66 83.2K Tech Influencer
Antonio Vieira Santos 92 11 78K HR Influencer
Ray Wang 80 32 129.8K Tech Influencer
Rafat Ali 61 88 36.8K Business and Finance Influencer
Nomadic Matt 61 25 120.5K Travel Influencer
Dion Hinchcliffe 54 7 57.8K Tech Influencer
Ludmila Morozova 48 38 29.2K Tech Influencer
Thomas Harrer 47 79 5.1K Tech Influencer
Evan Kirstel 45 55 293.5K Tech Influencer
Antonio Grasso 40 3 171.9K Tech Influencer

 

Trend 6: Energy and the Lockdown Cycle

At the height of the initial wave of the pandemic, discussion on all energy topics fell, with rather large declines occurring specifically in conversations regarding renewable energy and the future of energy. However, within just a few weeks, the volume of discussion on these topics rose back to pre-pandemic levels and in fact grew, going into the heart of summer. However, at the point in which much of the world began to emerge from lockdowns, discussion on this topic again faded, recording lower figures throughout August 2020. Yet as the world was ushered back inside once more, discussion rose again. (see Fig. 8). This suggests that Energy influencers have been particularly good at gathering the attention of a captive audience, but have struggled to retain meaningful engagement and generate a large dedicated community.

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