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The New Normal: What role do influencers play?

Deborah Villiers

As we set about establishing a new normal, how much will influencers, their opinions and their decisions impact what we choose to do in our own lives? MHP Brand and Reputation Director Deborah Villiers explores

“How are you juggling it?”, “When do think you’ll go back to work?”, “How are you managing to work with the kids around?”, “My customers don’t want me in their house – I’m not sure what to do?”, “Have you gone anywhere different today?” (and yes, the most middle-class question of all: “Does anyone know where I can find flour?”) Just some of the chat amongst the tradesmen, teachers, council workers, accountants, engineers and of course media types in my WhatsApp groups.

The common theme for us all: exactly how are you making THIS work?

And that’s because – despite it being the most overused word of 2020 (and one I have deleted from every press release, quote or newsletter I’ve seen it in) these times really are unprecedented. We have no idea what we’re supposed to do and are seeking instruction, inspiration and affirmation wherever we can find it: from friends and family to media and government, with influencers neatly occupying that gap in the middle.

Influencers have long been a source of inspiration as well as affirmation of our own beliefs – we know from our work with the Affective Brain Lab at UCL that people are influenced by those around them – and that they are more likely to buy into the opinions and beliefs of ‘people like them’. Its why we use influencers in behaviour change campaigns and why influencer-led concepts like ‘Run 5, donate 5, nominate 5’ or #Ballgownsbinsout have taken off so well in recent weeks, that they have gained significant traction in mainstream media.

So, as we set about establishing a new normal, how much will influencers, their opinions and their decisions impact what we choose to do in our own lives?

During a recent Engine Sofa Session a live poll revealed that 76% of people agreed influencers had a role to inspire people during the Covid 19 lockdown, and as we tentatively take the first steps toward recovery, that’s unlikely to change.

As human beings we are biased toward the social norm – which makes us more likely to copy the behaviours and ideas of those around us. But as we grapple to get our heads round what the ever-evolving situation means for us, our families, our livelihoods – we will look to those around us for direction. As such, the decision of someone we follow on Instagram to send (or not send) their kids back to school, to book (or cancel) a summer holiday, to meet (or not meet) with a friend at a social distance, to sunbathe (or not) in a park, is as likely to affect our choices as the opinion of someone in our social circle. Normalising a behaviour or opinion makes us more likely to mirror it.

In a recent MHP webinar looking at how behavioural science can help shape our exit strategy, we heard from Steve Martin, CEO of INFLUENCE AT WORK that people are far more likely to believe in – and act on – a message delivered by a real person than someone in a position of authority, reinforcing the role of influencers – as people a bit like us – in informing our decisions.

The fact is, that while people will of course look to gather all available information and make their own decisions about going back to work, sending kids back to school, heading back to the shops etc, they will always lean toward what they already believe to be right. People will seek opinions that align with their own and influencers may very well be the people that cement that decision.

So, what does this means for brands? We heard recently from YouGov that the brands who are getting it right, right now are those who are shifting their comms away from functional, claims-based messages towards showing the role a product or service plays in a person’s life. And influencers are perfect for doing that. We want to see people like us doing the same things we are doing in our own homes – or could easily do – which is what influencers being their own content studios, do so well. The key to getting it right in a time of heighted tension and emotion is authenticity and relevance.