Influencer Marketing in a Global Pandemic? Turn to TikTok

At a time when most markets are significantly down, swerving influencer marketing may seem like a simple way to cut marketing spend and avoid the wrath of any negative publicity. This may be an easy path but is it necessarily the right path?


Consider Tiktok; a platform where any individual can be an influencer, and now more so than ever. At this moment in time, when people have more time on their hands and fewer places to be, Tiktok enables anyone and everyone to become life coaches and entertainers to other users across the globe. 


From dance challenges to lip syncs, life hacks and anything else you could possibly imagine; here, ‘normal people’ are gaining the same level of attention as celebrities, and celebrities who had lost some of their buzz in the public arena have discovered a new lease of popularity on the platform. It’s an increasingly valuable platform for brands looking to engage in influencer marketing to consider; albeit an expenditure which can be difficult to justify when the big bosses may have only heard the word uttered in brief conversations with their 15-year-old daughter.


From February to March, as countries went into lockdown one by one, Tiktok saw an increase in engagement of 27%.[1] It’s seen as a fun, feel-good and less promotional platform than Instagram, which has become intrinsically linked to paid influencer activity. However, with a meaty percentage of Tiktok users being savvy Gen Zs, influencer content on the platform must be authentic and enjoyable to watch, or it’s likely to be scrolled past without a second’s dwell time. In other words, it’s not worth trying to capitalise on economies of scale by bolstering influencer content from Facebook and Instagram for the sake of spreading bets – An influencer campaign on this platform should have Tiktok in mind from the very start.


The topical Dettol has led by example in this field. Riding the surge in demand for their products, the Reckitt Benckiser brand’s recent Tiktok #handwashchallenge in India has been recognised as one of their most successful campaigns ever. The campaign, which comprised a branded filter, catchy song and accompanying dance, was launched with a handful of Tiktok stars; each with millions of followers. While addressing the pandemic head-on, the campaign wasn’t explicitly promoting their products but instead aiming to correct misinformation spread on hygiene practises. The activity was a true viral success that saw a whopping 18 billion views in a week.[2] The reason behind the campaign’s success? It was reactive, real and relevant, alongside being entirely tailored to platform; a strong and steadfast direction to head in on the complex influencer landscape. 


Despite Instagram being somewhat less authentic than Tiktok, for many it’s as much of an online shopping tool as a way to keep up with friends. As a platform where people tend to show their ‘best self’, the aspirational aspect enables users to see brands, products and services being advocated by those they admire in a seemingly idealistic setting; in turn helping them to build their own personal brand. Micro-influencers, which some sources argue to include those with as few as 1000 followers, are increasingly being recognised as an effective way to drive cost-efficient, trustworthy brand awareness which, perhaps unsurprisingly, has been seen to drive higher engagement rates than when using influencers with millions of followers.[3] However, the typical aspirational content posted by influencers – think Kylie Jenner lying by the pool at her LA mansion shamelessly flogging her body lotion – is at risk of being met with more negative than positive sentiment within the current climate. Here, the relatable and creative Tiktok can fill this void, and there’s no reason for brands not to get involved.

So, to do or not to do influencer marketing during a global pandemic?

There is no easy answer and you certainly won’t find the solution in any textbook. The most effective way to make an informed decision is to be a consumer yourself. Sign yourself up to Tiktok (beware – it’s a slippery slope), get scrolling through Instagram and see for yourself how consumers respond to influencer marketing. Through engaging with the platforms with your brand-hat off, you’ll gain a better understanding of influencer activity than from any presentation or article.


When looking to conduct influencer marketing in the current landscape, question the reactivity, realness and relevance of what is being planned. Would the influencer really buy your products, and do they represent everything your brand stands for? If the answer to all these questions is yes, you’re likely to be heading along the right path.


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