Updated: August 31, 2021

How the pandemic impacted influencers’ partnerships, earnings, and content production

Though the word “influencer" has been part of the formal English lexicon for only a couple of years, the practice of famous or semi-famous people with enough sway to influence the decisions and behavior of others goes back centuries.

Today, influencers are an increasingly important element in many advertising and marketing campaigns, inspiring their thousands of social media and online followers to make consumer decisions.

Since 2016, the influencer marketing industry has grown by about five-fold, rising from just under $2 billion to almost $10 billion in 2020. And this year? It’s expected to reach nearly $14 billion. For this report, we asked more than 220 influencers that work with brands detailed questions about their business to understand the state of influencer marketing and whether the pandemic has negatively impacted influencers’ ability to reach audiences.

Key Findings:

  • 23 percent of influencers earned at least $50,000 in the last year from influencer marketing and 8 percent earned more than $200,000.
  • The platform driving the most revenue growth from brands in the last year was requests for collaborations on Instagram stories and Instagram reels. On average, influencers charged $150 per Instagram story and $600 per reel.
  • Forty-seven percent of influencers say working with brands is tougher today than before the pandemic, and being offered fewer branded collaborations was the most commonly cited negative impact. Automotive and education influencers were most likely to report increased difficulty.
  • Over half of influencers had to delve into new revenue streams after the start of the pandemic, including merchandise sales, consulting services, and OnlyFans.
  • 57 percent of influencers posted about social issues in 2020, such as the presidential election, Covid-19, or racial justice movements. Nearly a quarter lost followers as a result, but only 5 percent lost partnerships.

All About Influencers

It’s reasonable to think of influencer marketing as a relatively new phenomenon, but our research indicates that most influencers have been at it for a long time. In fact, fewer than one in five have been in the industry for less than five years, and more than half have been at it for more than a decade.

How long have you worked as an influencer

The influencers in our survey have a combined follower count across platforms of more than 26 million, but the average influencer had 190,770 followers on all of their platforms. Only six percent had more than a million total followers.

How many followers do you have across platforms

Influencers are also often working across niches. Only a handful of influencers make content in just one category, and the average influencer creates content across six categories. Lifestyle content is the most popular, followed by food/recipes and travel in a distant third.

Most popular content categories

Lifestyle 68%
Food/recipes 58%
Travel 45%
Beauty 37%
DIY and crafts 37%
Deals/coupons/frugal 37%
Parenting 37%
Home decor/improvement 35%
Giveaways 34%
Fashion 33%
Pets 30%
Entertainment 29%
Health & fitness 28%
Tech 22%
Education 17%
Home management 17%
Personal finance 14%
Green living/eco-friendly 13%
Automotive 10%
Business 6%
Latino lifestyle 6%
Other 2%

Instagram is the most popular platform, with almost all influencers saying they create content for the channel. Websites or blogs and Facebook are second and third, separated by just a percentage point. Just 31 percent of influencers in the survey were creating content for TikTok, although earnings potential is high for those who reach superstar status: Charli D’Amelio, who joined the app in 2019, earned $4 million in 2020.

Content production for Clubhouse, a voice conversation app which launched in 2019, was the least common among influencers. Only one percent were creating content for Clubhouse. However, millions of people are currently on a waitlist to join the platform, which could be a sign that more influencers will make the jump to Clubhouse soon.

Percent of influencers using platforms

Instagram 96%
Website/blog 92%
Facebook 91%
Pinterest 79%
Twitter 69%
Email 51%
YouTube 47%
TikTok 31%
Snapchat 5%
Podcast 1%
Television 1%
Clubhouse 1%

Just as the average influencer creates content in multiple categories, they also publish on a variety of platforms. Creating content for multiple platforms can boost income for influencers. In fact, almost all of the influencers we surveyed who make at least $50,000 per year create content for at least five channels.

Pandemic Pressure: How Did COVID-19 Change Influencer Marketing?

Almost half (47 percent) of the influencers we talked to said it’s harder now to work with brands than before the COVID-19 pandemic. Many said they got fewer collaboration offers, lower budgets, and greater restrictions on what and where they could produce content.

Automotive influencers were most likely to indicate that branded campaigns were more challenging now than before COVID-19, while personal finance influencers were least likely to say so.

Influencers who say working with brands is harder than before COVID-19, by category

Automotive 77%
Education 61%
Latino lifestyle 60%
DIY & crafts 59%
Tech 58%
Travel 57%
Pets 57%
Giveaways 56%
Food/recipes 53%
Lifestyle 53%
Parenting 53%
Business 50%
Deals/coupons/frugal 48%
Home management 47%
Fashion 45%
Health & fitness 43%
Home decor/improvement 43%
Beauty 42%
Entertainment 40%
Green living/eco-friendly 33%
Personal finance 29%

In some cases, the pandemic’s impact is obvious: Americans drove 430 billion fewer miles in 2020, so it’s not too surprising that automotive influencers are having the toughest time securing paid engagements with brands. The travel industry lost trillions because of the pandemic, and 57 percent of travel influencers said it’s tougher to work with brands now. However, with more people doing school from home and others attempting new DIYs and crafts, one might have assumed education and DIY influencers would have an easier time securing branded campaigns.

Among those who said it was harder to work with brands today, 38 percent reported that there simply are fewer branded collaboration offers, and another 26 percent said budget cuts increased difficulty. One in four said COVID-19 restrictions affected their niche or their workflow.

Most common pandemic difficulties for influencers*

Fewer branded collaborations 38%
Reduced budgets 26%
COVID restrictions affected niche or workflow 25%
More influencers to compete with brought down pay 13%
Harder to find brands to work with influencers 8%
Brands want bigger influencers or guaranteed results 8%
Opportunities are short-term, last minute, or have too many restrictions 8%
Great work expectations for less pay 7%

* Among influencers who said COVID-19 pandemic made it harder to work with brands

More than half of travel influencers (53 percent) said they saw a decrease in the number of brand partnerships offered to them in 2020. All told, influencers across 10 categories were more likely to report decreases than increases. One in three Latino lifestyle influencers saw an increase in partnerships, as well as 22 percent of health influencers. More than half of travel influencers and a quarter of automotive influencers said they had an overall decrease in partnership offers.

Influencers who reported increase or decrease in partnerships offered by category, 2020-2021

Category % with increase % with decrease
Latino lifestyle 33% 8%
Education 21% 3%
Health & fitness 22% 4%
Food/recipes 20% 14%
Green living/eco-friendly 22% 16%
Home management 16% 10%
Home decor/improvement 20% 15%
Lifestyle 17% 12%
Parenting 11% 7%
Business 0% 0%
Personal finance 12% 12%
DIY & crafts 7% 9%
Giveaways 9% 14%
Deals/coupons/frugal 14% 20%
Pets 4% 11%
Beauty 13% 21%
Entertainment 8% 18%
Tech 13% 23%
Fashion 3% 19%
Automotive 0% 25%
Travel 4% 53%

Pandemic impact on earnings

As opportunities declined, more than half of influencers said the pandemic led them to diversify their revenue streams in 2020. Resale apps and merch sales were the most popular options for earning extra cash, while two percent of influencers launched a podcast. Another two percent started an OnlyFans page to sell content subscriptions directly to followers. The platform’s popularity skyrocketed during the pandemic, but recent controversial decisions on adult content policies may have damaged users’ trust.

Influencers starting new revenue streams in 2020

Use resale apps like Poshmark, Mercari, or Depop 16%
Create/sell merch 12%
Sell ad space on website 10%
Create and sell book or e-book 9%
Provide consulting services 7%
Get part-time job 7%
Get full-time job 6%
Sell other products directly to followers 6%
Provide coaching services 5%
Create and sell a course 5%
Host events or seminars online 4%
Create and sell personalized videos 4%
Launch a Patreon page 3%
Create membership program for followers 3%
Launch an OnlyFans page 2%
Create a podcast 2%
No new revenue streams 46%

Influencers with large follower counts were less likely than those with smaller audiences to say they didn’t employ any new revenue streams in 2020. About 46 percent of those with fewer than 100,000 followers didn’t try anything new compared to 40 percent of those with more than 500,000 followers. This shows that micro- and nano-influencers might have felt the economic impacts of the pandemic more acutely.

Months after the start of the pandemic, few of the influencers we surveyed make enough money from their content to equate to a full-time wage. Nearly one in four earn at least $50,000 and eight percent are making $200,000 per year.

Current influencer annual income (before tax)

<$10,000 32%
$10,000-$19,999 19%
$20,000-$34,999 16%
$35,000-$49,999 9%
$50,000-$74,999 4%
$75,000-$99,999 6%
$100,000-$149,999 3%
$150,000-$199,999 2%
$200,000+ 8%

Impact of Social Issues on Influencer Marketing

Not only did the COVID-19 pandemic affect how some influencers work, it also inspired some of the subject matter of their posts. Across all verticals, nearly half of influencers posted content about the pandemic during 2020, another third posted about racism.

Influencers posting about social issues

COVID-19 pandemic 49%
Racism 36%
2020 elections 20%
Other social issues 18%
None of the above 43%

We know that people want brands to take stands on social issues, but how do people respond when influencers voice their views? Some influencers may have paused their typical content last year to post about current, and controversial, events for the first time ever. About half of influencers who posted about social issues said they didn’t experience positive or negative fallout from their social issue posts. About a quarter of people who posted about social issues said they lost followers, and another 18 percent gained followers. Very few influencers said their posts impacted their partnerships.

What happened as a result of your posts about social issues? Select all that apply.

Loss of sponsorships 5%
Loss of followers 24%
Gain of followers 18%
New sponsorships 10%
None of the above 50%

The Future of Influencer Marketing

We already know the influencer marketing industry is projected to swell to nearly $14 billion by the end of this year, but which platforms can we expect to see the most growth? Among all channels we asked about, nearly one in three influencers said Instagram provided them with the most requests for collaboration and biggest increase in engagement between 2020 and 2021.

Channels by most collaboration requests and biggest engagement increase

Channels On which channel did you have the most collaboration requests? On which channel did you see the biggest engagement increase?
Instagram 44% 31%
Website/blog 33% 20%
Facebook 9% 14%
Pinterest 2% 10%
YouTube 10% 9%
TikTok 11% 7%
Email 0% 4%
Twitter 3% 4%
Snapchat 0% 0%

*Percentage of influencers who say channel is most requested for partnerships in 2021 and who report channel to have greatest year-over-year increase in engagement

Different post formats grew in popularity between 2020 and 2021. Specifically, Instagram posts were among the most-requested content types for influencers in 2021. Instagram reels, introduced in the second half of 2020 as a competitor to TikTok’s short-video format, had the biggest increase. In 2021, it was the fourth most-requested type of content. Requests for blog post content and Facebook posts decreased more than other content types between 2020 and 2021.

Which three types of content were you asked to produce MOST? (by year)

Content type 2020 2021 Percentage point difference
Instagram reel 8% 22% +14
Instagram story 44% 51% +7
TikTok post 4% 11% +7
Tweet 9% 11% +2
YouTube video 6% 7% +1
Pinterest post 3% 3% 0
Other 3% 3% 0
Facebook live 2% 2% 0
Instagram live 1% 1% 0
Email campaign 3% 2% -1
Facebook video 1% 0% -1
Instagram post 75% 72% -3
Facebook post 23% 18% -5
Blog post 63% 47% -16

*Percentage of influencers who say channel is most requested for partnerships in 2021 and who report channel to have greatest year-over-year increase in engagement

Across all channels, influencers charge an average of about $600 per post when working with brands. But not all post types are equal when it comes to price.

Median price for content collaborations

Within the last year, Instagram updates prioritized reels within the app, giving them a central place in the navigation bar. After the release of reels, the short videos exploded across the app. Their new popularity, along with the more complicated production process, may be factors in their higher price tag.

Conclusion

Influencer marketing is projected to continue to rise, with three-quarters of brands indicating they’re devoting specific budget lines to influencer partnerships. Given the enormous amounts brands invest in their influencer marketing efforts, it’s not unreasonable to say the sky could be the limit for the industry.

And after enduring a year marked by economic hardships, the sky is also the limit for influencers. Many forged new paths to increase their earnings and show up for their fans despite diminishing budgets from brands and ever-changing algorithms on their platforms.

About This Report

We surveyed 228 influencers across two surveys regarding their experiences with online marketing, which content types they create and on which platforms, and whether the COVID-19 pandemic had affected their work. Our surveys were conducted online in July-August 2021.