How Instagram influencers are trying to slow the spread of coronavirus

Key Points
  • Health officials have repeatedly stressed that the millennial generation is the core group that's going to help stop the spread of coronavirus around the globe.
  • Now influencer marketing agencies in the United States are shifting their focus to coronavirus related campaigns.
  • Still, many influencers are also being criticized for posts showing they aren't taking the practices seriously.
Casper Lee on stage at Girlguiding UK's Big Gig at SSE Arena on October 7, 2017 in London, England.
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Health officials have repeatedly stressed that millennials are key to stopping the spread of coronavirus. That's why one Los Angeles based influencer marketing agency, called Xomad, is making efforts to use social media influencers to reach millennials.

Xomad typically uses proprietary technology to pair influencers with brands that want to start campaigns to drive engagement and purchases. But, these days, with global coronavirus cases topping 1.3 million people infected, the company's focus is shifting from helping brands to spreading the word about the global pandemic. 

The Social Leader Council

When Xomad's CEO Rob Perry went on a business trip to Bangladesh this past January, he hoped to create a social media influencer partnership with the local government.

Perry pitched the Bangladesh's Information and Communication Technology Division to create a council of 500 influencers. The group would tackle a range of initiatives across health, education, technology and the environment. But, he didn't expect his negotiations to involve COVID-19, one area the government wanted to focus on right now.

Together, Xomad and the government partnered with local influencers to create the Social Leader Council. It went live in early April with 200 influencers. There are already plans to increase the council to 5,000 members.

"The primary role of the Council regarding the pandemic is to serve as an ongoing channel for the government to issue critical information that needs to be disseminated, and for influencers to keep the government informed about concerns, misperceptions or fake news circulating in the public," Perry told CNBC.

The partnership, funded by National Bank Limited, the oldest bank in Bangladesh, plans to use influencers who primarily have between 5,000 and 250,000 followers to "raise their voices and use their influence to spread awareness to help flatten the curve of the COVID-19 virus." Promoting social distancing is one way many countries, including the U.S., are trying to flatten the curve.

Why Bangladesh?

About 54% of the population in Bangladesh is under the age of 34. That's why Perry and the government see the council as an opportunity to help.

"Since Bangladesh is a relatively new country for influencer or word-of-mouth campaigns, it shows what's possible when best practices are deployed from the start," Perry said, noting that the influencers have generated engagement that's close to three times higher than what most campaigns in the West see.

Zunaid Ahmed Palak, the Honorable State Minister of Bangladesh's Information and Communication Technology Division told, told CNBC they had trouble in reaching the youth of Bangladesh using traditional media. That's where the Social Leader Council can help.

"We can effectively access and engage with younger generations by moving communication to the channels they already use and trust: social media influencers," Minister Palak told CNBC. "Tapping into hundreds or thousands of smaller social media influencers is an incredibly fast way to spread the messages we want the public to know about and respond to," he said.

People with fewer than 100,000 followers work best

Xomad's business model focuses on nano and micro influencers, or those with fewer than 100,000 followers.

Perry said they're "raw, real and cooler than polished hired guns or celebrities— with relatable lives, a more direct relationship with their followers, and better in touch with the consumer pulse and mentality." They also tend to have a closer relationship with their followers and better engagement levels, Perry explained.

"The goal is to help flatten the curve of the novel Coronavirus and save lives," Minister Palak said. "Xomad will ensure influencers only spread factual content, and will send updates to help influencers stay up-to-date with best practices to share with their followers," he said.

Since launch, the influencer group in Bangladesh has already reached near 7 million people with over 15 million impressions across Instagram and Facebook. The campaign has reached people in more than 300 cities and towns across the country.

Similar efforts around the U.S.

Xomad has decided to start a similar campaign in its home state of California.

The company is working with influencers around Los Angeles to spread positive messages of connectivity. The first campaign went live last week and Xomad is paying hundreds of influencers to post. It's currently in talks with other cities including Passaic, NJ; West Palm Beach, FL; and San Jose, CA, too.

Other influencer marketing agencies in the United States are shifting their focus to coronavirus-related campaigns. New York City-based last month launched a program called #ObviouslyForGood on Instagram. 

Although it wasn't an official partnership, the campaign emphasized sharing factual information from the World Health Organization. Influencers are posting custom graphics to their stories and are linking to non-profit sites where they encourage followers to make donations to World Central Kitchen, Feeding America and American Red Cross.

"We've heard from so many influencers and brands that they wanted to use their influence to help, and we've seen so much misinformation and misunderstanding about the virus over the last few months, that we decided a good first step was to cut through all the mixed messages and provide a definitive source of information -- the World Health Organization," CEO Mae Karwowski told CNBC.

The company says there has been a positive response from its community, with nearly 300 of its influencers taking part in the campaign and reaching nearly 2 million people.

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