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Nobody’s Buying Influencers Right Now. Not Even Brands. So Is It Time For Them to Step Up or Step Off?

a woman standing in the middle of an empty road in a desert

Is there anything more infuriating right now than seeing an influencer parading around their ultra-chic apartment whining about quarantine, or decluttering their already Instagram-worthy wardrobe?

If I see one more video of influencers baking banana bread or sharing their online beauty or clothing haul, I’m going to flip a table.

It isn’t only vapid, devoid of any sense of reality, but it’s also tone deaf. (Did I mention it’s also boring?)

But that begs the questions, what, if anything, other than an opinion, and thousands of followers, did these influencers actually bring to the table?

They often don’t bring in sales. (Remember the influencer with 2 million followers that couldn’t sell 36 t-shirts?)

They don’t have common sense when it comes to health and safety. (Some influencers risked their lives to swim in a toxic lake for that “perfect” Insta pic.)

And finally, many of them don’t even have real jobs or skills. (There was furore over the travel influencer couple who asked for money from their followers to fund their trip to Africa — ‘where in Africa?’ you may ask. Who knows? I don’t think they realised that it was a continent with several countries — and then admitted they didn’t work and their poor mother was bankrolling their travelling lifestyle.)

Awkward.

So during the Covid-19 pandemic, where a slew of brand deals are postponed or pulled entirely, what are influencers actually “influencing”?

It’s not culture, that’s for sure.

In some cases, it’s the worst of humanity on display.

When Humanity Takes A Wrong Turn In Favour of “Influencing”

In Vanity Fair’s article, Is This the End of Influencing as We Knew it?, it dissects the behaviour of one influencer, Arielle Charnas of Something Navy, who documented her trip to get a coronavirus test, her family’s travels from New York to the Hamptons to self-isolate (despite a shelter-in-place order) and, when they all test positive, her husband jokes that only “hot” people get the virus.

So funny! So relatable.

The same Vanity Fair article then labels Charnas as the “poster child” for influencers who “flaunt privilege, parade one’s apparently mild case when others are dying, fail to self-quarantine, and leave the American epicenter of the calamity to endanger more populations,” and rightly so.

(Charnas has since apologised with a lengthy blog post on her website. I’m not linking to it here; she gets her own website traffic just fine.)

From what I can see on her Wikipedia page, Charnas has no down-in-the-trenches work experience, and no real-world experience in writing or fashion or even business.

She started her blog in 2009, and by 2017, she had 1million+ followers. So apparently, that was enough for Nordstrom to sign her Something Navy brand in 2018. (Since the Covid-19 debacle, Nordstrom has wisely chosen to cut ties with Charnas.)

Other than putting on her “elevated basic” clothes and living in a city with a population of about 8 million alone, what has Charnas done?

She wants to write, and yet, I highly doubt she writes her own blogs any more.

Charnas could likely hire a ghostwriter to help with her content at this level, just as dating expert Matthew Hussey does (he has two on-staff ghostwriters — I know this because I was one of his ghostwriters for two years — and a third is his brother).

I looked up Charnas’ Something Navy website on BuiltWith, and it has WordPress site, Mailchimp plugin, Go Daddy servers etc, so there is nothing technically brilliant about the site.

The Vanity Fair article states that, “their [influencers] world is not set up to serve anyone else,” which is true.

Their world is solely about them, their “adventures”, it is not about helping others, or sharing information on skills they have.

Their world is entirely selfish.

Photo by Wesley Tingey on Unsplash

Cat Got Your Tongue?

In this article from WiredCould the Coronavirus Kill Influencer Culture?, it opens with the scene of influencer Justin Blomgren, and his photo: “a picture of himself standing on a cliff, overlooking the ocean, with the following caption: ‘Tbh, I’ve sort of run out of things to say … But here’s a photo showing I’m alive and healthy.’”

Oh, thank GOD. An influencer is alive and well!

That’s exactly what I was thinking about in between trying to get groceries from three different stores (because everywhere is out of stock of basics) and returning home dripping with sweat from the anxiety I get from being around people during a pandemic…

… trying to source a cotton face mask for my mum who is in the vulnerable category and finding out they’re all sold out…

… hiding in driveways to avoid people on my daily walk with my dogs…

… and burning through my savings so fast, because I don’t know where my next pay cheque is coming from.

You know what would have been better?

Empathy.

Understanding.

No two lives are the same, and clearly, this influencer seems to have had it good for so long, that he doesn’t even know what to say to comfort his followers — the people he uses as currency to secure brand deals — in a crisis.

So again, I ask, what is he influencing?

It’s not advocating for empathy, compassion or caring, that’s for sure.

Back to the Wired article…

Their [influencers] employment — many would likely call themselves “creators” of “content” — is to build feeds depicting beautiful and carefully curated lives.

STOP. RIGHT. THERE.

Creators of content?

That’s what writers, photographers, video editors are.

Those who slave hours over their craft, their passion, and deal with shitty clients starting out, do countless hours for free, and work each weekend to hone their craft, painstakingly learning techniques to be the best in their field.

In the article, influencer Zory Mory laments: “I don’t want to be not relevant and just keep posting beautiful photos, and I struggle with the captions.”

I can’t help my snarky tone, but that’s because influencers have nothing relevant to write about in their captions.

During a crisis, people can’t warm to the fairytale lifestyle they portray.

Influencers have no real-world experience or skill to draw on to actually be relevant in this conversation.

There. I said it.

Next, Zory went through “a ‘decluttering phase’ and modeled some recently bought clothes around her bedroom.”

(I still wonder why every influencer does this. I bought some clothes the other day too, but I didn’t feel any compulsion to model them for my Instagram followers.)

Zory goes on to say: “I do see a lot of repetition in the messaging [of other influencers]; when you’re living in four walls there’s a limitation to activities you can perform.”

Oh, so that’s why we get endless Marie Kondo-inspired videos, and “parading around in your Bonds jocks”-type videos. It all makes sense.

However, if influencers had any creativity, I’m sure they could think of something to do in those 4 walls that would benefit them as a business, and their followers.

Influencers could join one of the 450 free Ivy League courses offered online.

Maybe subscribe to Masterclass to gain a skill to help them expand?

Create an online coaching program for Skillshare?

(I have some more ideas here.)

Then come back and share their findings with their audience as content?

But sadly, it appears influencers are just people with a lot of followers and an opinion, so building a business skill doesn’t seem to rank high on their list.

Closing off the Wired article, associate professor of psychology, Adam Brown, weighs in: “[influencers need totap into needed resources like safety, community, a sense of trust.

This is creating content pillars to post content with purpose and intention. Something influencers currently don’t do.

Looking at the Bottom Line

Finally, in this second article from Wired, The Influencer Economy Hurtles Towards Its First Recession: “Brands will demand more evidence that their marketing dollars are being put to good use, and that influencers give them sales, not just exposure.”

I wonder, why weren’t brands demanding this before?

Why were brands handing over their products, signing deals and NOT demanding a reporting dashboard from the influencer that clearly demonstrated sales?

“Those who can’t connect with their followers or prove their value to brands may find that their place in the industry grows precarious. Even influencers who can demonstrate that value will have to remain adaptive to a rapidly changing world.”

In order to get through this life-changing time, influencers must consider these things:
Get a skill. An actual skill

Do a free Ivy League course. Create a SkillShare course. Do a Masterclass. Do something that demonstrates influencers are running a business, and their expertise will build trust and authority. They need to stop thinking they’re exempt from paying their dues.

Influencers need to treat themselves as a business. They need to act like business owners and hone their skills.

Own your platform

Influencers need to make sure that Instagram is not their bread and butter.

They don’t own the platform or the followers there, so it could all disappear tomorrow. Get people’s email addresses with a lead magnet, create a sales funnel or something similar, and have a website — things they own if they want to run a successful business.

Invest in a reporting dashboard

Sign up for Maybe* — which is one I use, as it tracks conversations, sentiment and tracks your competitors.

Influencers should look into getting a dashboard that records sales of their affiliate links or brand partnerships. Post-pandemic, this will be a must-have for all brand deals.

Develop a strategy

Influencers need to spend time learning how to create a strategy that connects to their audience.

Learn content strategy, develop content pillars, understand how strategy can help fuel their business.

Not just “post workout gear because everyone is home in a pandemic” — a real, robust marketing strategy that serves their passions and also appeals to their audience.

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🥴 Can’t get the words out when you’re writing emails, your website, or even Instagram captions?

Here are 7 must-have copywriting tactics that you can use to help convey your message.

Full disclosure: I have accepted products in an influencer capacity for Shea Moisture hair care once, over a year ago, for the Australian launch of their Coconut & Hibiscus range. However, prior to being approached by their Australian PR company, I had used the products for 5 years, bringing them back or having friends ship them to me from the US. I didn’t receive monetary compensation; just a once-off delivery of free products. You can read my review of Shea Moisture’s range here.

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