Fashion, Travel, and Restaurant Influencers Share Their Pandemic Pivots
Let’s be honest: Influencers have, on the whole, not come off well in the coronavirus crisis. Some have shilled spurious vitamin supplements and holistic treatments to “prevent” or treat Covid-19. Others have been accused of spreading the virus as they fled cities, documenting their journeys for clicks along the way. At least one revealed a diagnosis — and saw her privilege greeted as the true revelation.
But influencers have always been convenient targets, public figures whose breezy social media presences belie the work, strategy, talent, and genuine interest in community that their work requires. And of course, many are finding ways to do good during this time.
The first lesson that some influencers are learning right now is that sponsored content had better be sensitive in tone and actually useful and responsible—unlike the absurd claims about the link between processed food, inflammation, and the coronavirus former Bachelor contestant turned fitness coach Krystal Nielson has been making as she hawks her detox program. (That Nielsen is also offering free workouts on Instagram Live doesn’t make any of this OK.)
Still, it can be hard to know what to even share with your followers when your area of expertise is completely out of sync with stay-at-home orders and social distancing. Justin Walter, an adventure travel writer and influencer with almost 37,000 followers on Instagram, says he has primarily been trying to “keep the conversation of travel alive even though we should not be traveling.”
Walter has done that with a series of live Instagram chats with world travelers like himself, talking to fans about their experiences. “I want our conversations to offer perspective and inspiration,” Walter says. “I hope that they act as an outlet to those who need a break from the realities of what is going on. It's also a fun way to virtually travel with interesting people from around the world.”
Marcia Gagliardi, whose newsletter and website Tablehopper has been covering San Francisco Bay Area restaurants from an insider’s perspective for 14 years, advises that “It’s a time to be a voice of positivity, of generosity, and to inspire your followers to take care of those who are less fortunate. Be supportive of small businesses, help shine a light on those fighting to survive, and be a mouthpiece to show people how to help.”
In addition to giving her followers information about takeout food options in and around San Francisco, along with photos to inspire them to place orders, Gagliardi has also been using her own social media savvy to share tips with restaurant owners about how to market themselves to new customers during these times.
Asked whether she feels a responsibility to encourage safety for her followers, she says, “Absolutely. I want people to be safe, stay the eff home, and flatten the curve. But I also want to encourage people to do takeout or curbside pickup from restaurants if they feel comfortable, healthy, and have the means to do so—it saves the restaurants the delivery commission fee. Even stopping by your neighborhood bakery can be a good excuse for some exercise. They’re happy to see their customers’ faces, even if we have masks on.”
Fashion influencers have been impacted as well. In the days after September 11, New York Fashion Week was overshadowed, even derided. And today, with so many people isolated at home—or worse, suffering or grieving—fashion can seem frivolous. New York-based influencer Chrissy Rutherford is taking the opportunity to clean out her closet, sell clothes to her followers, and donate the proceeds to charity. She has also posted photos of herself in outfits with captions like “If I weren’t at home I’d be wearing this,” and even added a melancholy postscript to a recent sponsored post, featuring a photo of herself modeling clothes outdoors on a late winter day: “Now looking at the photos and where my life was in this moment, it just reminds me that no matter how well we plan or think things through, sometimes life simply has other plans for us.”
Devon Gibby, who has the single-gay-dad account @dadndaddies, says that he’s taking his role during this pandemic extremely seriously. “I’m doing my best to adapt my messaging in my posts to what’s relevant now, not wanting a photo or an ad to appear insensitive to the struggles that so many people are going through,” he says. “I think influencers like me have an important responsibility to share helpful and accurate messages so that people will stay home and practice social distancing.” (Read a profile of Gibby here.)
As for how the pandemic and limiting of movement is affecting the business of influencing, it seems too soon to say. Marketing budgets are being broadly frozen or slashed, as MarketingWeek reports, with less than 10 percent of brands seizing the opportunity that the pandemic lockdown may have presented simply because of decreased cash on hand. Influencers aren’t able to create content outside their homes as easily due to sheltering mandates, which has hindered brand collaborations for some, according to eMarketer. But Vogue Business reports that many brands are leaning into influencer marketing more heavily now than before because they feel like the personal connections that influencers have with fans help them avoid tone-deafness during a crisis—not to mention the fact that Instagram usage is reportedly up 40 percent among 18-to-34-year-olds due to the lockdowns. Multiple influencers who spoke to nofilter said they are hearing from some different brands than usual, and business hasn’t really dried up.
Gagliardi, who also has a new content channel devoted to cannabis microdosing called @mymilligram, says she’s been hearing a lot more from brands with home delivery services, from wineries to dispensaries to cheese companies. “All those meal-kit companies must be high-fiving all day,” she says.
She adds that when all of this is over, it’s hard to say what the landscape will look like for a lot of industries. “When all these businesses and events start coming back online, we’re going to need to help lift each other up and figure out some creative and generous solutions. Everything is changing,” she says.
Walter says he’s “hoping that by summer things will start picking up,” for his business, “but that might not be the case.”
“I think this [crisis] is really going to challenge brands, tourism boards, and influencers to think outside the box on how they can work together when travel is not a possibility,” he says. His advice for influencers: “Reach out to former clients with [whom you have] good relationships and let them know we are here for them during this time and are open to working together in new ways.”
“Travel will return,” he says. “And when it does, we hopefully have provided some tools and insights to do it in a safe and responsible manner.”