When Madison Clevenstine, a 27-year-old content creator, set out to plan her May babymoon, she decided to go somewhere that had been at the top of her list for a while.
“Nantucket, you are really cute,” she wrote in an Instagram caption for her more than 37,000 followers. The photo shows her standing under a cascade of pink flowers, her hand resting on her belly.
Over the next few days, Clevenstine shared a series of photos and videos that would be familiar to anyone who has followed lifestyle or fashion influencers over the past few years: her posing next to a bike on a cobblestone street by a picturesque New England cottage, her and her husband smiling broadly by a lighthouse, paninis at a sandwich shop, and charming boutique after charming boutique.
Why did she travel all the way from her home in Knoxville, Tennessee, to a tiny island off the New England coast? Well, you could say the influencer was influenced.
“I’ve wanted to visit Nantucket for years, but I’m sure social media played a role in that,” Clevenstine told me, adding that while she did share the trip on her accounts, it was a personal vacation and not compensated. “I think there are few places as ‘postcard-perfect’ as Nantucket in the US…the entire island is a perfect backdrop for creating content.”
The wealthy Massachusetts enclave 30 miles off the coast of Cape Cod has long been a popular summer destination for East Coasters, with beautiful beaches, small shops, lots of colorful scenery, and iconic lighthouses. But over the past few years, it has exploded in popularity among lifestyle bloggers and influencers and, thus, those who follow them.
My social media feeds seem to be full of photos from ACK, as I now know locals call the island. Influencers share photos of hydrangeas bursting with blue and purple hues, melting ice cream cones from the Juice Bar, and gray-shingled houses, TikToks of themselves biking through a fishing village, set to whimsical music and hashtagged #sconset, and many, many, many shots of the historic Brant Point Lighthouse. I have never been to Nantucket, but if I see a photo of that lighthouse, quaint and coastal with an American flag on its side, I immediately know where the person is.
Even Instagram-friendly brands are getting in on the hype. Hill House, the brand created by the business owner and influencer Nell Diamond (who grew up summering on the island), opened a pop-up shop on the island. At the shop, fans can buy three exclusive styles of the brand’s famed Nap Dresses, which all have “Nantucket 2022” embroidered inside.
Why has Nantucket’s popularity spiked with the influencer set? It’s rather simple. Take a beautiful island with plenty of colorful and scenic spots that seem perfect for the ‘gram, combine that with a tourism board that is eager to partner with creators, and you have a match made in social media heaven.
“I don’t think people realize why they’re seeing so many more pictures of Nantucket; [it’s] because we are actually actively marketing Nantucket to visitors,” Shantaw Bloise-Murphy, the island’s director of culture and tourism, told me.
Bloise-Murphy explained that the town’s road to becoming social media gold happened quite organically. Influencers and travel bloggers, drawn in by Nantucket’s picturesque views and charm, began to reach out to the tourism board a few years ago to ask if they could partner to promote the island.
The board began to work more closely with content creators to craft sponsored trips, offering perks like free hotel stays, complimentary meals, personalized tours of the island’s museums, and boat trips. “Nantucket is such a beautiful place,” Bloise-Murphy said. “We’re lucky it photographs very well.”
She added: “We’ve always had travel writers coming to the island, and now we’re coming into a whole new market that we haven’t necessarily been exposed to or taken advantage of in the past. But as we know, marketing is moving [to] digital. Everything’s on social media.”
The campaign is working. Bloise-Murphy said that the island has seen “a very obvious increase in the amount of tourists each year, even throughout COVID,” though when asked, she didn’t have statistics about the increase. Nantucket has also seen a change in visitor demographics, she said. While visitors have traditionally been older folks who stay for a large chunk of the summer — your “coastal grandmothers,” let’s say — more and more tourists are from the coastal granddaughter demographic.
“We’re noticing that they’re younger than they have been in the past,” she said. “So you’re getting a lot of the twentysomethings and thirtysomethings that are coming out for shorter trips to the island.”
It’s likely many of these visitors are being influenced by women like Aubrey Jackson, a content creator who specializes in luxury travel and took a trip to Nantucket this summer after being invited by the tourism board. Jackson said she jumped at the opportunity to have some of her experiences paid for in exchange for posts.
“People’s brewing curiosity about Cape Cod and the ultra affluence that's on the island are the perfect ingredients to bring tourists and influencers alike,” Jackson said.
During Jackson’s trip, which she documented on her blog and social media accounts, she stayed at a new hotel, shopped at what she called “mom-and-pop shops,” checked out the Museum of African American History, and took lots of beautiful photos featuring the island’s main Instagram tourist attraction.
“Hands down the best spot for pics is the Brant Point Lighthouse,” she told me.
Mackenzie Horan Beuttenmuller, a lifestyle influencer and blogger, has a unique vantage point into the Nantucket Instagram trend. She has deep roots on the island. Her family has owned property there since the late 1800s, she grew up spending summers on the island, and she and her husband got married there, as did her parents.
Horan Beuttenmuller has watched over the past few years as what she called her “fairly well-kept secret” grow into more of a bustling tourist destination. She thinks bloggers and influencers “have certainly been a part of that surge,” as well as an increase in airlines that fly there. She has her own well-curated list of places where you can get the perfect Instagram shot on the island.
“The view from the top of the staircase at Steps Beach, the hydrangea driveway on Lincoln Circle, and the rose-covered cottage on Mitchell Street in ’Sconset have all become popular blogger backdrops, which has probably, in turn, made them more popular locations for family, engagement, and maternity photo sessions, too,” she said in an email.
The island’s new popularity has also been a boon for Nantucket-specific content creators. Kate Benjamin, a 29-year-old who works in media, lives in New York City but spends much of her summer on the island. In 2021, she created a TikTok account, @nantucket_island, to flex her creative muscles and share some of her favorite spots.
“The island inspires photographers, painters, and writers to produce great work that I think people on social media really resonate with,” she said. “It can look very dreamy.”
Benjamin fields a lot of questions about the island on her account, which has more than 22,000 followers, mostly from wannabe travelers looking for travel tips. She said her videos offering restaurant recommendations tend to perform well, as well as those highlighting the island’s natural beauty. She has seen her engagement increase over just the past few months. A recent video she posted showcasing a charming island cottage has received nearly 600,000 views.
Georgina Morley, a photographer and year-round Nantucket resident, started the Instagram account @greyladygirl in 2017 to document her local adventures and photography of the off-season.
Morley has a theory that Nantucket received a tourism boost because people have been looking for a beautiful domestic vacation spot during the pandemic.
“I once heard someone say ‘Nantucket isn't just a place, it’s a feeling,’ and that totally clicked for me,” she said. “Once you experience it, you want to keep coming back and bringing your favorite people with you.”
With an influx of tourists coming into any popular vacation area, there’s always a concern that locals could be overrun or pushed out, and Nantucket is no exception. Island voters, in a fight that has been going on for more than a year, are currently debating whether to put more restrictions on short-term rentals. According to the Wall Street Journal, the debate has been pitting “neighbor against neighbor,” with some arguing that short-term rentals help residents afford their homes on the island, while others argue that they will push out homeowners in favor of developers.
According to Bloise-Murphy, though, the island’s year-round residents, many of whom own or work in small businesses, tend to welcome the increase in visitors.
“Many of us rely very heavily on tourism during those short months to be able to afford to live on the island for the rest of the year,” she said.
However, she added, there are things visitors can do to ensure they aren’t being disrespectful to those who call the island home. She advised visitors to leave their car at home and recognize the slower pace of life.
“I always say that I wish everyone had to have their very own Nantucket,” she said. “We’re a very inviting community. We love when visitors come to the island.” ●