This is an excerpt from Please Like Me, BuzzFeed News’ newsletter about how influencers are battling for your attention. You can sign up here.
The influencer economy I know is one of questionable hacks for marketing and growth, like the Instagram loop giveaway. Most influencers I follow post tirelessly and strategically to battle for people’s attention and follows. It’s the mantra of this newsletter!
However, I was graciously reminded this week that a person can gain mass popularity by simply being talented and heartfelt.
On Wednesday, after Amanda Gorman, the first national youth poet laureate, delivered her powerful poem about a country in transition at Biden’s inauguration, people praised her on social media. She gained over 2 million followers on Instagram in a day. Her poem, which you can read in full, was not only moving, but it cut through the consciousness of a country in mourning and in disrepair.
“Somehow we weathered and witnessed a nation that isn't broken, but simply unfinished / We, the successors of a country and a time where a skinny Black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother can dream of becoming president / Only to find herself reciting for one.”
Gorman, who’s the youngest person at 22 to perform a poem at a presidential inauguration, read with poise and confidence. Immediately across Twitter and Instagram and private chats, I saw people react: They were in awe, they googled her, and they hit “follow” on her Twitter and Instagram accounts.
It was incredible to watch how a five-minute appearance — albeit on one of the biggest national stages — viscerally captivated people. And for poetry — an art form that does not often get mainstream attention!
Gorman herself was also shocked. In her Instagram stories later that day, she said she was having trouble accessing her account and posting anything because of the influx of followers and attention it was getting.
“This is not a game. This is not a joke. I just looked up and had a million followers,” she said.
During a time when the influencer space is becoming more standard and professional — which, don’t get me wrong, is great — it’s especially refreshing to be reminded that fans are often more compelled by ideas and thoughts as opposed to what they see. An interesting or aspirational photo of someone or their family or their favorite activity is nice, and it serves its unique purpose — but it only runs so deep. Gorman has not only helped people put words to their emotions, but she is stirring new kinds of conversations in a way that poetry does so well.
I reached out to Gorman, which is a long shot considering her fandom right now. But maybe one day we can talk about how poets can become successful influencers without compromising their art, and how social media can be a place of nurturing emotion and ideas as opposed to a gallery of stunts.
I was mostly impressed and happy that a personality was able to lead with their work and words first. She didn’t need to do big promotions or force herself into the spotlight; in fact, first lady Jill Biden reportedly first saw Gorman read one of her poems at the Library of Congress and told the inauguration committee to reach out to her. Gorman writes beautifully and succinctly, and the attention she got for it followed.
We really love to see it.
Until next time,