This is Please Like Me, BuzzFeed News’ newsletter about how influencers are battling for your attention. You can sign up here.
This message of positivity is sponsored by bralettes and pajama pants
We have all had to make adjustments to try to stay afloat these days. But no one has done it faster and more aggressively than social media brands. In some ways, they were built for this.
Over the past week or so, I’ve noticed how seamlessly influencers and their sponsored partners have started to post quarantine or crisis-related things.
It’s impressive, and it’s surreal.
Bang Energy has had a huge push to encourage customers to work out at home; fast fashion companies are shilling loungewear and cute T-shirts with sayings like “indoorsy”; and even products (like a Canon camera) that you would not associate with the pandemic have successfully created pandemic promotions (see: the mom influencer’s post below).
Being a parent to young children who are stuck at home is so challenging these days! Buy a thousand-dollar camera.
Brands and influencers have also quickly realized how mutually beneficial it is for their consumers and their image to align themselves with (seemingly) doing public good.
On Wednesday, clothing company Aerie launched a major campaign on TikTok to ~spread positivity~ with the hashtag #aerieREALpositivity. Their rollout included some of the platform’s biggest stars like Charli D’Amelio and Denise Mercedes, which meant it instantly became one of the biggest trending hashtags on the app. It’s inspired thousands of others who weren’t paid to also dance and ~spread positive messages~ about how they’re spending time at home.
“We want you to love your REAL self, that’s why we make clothes that make you feel REAL good!” the company wrote on its hashtag’s landing page. It of course also included links to purchase its clothing.
And in a completely shameless approach, Fashion Nova straight-up sent push alerts and text messages to customers asking them to spend their stimulus checks on their merch.
I’ve reached out to Aerie, Fashion Nova, and other brands mentioned in this newsletter.
You might be thinking, Of course companies will capitalize off of these times! Capitalism is the name of the game! However what continues to give me more pause is how much influencers do not represent the times, but still continue to influence these abnormal times. Tonally, influencers are shilling like it is any other day in any other moment in history.
This is probably in high contrast to the everyday conversations or thoughts you may be having with your regular self and your regular-folk friends around you. In real life, nothing feels normal anymore. On social media, it’s literal business as usual.
And, look, I get it. Keeping up positivity and any sense of normalcy is actually both normal and very important. For young people who have a huge platform, it’s probably what feels most natural these days. Engaging followers, maintaining their public image, and making money from it is their normal.
It might just be cool and worthy for your favorite online personality to acknowledge the tonal shift. Or how they’re struggling or adjusting, if they are. If you have influence, wield that influence honestly?
Do I want to buy your cheap tie-dye crop top pajama set? Yes. Am I also more anxious and depressed than I’ve ever been and am deluded into thinking buying a set will miraculously improve my mental health? Also yes.
All I want in this pandemic is for people to stop presenting loop giveaways as charity
A few weeks ago, I wrote about loop giveaways on Instagram and how, while they aren’t technically illegal or against the platform’s terms of service, many consider them to be an unethical and skeezy way of superficially boosting followers and engagement.
Since then, it seems like loop giveaways are everywhere. I can barely open Instagram without someone telling me that I can win a Peloton bike, a Dyson vacuum, or a “self-care kit,” if I just follow their five gal pals.
There are two things particularly irksome about this trend. The first is that the vast majority of the giveaways are offering cold hard cash, sometimes thousands of dollars in exchange for follows. The second is that these cash sweepstakes are being sold to us as an act of charity because of the economic hardships people are facing because of the coronavirus pandemic.
I like to give people the benefit of the doubt, but it’s hard not to feel outraged when an influencer says they are offering this giveaway, which directly benefits them financially, altruistically because they want to help their community in this “hard time.”
“Everyone is really struggling right now, and a lot of families are struggling financially,” Caitlin Covington said this week while announcing a $15,000 loop giveaway to her followers. “So four other girls and I decided to get together and do something to give back to y’all.”
Another thing that is disappointing a lot of followers right now is some influencers who were thought to be “above” or “better” than these types of ploys for engagement are doing them as well. On Wednesday, I got multiple messages on Instagram from sad followers of Katie Sturino, fashion influencer and founder of the hygiene line Megababe, reacting to her latest post.
“DOUBLE TAP IF YOU COULD USE $2,500 CASH?! 💵” the post read. “One of you is going to win that amount because I’ve teamed up with some of my favorite, positive Insta-gals to bless you and your fam during this hard season.”
Sturino paired with other body-positive bloggers Jenna Kutcher, Iskra Lawrence, Sarah Landry, and Courtney Quinn. Their posts read that they “chose each other” to enter into this partnership because they all will “brighten your feed with their beauty and realness.”
“We are so lucky to have YOU, our community, so we wanted to pay it forward and give YOU a chance to win big!” the post continued. “Imagine what you could do with an extra $2,500 in your pocket.”
But Katie’s followers who messaged me were upset, telling me they thought she was “one of the good ones” and was selling out. “I am so disappointed” was a common refrain.
I will say that one of the nice things about the giveaway is that, once I peeped the comments on everyone’s posts, people were genuinely interested in tagging friends who were struggling right now. Their enthusiasm to try to help their friends is lovely, and the comments describing why their friend or family member deserved to win money from the crew broke my heart a little.
“To help for all the weeks your salon has been closed,” wrote one woman, tagging a hairstylist friend. “For your little babe on the way!” wrote another, tagging a friend. “My sis and her sweet 5 kiddos are so deserving. They have worked so hard to build a home for themselves and that money would be a godsend,” wrote another.
I asked all the women I mentioned here, plus a few more, to respond to some of the criticisms of loop giveaways and asked them to give their side. None responded.
Maybe some people would say I am being too harsh. Influencers are experiencing the same economic hardships as everyone else, and maybe they have no choice but to resort to methods of maintaining their audience that they never had to before. And besides, if they actually are giving away money to people who need it, isn’t that a net positive?
There has been a lot of debate online about whether or not the Instagram influencer economy can survive a pandemic, and I think a lot of it these arguments are overblown or misunderstand internet culture. But it’s hard to defend framing a loop giveaway as charity, when so many people are vulnerable.
I think that the influencers who are authentic and honest with their followers, and who create a sense of community that uplifts, distracts, and entertains during this turmoil, will be the ones who thrive. When someone follows an influencer, they are actively choosing to be a part of that person’s online community for specific reasons. Now is not the time to sell out, it is the time to lean into what made people want to follow you in the first place.