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What Place Do Influencers Have In A Pandemic?

This week's newsletter: There is a big debate happening online about what exactly influencers should be posting right now, or if they even should be at all. And home decor porn — it's good for the soul!

Posted on March 20, 2020, at 8:00 a.m. ET

This is Please Like Me, BuzzFeed News’ newsletter about how influencers are battling for your attention. You can sign up here.

“People aren’t yelling at the TV asking, ‘why are you showing ads?’”

Instagram / Grace Atwood

This past week has been tough, and I’ve needed a distraction from all of the doom and gloom. As silly as it can be, Instagram is a great escape. Scrolling through photos of animals, babies, and try-on hauls can be soothing in hard times.

However, there is a big debate happening online about what exactly influencers should be posting right now, or if they even should be at all. Some people are even cheering this crisis as the possible “death of influencers.” When Tanya wrote a thoughtful post about how travel influencers are facing a severe loss of revenue, tons of people tweeted at us that they “really don't feel sorry” for them and that they were happy about these livelihoods being destroyed.

Twitter

And while more people turn to social media as a distraction, many influencers feel like they are between a rock and a hard place. Their livelihood depends on ad revenue, but is it wrong to post ads right now? Should they go silent? Pretend like this isn’t happening?

I posted about this debate on my Instagram page this week, along with some funny WTF content. I got some good responses, including one from Grace Atwood, one of the influencers who has been praised online for handling this “right.”

I chatted with Grace, who blogs at The Stripe, on the phone this week, and she told me that this time is “really scary.” Some of her sponsorships are being pushed back or dropped, and she’s unsure how to proceed with her ads that are still going forward, like a partnership she has with Sephora.

“I was so nervous [to post an ad] because people are so sensitive right now,” she said, adding it is kind of a double standard. “People aren’t yelling at the TV asking, ‘why are you showing ads?’ ... We are doing what we can do to stay afloat.”

Still, she was overwhelmed by how supportive her audience was.

“I got hundreds of DMs from my audience asking me to keep posting, even if it’s an ad,” she said.

Grace said she even got a DM from a follower asking if she could get an affiliate link for something she was already buying on Amazon, because she wanted to support her. She told me she thinks her audience is looking for a distraction and a happy escape, but that it helps that she is also being honest about how she’s scared, what she’s doing to cope, how her business is doing, and why she is posting ads.

“That makes them a lot more supportive, because your community wants to support you,” she said.

Another influencer, Ashley Rose Reeves, posted about continuing to have ads on her Instagram feed. She told me she has “gotten negative remarks in the past where people assumed I wasn’t acknowledging bigger issues.”

Instagram

To Ashley’s surprise, the feedback to this post was “100% positive.”

“I think when people understand where you are coming from and you are honest, they are kinder,” she told me.

I think the influencers who are going to have the hardest time right now are the ones who have extravagant lifestyles or who tend to be a little out of touch. I love to stare at huge houses and luxury items as much as anyone, but it’s hard not to feel depressed staring at a rich person lounging in a mansion when you’re stuck working from home with your spouse in a small apartment. Grace agreed, saying the most important thing she is doing right now is trying to keep it real.

“I think it’s really important to put your feet in the shoes of your audience. People are worried about their jobs, now is not the time for luxury,” she said.

At the end of the day, influencers are like any group of professionals. Some are good at what they do, have quality content and personal connections with their audience, and may even come out of this stronger. Others don’t have the same business acumen, the personal connection to their readers, or the sensitivity to weather the storm, and they could face hard times. Grace has some advice.

“It’s about reading the room, and don’t be out of touch and don’t be an idiot,” she said. “Think about what your audience wants to see right now. And listen to your audience.”

In fact, Grace said her engagement is up, and she is getting so many DMs it is hard to keep up because “right now, people are so lonely.” She said that connection she has with so many people, and the chance to make them feel better with her content, is the most important thing.

“Everything I do is about my relationship with my readers,” she said.

—Stephanie

I’ve turned most of my IG Explore tab to soothing home renovations. I highly recommend it.

Instagram

This is what my Explore page looks like after falling into a massive hole one day of interior design and home renovation accounts and never quite climbing out of it. I’m thankful for it. (Of course, algorithmically speaking, I can’t escape the occasional TikToker or celeb gossip page. I mean, they are good for escapism too. Lol.)

Anyway, I started following accounts like these when I was planning my move into my new home and embarking on some small interior projects. Needless to say, that’s all been either postponed or I’ve had to find careful (and expensive) ways to work around it. It’s been stressful as hell.

Even if these inspirational projects on social media aren’t tangible or affordable, the inspiration has helped my mind rest from COVID-19 fears and drift into domestic bliss. They’re soothing to scroll through. And call it dumb, but seeing a weathered room turned into a chic-ass space does instill a bit of symbolic hope for the future. Sure, we can have a whole conversation about access and capitalism with fixer-upper culture. But let me and my easily triggered anxieties just have this right now!

And, hey, maybe it’ll actually inspire you to try some simple projects around your quarantine chambers.

Do you have a favorite ~retreat~ account? Send it to me! I’ll maybe share them in the next newsletter.

I have nothing witty to sign off. Take good care of yourselves and others,

Tanya

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