It's not the simplest task to think over the start of 2020. That twin-digit year, a promising start of a new decade with "serious" resolutions ready to materialize and worldwide events of great magnitude lined up, has proven disastrous so far. Three months in, cautiously dipping our feet in the fourth, and over 1.2 million people have been infected at the time of writing; many have recovered and 70,183 have died. The villain behind such actions is the next movie star - once film production is picked up again - the daunting, microscopic novel coronavirus.
Out of all the sectors COVID-19 has crippled, social media seems to be booming as the focus shifts to everything online; their use has increased by over 40 percent. For people to remain home comfortably in order to minimize the spread of the virus, entertainment needs to be provided. And nothing says entertainment like hours of scrolling through content.
Now, for people who make money off of social media, the case is different and not as profitable. Pre-2020, brands spent billions on influencers; around $5.67 billion were allocated for the growth of brands through social media public figures in 2018 alone. Based on a new study by Influencer Marketing Hub, the industry is expected to be worth $9.7 billion in 2020, a significant increase from 2019's $6.5 billion.
Come coronavirus and worldwide lockdowns, marketing budgets have been slashed as companies, just like everyone else, face an uncertain future and longevity. Exports/imports not related to medical equipment have been halted, physical stores except for pharmacies and supermarkets/groceries have been shut down, and manufacturing has taken a hit, too.
In the U.S. and UK alone, almost 16 million people are now unemployed, a number feared to grow worse than during the Great Depression era. Other than unemployment, compulsory unpaid leaves proved popular among employers these past couple of months. All in all, purchasing power is dwindling.
As for the morale, it's safe to describe it as unstable.
Which brings us to this: Are social media users remotely interested in what influencers have to offer in such times?
According to Arabian Business' editor Lubna Hamdan, some social media faces are bound to become irrelevant to brands amid the current situation. In her article "Has Covid-19 killed off influencers?" she mentions two examples of trendsetters in the beauty and fitness fields whose common sense has failed their followers. One, a foreigner based in Dubai, went for a jog in public along with a woman despite government warnings and recommendations to self-quarantine at home. In her Instagram post, she even encouraged people to go out and ignore authorities. Reebok MENA shortly after stated that it has cut ties with her. Another influencer, with 1.9 million followers on Instagram, confidently said water is the cure to COVID-19. "Guys, drink water because if the virus enters your lungs, it's very dangerous, but if you drink water then it will go down to your stomach, which has 'things' that remove the virus," she said. Science, to her unfortunate luck, disagrees.
With irresponsible "influencing" and no higher-ups bossing them around, no one has the authority to fire influencers who encourage reckless behavior. What could happen, though, comes in the form of three scenarios: governments take action by fining them, brands cut ties and budgets, or followers turn their backs on them and hit the unfollow button.
It seems faces with no valuable content will go into the shadows this year as companies and big brands may not be willing to invest as extensively as in previous years. As one single example, the airline industry in the Arab region lost over $7 billion by mid-March. Will any airline save a first-class seat for an Instagram sweetheart soon? It's hard to say, but the answer, for now, is doubtful.
"From what we've seen, the initial round of budget cuts from brands has focused heavily on influencer campaigns, either as total cancellations or postponing activity to the end of the year," Jamal Al Mawed, founder and managing director of boutique PR and influencer engagement agency Gambit Communications, told Arabian Business. According to him, collaborating with public figures is generally seen through a happy lens as they "represent an aspirational lifestyle which might not be appropriate in the middle of a pandemic."
With people at home, online purchasing and social media use are skyrocketing. What do influencers do? Promote products online via these platforms. So could they ever go unemployed like the rest of us? For now, budgets have either been cut or are about to be heavily slashed, so yes, it's a possibility. It's time for these people who promote "the perfect life" to start posting responsibly and sensitively as well as prove their creative content creator side, or else they can bid farewell the luxurious life of freebies.
If international celebrities who are downplaying the reality of COVID-19 and posting about their lavish lifestyles are being criticized for their inconsiderate posts, influencers stand an even lower chance of being perceived positively during such times.