Should influencers keep on influencing during a pandemic?
As I was scrolling through my Instagram feed earlier this week, it suddenly occurred to me that, if we had to go through a pandemic – like, absolutely HAD to – then I suppose we should be grateful it happened at time when the internet makes it so much easier to stay connected to people – albeit from a distance – and, in some cases, to work from home.
I mean, can you imagine if this had happened in the 90s, say, and we’d all been stuck at home with four TV channels, and no social media? (And, OK, sure, if it had happened in the 90s, my teenage self would’ve found it hard to tell the difference between enforced isolation and … just normal life, really… but you get what I mean, I’m sure.) Nightmare.
Flawed though it may be, then, there’s no denying that social media and the internet in general does help make the current situation feel a little bit more bearable. (There’s also no denying that FaceTime makes it a whole lot easier for Max to wrap his grandparents around his little finger from a distance, as we recently discovered. They spent at least 20 minutes one day gamely pretending to make a puppet and a doll talk to Max via the screen on my phone: I’m still not convinced he wasn’t just trolling them…) That doesn’t, however, mean it’s perfect: and while there’s a lot of support and camaraderie to be found on social media right now, there’s also been a lot of conflict, as people desperately try to work out how to ‘pandemic’ correctly, and then lash out at those who chose to do it differently from them. So much for last month’s #bekind message, huh?
For influencers and bloggers, meanwhile, there seems to be two main camps:
The ones who’ve adopted a ‘Keep Calm & Carry On’ attitude, and are continuing with business as usual, in the belief that keeping their feeds as normal as possible, and giving people even a momentary break from the real-life distopian novel we’re all living through right now can only be a good thing.
The ones who are basically just waiting to die now, and, well, misery loves company, right?
(Er, I don’t have to point out which camp I fall into here, do I? Didn’t think so.)
The thing is, though, neither of these approaches are wrong: although you wouldn’t think it to see some of the comments on Twitter or Instagram, as people lambaste influencers for continuing to post adverts, or get equally annoyed when someone dares to admit that they’re struggling with the situation. It’s not like everyone’s been given a handbook on how to deal with a pandemic, though, is it? (Although, come to think of it, that would be super-handy: can someone please get on that ASAP??) It’s not like we all have the same coping mechanisms, or reactions to things – so it’s a shame that some people seem to have taken it upon themselves to start policing the internet and telling everyone that they’re pandemic-ing wrong. Are things not bad enough right now without us all starting to turn on one another, too?
For myself, meanwhile, I have to admit, I find it jarring when I stumble upon the feed of someone who’s apparently just carrying on as normal, without any kind of acknowledgement of what’s going on in the world … but then again, I know all too well that there’s comfort in routine, and that keeping things as normal as possible is sometimes the only thing standing between you and a nervous breakdown. I mean, I’m trying to spend as little as possible at the moment, because, like many of you, I’m worried about the financial implications of all of this, but I’ve still been loading up the ASOS website every day, because scrolling through the ‘new in’ section and ‘hearting’ everything I’d like to buy from it is comfortingly normal to me, in a time when very little else is.
So, I might not particularly relate to the people getting dressed up to take outfit photos at home right now, but I don’t really feel I can judge them, if that’s what’s helping them get through this. And while I was relieved that the sponsored post I had scheduled for last week was postponed at the last minute, because the subject matter really didn’t seem appropriate under the circumstances, this week I’ve been responding to the brands who’ve contacted me about potential collaborations – assuming they’re relevant, obviously – because, the fact is, pandemic or not, girl’s gotta eat.
Is it wrong for influencers to continue to try to … well, influence… under the circumstances, though?
Plenty of people seem to think so – if Twitter is anything to go by, anyway. I’ve been fortunate in that I haven’t had any comments to that effect myself, but I have a few blogging friends who’ve been quite upset by the backlash they’ve had for continuing to create content (Or even just continuing to promote older content…) over the past couple of weeks, and I’ve honestly been quite surprised by it. Content creation, after all, is how these people – myself included – make a living: and – crucially – it’s the kind of living they might just be able to continue making without leaving the safety of their homes. Why would anyone expect them to NOT do that, if they possibly could? What’s the alternative? Should they just give up, and not be able to pay their bills next month, even although it was – potentially – within their power to continue to do so?
And, if so: WHY?
Why would you expect someone not to work, if they’re able to do it? We don’t seem to have this expectation of people in other industries (Even other non-essential, totally frivolous ones: I haven’t seen anyone calling for online fashion and beauty brands, for instance, to stop trading at the moment, but apparently the people who just write about those brands are doing something morally reprehensible?), accepting, instead, that they’re just doing their jobs, and trying their hardest to keep their heads above water, and/or their businesses afloat during hard times. When it comes to influencers, though, there’s still a lot of stigma involved attached to making money from selling/promoting things, and I worry that it might force people to shut up shop, even although they could have stayed open.
For my own part, I honestly have no idea whether or not I’ll be able to keep this blog afloat over the coming months: not just because we now have absolutely zero help with childcare, which leaves me only really able to work in the evenings, once Max is in bed, but also because a site this size costs money to run, and we’re yet to find out what kind of impact the pandemic itself, plus the almost-global shutdown we’re going through, will have on the industry.
We do know that Terry’s work as a web designer will be massively reduced: people just don’t have the cash to pay for new websites right now, and many of his clients have already contacted him to put their projects on hold. We’re hoping we’ll be entitled to some of the financial help the government are making available to small businesses, but it won’t cover the losses we’re expecting to make from this – and that, of course, means there’s even more of a reason for me to continue to work for as long as I can: and it worries me that I’m probably going to be criticised for that – as if not paying my mortgage next month is a viable alternative for me.
So, should influencers continue to work during a pandemic – or any other crisis?
Of COURSE they bloody well should. As I said above: why wouldn’t they? Why wouldn’t ANYONE who’s able to (safely) continue earning a living right now continue to do it for as long as they can?
If you want your favourite bloggers and Instagrammers to still be around once the crisis is over, then, now’s the time to support them, if you can. Keep reading their content – and, if you’re feeling particularly generous, consider sharing it. Follow them on social media. ‘Like’ their Instagram photos. Don’t complain if they dare to take on paid work in order to be able to feed their families: I don’t think many people would do differently, under the circumstances. Above all, try to understand that we’re not doing this because we want to cynically exploit our readers, or make a quick buck from them: we’re doing it because this is our job, and our livelihood, and we can’t afford to lose it any more than you can afford to lose your main source of income, whatever that may be.
I should probably also point out here that, in making this plea, I’m not asking for special treatment, or for people to do anything we’re not doing ourselves. We are, sadly, far from the only people who’ll be dealing with loss of income due to this pandemic, so we’re doing our best to continue supporting the businesses and people who matter to us, in any way. So we’re shopping local where we can (We’re really fortunate in that our village store has started running a free delivery service, which we’ve already used a few times, rather than relying on the supermarkets…), we’ll continue to pay for Max’s nursery place and swimming lessons for as long as our finances allow, even although he’s no longer using them, and while I don’t always understand or relate to other people’s responses to the surreal situation we all find ourselves in, I’m doing my best not to judge: because I think we’re all walking a pretty hard path right now, aren’t we?
More than anything, I’m trying to remember that one day this will be over, and we’ll be able to go back to normal: so let’s do whatever we can to make sure that there’s still some “normal” to actually go back to…