Influencers have had a rough couple of weeks, as consumers’ tastes have rapidly drifted away from the high-gloss, incredibly curated and aspirational Insta-lifestyle that only a month or two ago was a staple of online life in the U.S.
Last month, Instagram influencer Jack Morris posted what once would have been a standard-issue image: He and his girlfriend in swimsuits posed on the edge of an infinity-edge pool, cuddling an adorable dog, framed by a pink Bali sunset – modified for the times with an inspirational message:
“Lauren and I are trying to stay inside in our villa as much as possible and comply with social distancing,” he wrote. “It sucks, but if everyone does their part, the quicker this will be over!”
The response was not quite the rapturous enthusiasm from his 2.7 million homebound followers, who found themselves conspicuously lacking both infinity-edge pools and Balinese sunsets to comfort them through these difficult times. Some noted the post was “insensitive” and “tone-deaf,” while others comforted themselves with the more dry observation: “Things could be worse, mate.”
And losing the audience has had more than a cost to influencers’ esteem – it has also taken a big bite out of their bottom line, according to BBC reports.
“Ad and marketing spend has been either cut drastically or thrown out of the window,” said Khyara Ranaweera, digital director of The Lifestyle Agency, a firm specializing in luxury lifestyle PR and affiliate marketing through links on blogs and social media. “A lot of businesses’ first response was panic mode: They shut their doors and social accounts and stopped spending.”
And influencers are feeling the hit. Travel influencer Alex Outhwaite has seen income from her YouTube channel drop by 90 percent in the last eight weeks. Karen Beddow, who quit practicing law to run her family travel blog, Mini Travellers, has seen her monthly income drop 95 percent. Israel Cassol, better known as Instagram’s Birkin Boy, used to make hundreds of dollars for every event he attended or every item he featured on his social media accounts. These days, he noted, he is borrowing money from his father to pay his bills.
“Everything has been canceled,” he told the BBC. “Normally, I post pictures with my bags and luxury clothes, but nobody wants to see that at the moment – nobody is interested in fashion because they’re not going anywhere.”
And while it might be true that no one is physically going anywhere, metaphorically speaking, consumers are going somewhere – because there are things they want to see, and they want certain people to show them those things.
We are, of course, talking about social media’s three hottest rising new stars: Dr. Anthony Fauci, Dr. Deborah Birx and Governor Andrew Cuomo.
And lest you think we’re kidding, we’ll give you a moment to check out the Google Trend data, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube to get a firsthand feel for how wide the enthusiasm has spread for these three.
In some very strange and highly unexpected ways.
We imagine Dr. Fauci, for example, has been surprised to learn there is a massive write-in campaign across social media platforms to have him declared People Magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive for 2020. Thus far, over 11,000 people have signed that petition – and if he wins, he would be both the first doctor to have been awarded the title and the oldest person, at the age of 79 (Sean Connery, the previous record holder, was 59). In equally surreal news, Dr. Fauci’s emerging stardom was cemented further this week when he was played by 1995’s Sexiest Man Alive, Brad Pitt, on Saturday Night Live.
And it’s not just Faucimania sweeping the nation. Dr. Deborah Birx, the coronavirus response coordinator for the White House, is now a fashion icon with not one, but several, Instagram accounts, dedicated to her scarf collection, including @DeborahBirxscarves and @DrBirxScarves, not to mention the currently trending Twitter hashtag: #DrBirxScarves.
And New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has also become a recent subject of obsession for social media watchers. Favorite topics include his polo shirt collection, whether or not he’s hiding any interesting piercings from the public (he says he’s not, and his office has noted they would really like people to stop asking), and how many people are now officially identifying as “Cuomosexuals” due to their apparently romantic infatuation with his competence.
Governor Cuomo, incidentally, likes the term and supports people using it – so long as they agree that he is both more appealing and attractive than his brother, the CNN anchor (and COVID-19 survivor) Chris Cuomo, to whom the term has also recently been applied.
And, The New York Times recently reported, even the sillier stuff at the periphery of the rise of these three figures points to why they’ve displaced their glossier, more frivolous counterparts of several weeks ago. It is precisely because they aren’t glossy at all, but are staid, predictable dressers. That seems to be what people like about them – and why they are racking up followers and filling the role of cultural role models. They seem serious, focused, reliable and informative. They carry with them the sense that what they have to say is the most important thing about them – and everything else is just background.
And while the Fauci, Birx and Cuomo trio is the most public, prominent example right now, the trend in general is bigger than just those three. As eyeballs are drifting away from travel enthusiasts and Birkin bag collectors, they are looking toward doctors in particular, according to the latest edition of the MIT Technology Review. A report recently confirmed by Buzzfeed noted that doctors and nurses are suddenly the newest rising generation of social media stars.
Some of it is silly: Doctors and nurses doing dance routines on TikTok is a social media sensation that we feel confident no one saw coming three months ago. But most of it isn’t: There are stories about the frontline and the importance of social distancing, informational content about how to disinfect things properly or place a mask correctly on one’s face, and data about the symptoms of the virus and how to best monitor symptoms.
Mikhail Varshavski, better-known to his 3.6 million Instagram followers as Doctor Mike, believes this development represents a mostly positive phenomenon in the evolution of social media, insofar as it helps people with knowledge become influential at a time when their expertise is most vital.
Varshavski told Buzzfeed that he has been using social media to amplify his practice and his message for five years, and he says now is the time for medical professionals to step in and be part of the accurate information dissemination solution.
“It’s a high-stakes time to start doing this, but I think it is important to do this,” he said of his fellow healthcare providers, who are “creating new lines of communication” with those who just want to stay informed.
As it turns out, at a time when what people most want is information, particularly about their health and safety, the best way to become an influencer is to have that knowledge and also a willingness to share it.
That may not always be the case – there is a future where people will once again be interested in Birkin bags, Balinese sunsets and a perfectly curated fantasy world, expertly photographed. But for now, at least, what everyone wants is a better understanding of reality – and as many access points as possible to the people who can deliver it.
And being able to tie a mean scarf, add an entirely new word to the English language or redefine the very concept of the sexiest man alive? Well, that probably doesn’t hurt either.