Influencer Culture Forecast
Text by MC Miskuly
Illustration by Eddie Loughran
There is a lack of consensus on what an influencer actually is. We see them on our social media pages - followed by hundreds of thousands or millions, pushing new products from their brand endorsement deals, perfectly curating their page to exemplify the best parts of themselves, and oftentimes pushing their own agendas to sell their image with their products. A lot of people think it’s easy, but it’s not. Being a social media influencer has become a full time job, and it's something that, even five years ago, many would not expect could become a modern career. Influencers have mastered the craft of creating content from their bedroom that connects to and has a great impact on a larger network of users all over the world.
As a society, we’ve invested significant time, mental space, and even money into influencer culture. It has become a major mode of marketing in recent years as it is incredibly easy to spread word quickly when one possesses a following. Most people who use social media are likely familiar with at least one influencer: they may know their name, where they live, how they take their coffee, their favorite colors, and maybe even their birthday all via subliminal messages sent from their feeds. Unknowingly, we participate in the cycle of this network of people that has connections to serious problems.
The influencer network has been under flack for months now due to their handling of COVID-19. Beginning with the notable, Arielle Charnas, who flaunted her privilege as she got immediate testing by a doctor friend and escaped the situation in New York City by fleeing to her summer home in the Hamptons. News outlets picked up the story as followers became outraged, and it sparked a larger conversation about what being an influencer in 2020 is actually going to look like.
This culture is being dismantled due to disapproval and resentment. Celebrities posting from their minimalist mansions saying they’re going stir crazy, going on Instagram Live to engage and retain their followers, and even urging them to donate to organizations that support those suffering due to the pandemic. I would like to ask, where is the decency? Do they not understand that they are most likely in a far better position to donate to an organization rather than the everyday person who has possibly relocated, lost their job, or struggled to access food? Prodding followers to donate feels more like shaming them when they may not necessarily have the means to donate. As they are seated in their homes with ample access to food and drink, many are left without that privilege during this time.
There are unknown, or rather unacknowledged, aspects of privilege influencers have been exposed for in the wake of the virus. The negative aspects of the culture are paving the way for change. I anticipate there will be a rise of influencers in 2020 and 2021 who wish to stray away from flaunting products and privilege to promote a more informed message to their audience. A rise of an “unfluencer” of sorts that recognize counterparts vain portrayals of daily life as well as lack of authenticity and self awareness that creates an echochamber effect among influencers. Rather than play a manipulation game for followers to see their life as better, unfluencers may begin to use their platforms to advance their own authentic agenda. Recognizing what needs to be changed and attempting to drive change within the scene will ultimately change the career as a whole.
As scrolling becomes less mindless, influencers will realize that they need to change the way they relate to their audience. They will start to understand that no one wants to be marketed supplements while they struggle to afford groceries or see haul videos of new clothes and products they cannot afford. People want to be shown what other people are doing during quarantine, how they are actually surviving during this difficult time. They want to be led to new artists, designers, and photographers they can support by purchasing work to decorate their homes they’ll be in for the foreseeable future. Typically a caveat of social media use is the architecture wherein once one views a post they are subject to hundreds of other similar posts. Here, once one is led to an unfluencer, artist, or designer, they are subject to more. Their explore pages will soon be filled with rather creative and authentic content. Instead of supporting people who became famous for going viral, support will go to those who really need it. The more original content created surrounding them the better.
The change in the culture has been launched with new, more genuine posts. Some are participating in small ways of posting makeup-free selfies, family recipes, or joking about their new mundane routines from home. Others are using this time to shed light on the issues they care about, such as the way our scrolling affects our mental health. Some are going the extra mile to urge their audience to sign petitions, get involved in their respective communities, tune into workshops, strike from home, and educate themselves on the issues that currently plague the world. The movement to change how we interact with our online connections is beginning as we are collectively participating in online communities as our in-person communities have been stripped from us.
There will likely be crossovers in the way influencers post during this time. Some will stick to their same messages as it is innate to the nature of their job, and some will use this to reshape how they work. Both will coexist for some time, but I believe those who genuinely relate to their audience will help influencer marketing last through this time. The virus has put all of our assets in the air and we truly do not know what our new normal will look like. If posts come out of privilege, the culture will quickly dismantle. If new influencing comes out of a place of concern and care, it will ensure this form of marketing can last through the toughest of times.