Could the coronavirus pandemic give rise to a new age of content creation?
Across the world, budgets have been slashed, people have been put on unpaid leave or had their salaries cut, and general spending has plummeted.
This is true for industries across the board. But what about those who don’t have a solid monthly income?
Influencers might be the most obvious manifestation of that. Many rely on the generosity of brands – whether it be through free products or being paid in cash to promote something. And brands simply can’t afford to be so generous now.
So, for an industry so commonly vilified for its fixation on superficiality or commodities, how have the people working in it been faring?
“My collaborations significantly dropped, and the engagement had reduced too,” food and lifestyle blogger Naomi D’Souza says.
D’Souza says the pandemic may lead her, as well as other bloggers, to do work pro-bono. She has reduced her rates for a start, but won’t disclose what they are. She also worries it could mean influencers will be expected to do more work for less money.
But others remain optimistic. Iraqi fashion blogger Shahd Al Jumaily, who has an Instagram following of more than 380,000, says the increased focus on online shopping platforms means the “demand is still there” for influencers.
“Just like any other industry that was forced to slow down during this period, when the brands and businesses begin to recover, so will the influencer marketing, as they go hand in hand,” she says.
This is where influencers should be working on growing their brands organically, Al Jumaily adds, without paid collaborations.
Not all of those in the content creation industry are struggling. In fact, some are experiencing a boom in audience numbers and engagement, with captive audiences that have more scrolling time, and more interest in cooking and working out from home.
One example is Zahra Abdalla, an Iranian-Sudanese chef and cookbook author, who has 190,000 Instagram followers.
Abdalla says she is “busier than I have ever been” . The recipes and home-cooking tips on her page have been a resounding success. “My platform has become my space where I connect with my audience and share tips of ideas, services and suggestions of things that will help and contribute to their life.
“I have also gone out of my way to focus on supporting small businesses that need to thrive during this crazy era,” she says.
For that reason, Abdalla is a believer that traditional marketing will change post-Covid and influencers will be more in demand.
She adds that those who evolve into a realm beyond influencing are most likely to survive the pandemic.
As well as having a food blog, Abdalla also has a hosting slot on a cooking show, a travel and food documentary, a cookbook and a cloud restaurant.
“Word of mouth is an old but relevant means of identifying the genuine from fake. Everyone has a reputation, whether good or bad, that precedes them, and that in itself is enough to define them .”
Each of the other influencers we spoke to agreed that sticking to their area of expertise would help them survive economic uncertainty. D’Souza believes that, as more brands make the pivot to digital and social media, influencers will become more important as a sales tool.
“Brands [us included] will also be determined to work twice, or thrice as hard, to create unique products to convince consumers to buy the product, as the only thing in demand currently are essential goods.”
So what about the old adage, that influencers are only out to get freebies? D’Souza says this is a “generalisation”.
“[But] when influencers started getting trash talked, I did slightly struggle, as no one would approach influencers in general as they feel we’re useless,” she says. “Everyone loves freebies too, to be honest. I feel it’s just how you use it, and promote it,” she says.
She remains confident that this won’t stop the industry from being populated. “Everyone wants to be an influencer nowadays, because it seems like a great career.”
Some influencers believe they may even be able to aid the post-pandemic economic recovery. Kareem Elmashad, 27, is the founder and chief executive of I Am Dubai, an app that launched in 2019 to “organise” interactions between influencers and restaurants, and to streamline the food review process. Elmashad says it now has 4,700 users.
“The app is a clever promotional tool to attract diners to businesses by encouraging models and influencers to boast about the delicious meals and products to their large social media followers,” he says.
Restaurants and brands pay a monthly fee, depending on how many days a week they work together and how many influencers they send.
“We try to keep the stories and posts looking organic, without mentioning they are here [to] review the venue. It looks totally like guests [are] coming to the venue [organically],” he explains.
“We review each story they post and if we feel it looks like advertising, we ask them to remove immediately.”
When asked if failing to disclose freebies was misleading, Elmashad said it was not.
Naturally, Elmashad is a lifestyle influencer himself, with an Instagram account of 107,000 followers. He says he grew the following in his previous job in events, where he hosted celebrities and took them on tours around the city.
“G-Eazy, Jason Derulo, Tyga, Paris Hilton, 6ix9ine, Totti, and many more were mentioning me in their stories or posts, so my Instagram was hyped and growing since 2015,” he says. He now charges between $400 (Dh1,469) to $1,000 per Instagram post.
“After Covid-19, people [are] worried to hang out, but when they see influencers and models going out and sharing they will feel more safe to go out,” he says.
Elmashad plans to launch the app in Saudi Arabia “once life gets back to normal there” and hopes to launch in Europe in 2021. He believes influencers will thrive in the post-pandemic world, and may even “get more benefits”.
Some influencers believe they may even be able to aid the post-pandemic economic recovery
Zahra Abdalla is an influencer and restaurateur
Food blogger Naomi D’Souza