Could the coro­n­avirus pan­demic give rise to a new age of con­tent cre­ation?

The National - News - - ARTS & LIFESTYLE - Ash­leigh Ste­wart

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

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