The past couple of weeks have been difficult, to say the least, and just about everyone is seeking a distraction from all of the negative news that is being broadcast internationally. While to some it may sound a bit shallow, social platforms like Instagram and TikTok are truly a welcome escape from the news feeds that are seemingly overflowing with fear and uncertainty over the future of our world. Casually scrolling through photos of babies, cute animals, and heartwarming stories can be comforting during these difficult and trying times.

person holding a smartphone scrolling through Instagram feed

Yet there is a growing debate online concerning what type of content influencers should be posting during this uneasy time – or, quite frankly, whether they should even be posting content at all. Some people are actually celebrating the Coronavirus pandemic as the possible “death of influencers.” Influencer Coronavirus concerns, however, are as genuine and potentially threatening as they are with any other group of professionals. Though many of us find ourselves turning to social media as a distraction, many influencers feel as if they are caught in a bind. The livelihood of many influencers is largely dependent on ad revenue, but is it inappropriate to be posting ads in a time of international crisis? How can influencers find the balance of generating the revenue they need to live, yet still remain empathetic to the scale of the crisis resulting from the Coronavirus outbreak?

“I was so nervous [to post an ad] because people are so sensitive right now,” said Grace Atwood, an Instagram influencer who is being celebrated for her tasteful handling of the Coronavirus crisis. Atwood pointed out the apparent double standard, adding “People aren’t yelling at the TV asking, ‘why are you showing ads?’ … We are doing what we can do to stay afloat.”

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Are Influencers Capitalizing on the Coronavirus Crisis?

Influencer COVID-19 discussions are running rampant online. Capitalizing on the Coronavirus has been a topic of conversation in itself as it pertains to influencers. As reported by multiple outlets at the time, many influencers began posting photos of themselves (in many cases while in bathing suits or shirtless) using the hashtag #coronavirus. Though a handful of the posts vaguely aim to be a gesture of public service, many others seemed to be nothing less than someone trying to directly capitalize on a global pandemic that resulted in a popular hashtag.

But not everyone views influencer content as distasteful during these wary times. Atwood said she has been overwhelmed by the support her audience has shown during the crisis. “I got hundreds of DMs from my audience asking me to keep posting, even if it’s an ad,” she said.

Another influencer, Australian Jem Wolfie, has more than 2.7 million Instagram followers. She also has an OnlyFans account — a website where users sell subscriptions to pictures or video content — where she posts more “risqué” images to people who pay $10 a month for a subscription. The global spread of the coronavirus has shuttered most of the living world indoors under quarantine, and people are certainly looking for more ways than ever before to occupy their time.

So it should come as no surprise that Wolfie told Buzzfeed News that her OnlyFans subscriptions were growing exponentially as of late. In fact, they’ve grown by over 25% in a short amount of time, despite not posting any more content than she usually does, Wolfie said.

“I guess more people are bored being quarantined at home all day,” she said.

picture of Jem Wolfie
Australian influencer Jem Wolfie says she has seen a surge in audience growth since the Coronavirus pandemic brought the world to a grinding halt. “I guess more people are bored being quarantined at home all day,” she says.

What Does the Coronavirus Mean for Influencers and the Influencer Marketing Industry?

Wolfie and Atwood are just two examples of this highly discussed topic. Other online content creators like YouTubers, Twitch streamers, and OnlyFans creators say they too are seeing their audience counts rise as people look to entertain themselves while in quarantine and while practicing social distancing.

Sara Clemens, Twitch’s chief operating officer, declined to tell BuzzFeed News whether there had been an increase in activity on the platform. However, she did state that the company was being contacted by organizations hoping to livestream “large-scale events and experiences” that had been canceled as a result of the Coronavirus outbreak.

However, with a potentially perilous economic climate on the horizon — one where many people are either already losing their jobs or fear its all but an inevitability  — and a slew of others quickly joining the social platforms in order to cash in on the growing visibility of influencers, it is still clear that the spike in viewership isn’t all good news for influencers and online creators.

For instance, some of the influencers who are going to struggle the most during these difficult times luxury influencers; the creators who have extravagant lifestyles and tend to be a little more detached from the ‘regular’ world. Don’t get us wrong, we like to gaze in awe at luxury yachts and multi-million dollar mansions as much as anyone. But it’s difficult to muster compassion for a rich person lounging in their a mansion when you’re stuck working from home, or worse, not working at all.

Lauren Bullen and Selena Taylor (right) are two travel influencers who have had to scale back their international travels due to the coronavirus outbreak.

At the end of the day, influencers need to viewed in the same light as any other group of professionals. While the Coronavirus pandemic is something that is affecting society on a global scale, we must keep in mind that influencers are brands in themselves. And strong brands will survive and weather the storm ahead. Some influencers have quality content and strong personal connections with their audience, which in turn may prove to beneficial in the long-term for these creators who may take this opportunity to forge stronger bonds with their audience. Others may not possess the same business acumen as their counterparts, lacking the personal connection or overall sensitivity to the magnitude of this pandemic. These influencers could potentially face tough times ahead.

“It’s about reading the room, and don’t be out of touch and don’t be an idiot,” Atwood says. “Think about what your audience wants to see right now. And listen to your audience.”

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