Coronavirus has social media up, influencers down

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DARIEN, Conn. (CBS) Social media usage is way up as people are at home more during the pandemic and spending more time on their phones and computers. While that would seemingly create more opportunities for those making a living as social media influencers, their industry is being impacted by the coronavirus, too.

Alexa Buckley, the co-founder of women's footwear company Margaux, stepped up the brand's social media presence when New York City ordered all nonessential businesses closed.

"It's a huge opportunity in that we have a more captive audience than we've ever had before," she said. "So we've been thinking about community building."

That community is enhanced by influencers like Sara Azani, who has 125,000 Instagram followers. As a new Margaux ambassador, she receives free shoes and earns a 15% commission if someone buys a pair from her Instagram post.

Azani welcomes the income opportunity after losing work with other companies because of economic uncertainty. Those projects are ones Azani has been depending on for her salary.

"It's projects I had planned out a few months ahead of time," she said.

Influencer Julia Berolzheimer, who has 1.2 million Instagram followers and a successful clothing line, says she's collecting more photo likes and blog readers, but also finding fewer business opportunities.

"There are not a lot of campaigns coming in right now," she said.

Both Berolzheimer and Azani are shifting their messaging to stay in tune with their audience. Azani says focusing on luxury and the perfect life, which is common in Instagram marketing, would be insensitive right now.

"We just want to provide a bit of joy to the people following us and uplift them while still being real and transparent that this isn't the easiest time for anyone," Berolzheimer said.

Both women say they can use this time to build stronger relationships with their followers.

According to Influencer Marketing Hub, last year the influencer industry grew to $6.5 billion. It was projected 2020 would see the biggest jump yet to $9.7 billion. But that prediction was before the impact of the coronavirus.