'Since March, I’ve had zero paid work.' The impact of COVID-19 on the influencer industry.

Can influencers in the wild survive the pandemic?

For the past decade, social media influencers have enjoyed a meteoric rise in the marketing world. But now, as the coronavirus crisis continues to sweep the globe, influencers are scrambling to consolidate their corner of the internet amid a pandemic.

Whilst they tend to be sneered upon in the mainstream media, influencing is a legitimate, and often lucrative, form of income for thousands of Australians. In this new economic era, many influencers have lost all of their paid work. So can the influencer marketing model survive? 

Mamamia spoke to three Australian influencers about how coronavirus has affected their work. And for all them, their businesses are struggling.

"I’ve always wondered whether the 'influencer industry' could last, but I never thought the travel industry was at risk," Laura McWhinnie, who runs @thisislandlife, tells Mamamia. "As a travel content creator, all my content is based around the trips I take, so to be grounded has been really hard. I’ve spent 10 years growing my blog and social channels, and now it’s on hold indefinitely which is quite unsettling."


Laura adds: "Since the travel bans came into place in March, I’ve had zero paid work.

"I’ve had quite a few brands wanting me to work for free or contra (in exchange for product). It’s difficult because I understand their position in the current economic climate, but at the same time, my business is struggling too... As much as I wish they did, free bikinis and fake tan aren’t going to pay the bills."

Fellow travel influencer Christina Macpherson, who has nearly 150,000 followers, has also lost work. 

"We explained to our clients that if they had to cancel contracts because there was no more budget, then that was fine, we understood. With that being said, we have been asked a lot to work for free. As a business, we work for free when it comes to charity organisations and not-for-profits; but to work for nothing whilst a company makes profit from our work… no, we don't do that," she explained.

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Chilly autumn dips 💦

A post shared by  Christina Macpherson (@christinamacpherson) on


For fashion influencers, it’s a similar story. 

"Brands definitely leveraged the whole posting for free position and most of the time, I was more than happy to support small businesses," Melbourne influencer Kristy Wu tells Mamamia. "But this was definitely taken advantage of because yes, the brands often brought up the point that they are a small business, but so am I, and I am not making money either, so it’s not a win-win."

Kristy, for one, is considering a career change.

"I was really questioning my career goals, as the lack of certainty in the industry made me consider going back to business school and going down the opposite corporate route, which in hindsight offers more stability in these times,"  Kristy says. 


"I even started a short online course as a tester to see if I would enjoy going to grad school, but I realised that wasn’t something that I want to do."

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When you realise it’s almost the weekend 🥳

A post shared by  Kristy Wu (@kristywho) on

Beyond making money, influencers are also tasked with pivoting their content to match the context of the world.  

"Being aware of what’s happening around the world and educating yourself in these times is really important because with such a large platform, you don’t want to be misleading people or come across ignorant," Kristy, who has 112,000 followers, says.


"There have been so many devastating events this year, and sometimes it seems really insensitive to continue posting as regular programming, let alone a sponsored post when the world is falling apart."

For travel influencer Laura McWhinnie, she is still posting content from trips she took prior to coronavirus, but says she makes it clear to her followers that the photos on her feed were taken months ago. 


"When the coronavirus crisis started, I was still promoting my content from a sponsored trip I did to Greece last year. It didn’t seem right to be posting about my travels, but at the same time I had contracts with multiple businesses to be promoting our collaborations," she explained.

"The travel industry is definitely the worst affected and I think content creators like myself might have to wait a bit longer than some of the other influencers in beauty, fashion and food."

Listen to Social Squad, the podcast that takes you behind the scenes of some of Australia's most influential women. On this episode, Tully Smyth interviews Steph Claire-Smith. Post continues below.

So, what will the future of influencers look like? 

"I hope it's one that sways towards a deeper purpose – one that can include fashion, travel, beauty, art – but one that also actively creates meaningful discussions about things that are happening," Christina says.

For Laura, she questions whether the industry will ever be the same, saying: "I think that just like most industries, it will bounce back, but it is difficult to see it being the same as it was. Influencers are in a very privileged position and depending on how they use their channels will determine how relevant they are moving forward.

"COVID-19 has proved that the world can change very quickly."

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