No matter how you want to slice the quarantine cake, one thing is undeniably certain: social media has undoubtedly experienced a renaissance. For about a decade we’ve been accustomed, and dare I say conditioned, to exude an unrealistic and “perfect” glimpse of life on social media. But since we’ve been quarantined due to the COVID-19 pandemic, social media has taken an expected, albeit much needed, turn to realness.
In the wake of this movement, engagement has skyrocketed for the majority of influencers and brands are shifting their messaging accordingly.
Throughout the 10-plus years to which I’ve dedicated my life to top-tier talent management and brand-influencer consulting, showing some form of authenticity and a “bigger purpose” has always been at the core of my business. How do we show our perfectly imperfect selves on social media while still being able to land those luxurious dream jobs? How do you take social media and actually use it for something bigger than ourselves? Sure, let’s make some money. It’s tremendously foolish to not recognize its powerful ability for posts to be largely monetizable. The elusive questions remain, though: What more can we use social media for? How much longer can we keep portraying an unrealistic perception of life? Is this even sustainable in a long-term business plan for any influencer or brand? Allow me to spare you the mental strife; The answer is “no.”
Since the quarantine, the voice of influencers and brands has had to evolve. Case in point:
Brittany Xavier, fashion’s golden girl with more than one million followers on Instagram and more than two million on TikTok. Whereas in the beginning of March we saw her sitting front-row at all the most desired shows during Paris Fashion Week, at the end of March we saw a mother in sweatpants and a high ponytail working tirelessly with her family making ear guards for medical masks and distributing them throughout the country to different hospitals and health-care workers. When I got on the phone with Xavier to chat about their incredible efforts, she was very adamant in using her platform for a greater good.
“We are all trying to fight this pandemic the best way we can, and Anthony and I knew we were in a position to give back even more now because we could actually make the guards with our at-home 3-D printer,” she said. “We’ve always given back (monetarily), but when I showed on my Instagram and TikTok the guards we were making, and more and more health-care officials were asking for them, we knew we couldn’t stop. We didn’t want to stop.”
She has also become a very vocal ambassador for GetUsPPE, a grassroots coalition addressing the personal protective equipment shortage and getting health-care heroes the protection they need. I was curious to see if Xavier had any doubts revealing this philanthropic and more relatable side to her, after all in a world so engulfed with aesthetics and the “cool factor,” would showing this perversely work against her? Brittany was game.
“I have a major in political science so research has always been a passion of mine,” she said. “It was time for my page to be the place for practical information beyond just fashion tips. I know it’s making a difference, so I don’t care about any backlash. Actually, ever since I started showing my more casual and informative side, I’ve noticed my followers being more engaged. That says something, right?”
“Yeah”, I told her, “It definitely does.” The unexpected phenomenon here is that because of her good deeds, to which she did wholeheartedly and without expectations, her brand partnership deals have also increased. Companies are embracing her for everything the term “influencer” stands for: to actually influence.
We are also seeing a major shift in messaging on another new (well, not-so-new) platform as well. Enter: TikTok. Where in the past we are accustomed to seeing beauty and fashion influencers taking illustrious photos for other social media platforms, we are now seeing a quirkier, and perhaps even more enjoyable side to them. What’s been the feedback? Extraordinarily positive as well.
Figure what it took powerhouse Chriselle Lim to accomplish on Instagram over five years (one million followers), only took her three months on TikTok. Her alter-ego “Rich Mom” has allowed Lim to poke fun of herself and in a tongue-in-cheek way, really drive the point home that this is not actually how she lives (or wants to live) her life.
We’ve seen an entrepreneur lending her voice more heavily now to Baby2Baby to which she’s always been fiercely loyal. We’ve seen a mother and wife in quarantine with two small kids trying to figure out how to balance working, schooling, cooking, cleaning…need I go on? In other words, to some extent or another, she’s authentically showing what we are all going through: balancing the immense responsibilities we have in life, mostly in sweatpants.
For the last two months, I’ve been talking with various companies from small businesses to Fortune 500 companies on the phone about the future of social content, and they, too, have been all too eager to embrace the paradigm shift. Brands like Olay, Stuart Weitzman and Bliss have already teamed up with Chriselle on TikTok seizing the opportunity for authentically fresh, and undeniably creative advertising assets.
To really understand the depth of TikTok and how it is quite brilliantly disrupting the social media industry, I got on the phone with Laura Perez, director of communications at TikTok and CeCe Vu with Fashion Media Partnerships to talk about how TikTok is introducing a new form of authenticity and fun into an otherwise stagnant market, especially in fashion.
“TikTok is giving the fashion industry a platform to showcase their art and personalities in a new way. The growth and creativity of the TikTok platform has piqued the attention of top fashion houses such as Balmain, Dior and Givenchy looking to build a presence on the platform and learn from the creativity of native creators. Brands are increasingly looking to creators for insights on building quality content, and we’re starting to see more creative opportunities for creators and brand collaborations,” they said. “The fashion brands we are seeing having the most success are those that embrace the creativity and authenticity of the TikTok community as well as those that are giving creators the trust and freedom to create content their own way for their community.”
Refreshing, is it not? This is undoubtedly changing the way brands and influencers work together. I’ve seen it first hand. Brands are shifting their conversations from wanting some glossy unrealistic photo, to encouraging fun, authentic and creative video content. What’s more so is the platform is constantly looking for new opportunities to bring value to the community. When I asked what new features we could be looking out for, they responded, “We’re in the early stages of introducing features like the Hashtag Challenge Plus Campaigns that have a shoppable feature as well as links in creators’ bios. This would be a unique format that now would allow brands to engage with users by allowing them to create and share content under a hashtag. Upon selecting a product, users would then be taken to the respective in-app shoppable product page.”
The new age of consumer-buying behavior is here and this train is only expected to keep going faster and smarter.
No matter if you’re a brand or an influencer, it’s time to put authenticity and creativity with your messaging at the forefront. It’s time to look at the bigger picture and show how you are giving back to your community. It’s time to really engrain in our heads, “It’s cool to be kind.” More so, it’s time to look up and realize when the authenticity-star, philanthropic-star, and creative-star align, business will undoubtedly soar. What’s better than a win-win situation?
The future is now.
Idalia Salsamendi is the founder of Idalia Salsamendi Inc., which works with top brands and influencers.