Lifestyle

‘Sometimes it’s a choice between buying food or making content’: Could the cost of living crisis mark the end of influencer culture?


It’s set to be a busy day for influencer Scott McGlynn.

The 35-year-old has landed a contract with a big-name skincare brand, and he’s been asked to post a reel, a story and a photo to promote the company to his 265,000 Instagram followers

Despite what people might assume, a lot of work goes into setting up the shoot, Scott tells Metro.co.uk. A sizeable chunk of his day – several hours, in fact – will be spent making content required by the brand. 

‘People forget it’s a job,’ he says. ‘You don’t just jump in, chuck up a video and earn a few hundred quid. You have to set up shots properly, and then create a video or picture to the brief. Then there’s approvals, reshoots and edits, before any content can signed off. It all takes time. It’s certainly not as easy as people think.’

Although Scott has been a skincare and lifestyle influencer since 2017, and his huge reach meaning strong brand partnerships with high-street brands such as Boots and Neutrogena, he has noticed some places that he’s worked with before offering less and less money.

‘Yet I’m still expected to do the same amount of work… just for less pay,’ he says. ‘I’ve had to really negotiate to show how much I bring to the table.

‘I have five dogs to feed and bills to pay, and suddenly food shops have gone bloody crazy. It’s a lot to have to budget. I’ve found myself have to have a strict budget on a daily basis that I can’t go over. If I do, I then have to cut right back. My average food shop has gone up by about £35-£40 a week and that adds up.’

In order to ensure more work, Scott, who is based in Wales, has had to travel to London more often in order to network with contacts to lure in lucrative brand partnerships.

‘But that itself costs money. Trains aren’t free. Hotels in London aren’t free…’ Scott says with an eye roll and a laugh. But then he pauses, before adding in a more serious tone: ‘The costs of things are really adding up. It’s worrying.’

Scott McGlynn has seen a change in how his industry works (Picture: Instagram – @scottmcglynnofficial)

With rapidly rising energy bills threatening to put 45 million people (two thirds of the UK’s entire population) into fuel poverty by January 2023, and inflation levels reaching a high of 10.1% earlier this month, the UK is in the midst of one of the worst cost of living crises of a generation. We’ve already had our first taste of rocketing prices, now Ofgem has announced bills will rise 80% by October – and things are quickly set to get worse should the government fail to intervene.

Less money in our wallets also means that what was once considered disposable cash ripe for spending on fun and frivolous purchases, is rapidly disappearing.

Which means the cost of living crisis may have had an unintended effect on a burgeoning industry that is almost entirely reliant on people’s spending power: influencers.

The rise in prices across the board combined with a lack of money available to be spent, means a tightening of belts across all brands that use content creators as marketing tools, says Sarah Penny, Content and Research Director at leading influencer and marketing platform Influencer Intelligence.

‘A lot of creators and brands are going to have to take a step back, take stock and think about what they are doing, how they are creating content and how they are speaking to their audience,’ Penny explains.

‘They are going to scrutinise their partnerships a lot more closely and there certainly will be fine-tuning and tightening to the process.’

For an influencer like Scott, who is well-established and can still command thousands for posts, the rate at which costs are creeping up is unsettling, but it won’t result in him hanging up his ring light just yet, he says. Even if he lost his Instagram account tomorrow, he’s built up enough of a reputation that he can keep working in social media for the meantime.

However, for Fife-based beauty influencer Jay Styler, surging prices and a drop in social media engagement could result in a total loss of income for the 23-year-old – and unlike in other lines of work, influencing has no redundancy packages.

With figures showing that 84% of influencers are aged between 18-34, it’s millennials and older Gen Z’ers who find themselves being disproportionately affected. Before the cost of living crisis hit, many were already in a position where they were never sure if they’d be able to afford to buy a home, or even stable enough to start a family. However, today’s financial insecurities only heap more burden on top of existing worries. 

In lockdown, when Jay started putting more effort into his Instagram content and growing his follower count from 11,000 to 40,000 in just a few months, he started earning fairly chunky sums of money for his unique make-up styling inspired by popular TV shows, such as Heartstopper and Euphoria.

Jay Styler may have to quit his once lucrative work as an influencer (Picture: Instagram – jaystyler)

‘I was earning between £500-£700 a post,’ he explains. ‘Or £300-400 per story post.  Sometimes I’d have quite a few opportunities a month. I’d earn way more during certain times of the year, like Christmas or Halloween.’

However, in more recent months, he’s been struggling to bring in comparable amounts of income from the halcyon days of lockdown, and feels as if he’s being ‘low-balled’ by bigger brands who are unwilling to pay him for his work.

‘I had a multimillion brand offer me £200 for a few story posts and a reel and TikTok video,’ Jay explains. ‘I accepted it as, honestly, I really needed the money.

‘They dropped out shortly after and then a week later asked if I’d create content to promote their sale. When I asked them for their budget they told me they didn’t have one and I’d need to work for free, which I declined.

‘There are also quite a few brands who’ll offer £50 for a reel, and have an absolutely crazy amount of specifications.’

In recent month’s Jay’s bills – in particular his food and energy costs – have taken a larger chunk of his earnings, which means he has found it increasingly difficult to invest his income into making new content.

‘The cost of living has changed my priorities on what I can spend my money on,’ he says. ‘You’re not able to buy new make-up to create reviews or new looks when you just don’t have any cash.

‘There’s been weeks where I have to choose between living or making content. Obviously, prioritising food is more important than Instagram content, but when you’re earning money from Instagram it’s a tough decision to make between short term costs or a longer term investment.’

The cost of living has changed my priorities on what I can spend my money on.

Jay says he now scrabbles to supplement his once solid income with freelance work, occasionally contributing to BBC Scotland’s ‘The Social’ platform as well as having to work part-time jobs in Home Bargains and Subway.

But even then, Jay certainly doesn’t have the spending power he once did, with just a few pounds left to play with after expenses.

‘In the pandemic, I used to live with my friend and quite comfortably,’ he explains. ‘But now I’ve had to move in with my boyfriend and his family to save a little bit.

‘After rent and bills, I’m lucky if I’m left with £10 for the rest of the week – sometimes I have as little as £5. Work isn’t reliable at all.

‘Honestly, I’m just so anxious and frustrated. My life has changed a lot and so drastically over the last few years. Before, I was travelling and going to gigs. Now, I can barely go for a drink with pals at the end of the week.

‘I even had to give up my hours at Home Bargains because it was a stretch to afford the £25 weekly bus pass to get there and back every week.’

Jay adds that some of his other friends in the industry have been forced to entirely restructure almost everything they own as the cost of living crisis.

‘It’s been dreadful,’ he says. ‘I’ve had friends thinking about moving homes to downsize because they can’t afford to live there anymore, or take up second jobs like me.

Some influencers may find themselves ousted out the industry, should trends continue (Picture: Getty Images/Westend61)

‘Some of us have gone from being able to make a living to having to completely reorganise our lives.’

It’s unsurprising that some content creators will find themselves losing substantial chunks of income during the cost of living crisis, with Penny pointing towards luxury and travel influencers particularly struggling as people start counting the pennies.

But content creators who effectively ignore the cost of living crisis and continue to post as if there’s no global crisis will perform badly over the next few months, she adds.

‘Influencers whose digital footprint relies on their product promotion will really suffer if they don’t address the crisis,’ Penny explains. ‘A lot of them rely on that close relationship with their followers, and they need to keep creating content that resonates and appeals to them. They have to maintain that trust to keep that good relationship going. But if they post content that just alienates their followers, they’ll find themselves struggling.

‘Haul videos, where influencers unbox freebies or buy lots of goods to review, will certainly be in decline. People will now be looking to make smaller, more conscious purchases, through the fact they’ve got less income. It definitely will be out of place to still be working on haul videos in this climate.’

Hannah Louise agrees. The 28-year-old self-styled veteran blogger posts fashion and lifestyle content to her 61,000 followers, and tries to find a solid middle ground of the products she promotes.

‘I post a mix of affordable, mid and occasionally higher end brands,’ she explains. ‘As the years have gone on I have shifted away from too much fast fashion and focused more on second hand and buying quality pieces.

Hannah is more acutely aware of how other influencers are displaying their wealth (Picture: Instagram – @hannahlouisef)

‘I am feeling more aware of how other influencers are displaying new purchases or wealth of any kind.’

Even well-established influencers like Scott are steering clear of more high-end skincare products to ensure his followers find his content accessible – even if a collab with a more luxe brand could prove lucrative.

‘I go along the scale with what I put on my page,’ he explains. ‘I’ve done collabs with Boots and their projects. I did four items on a post that altogether were less than £20.

‘I’ve had so many people ask me to look at the Kim Kardashian make-up range, but I didn’t like the ingredients and the price is way too high. I try and make [items I review] affordable, especially at the moment.’

However, according to Penny, the influencers who will survive the ongoing cost of living crisis – and could potentially even flourish and thrive – are the ones who strive to add extra value to their content.

‘If you’re not only pivoting your content to recognise the cost of living crisis, but also to provide solutions to problems real people are facing, then that’s going to enhance the attractiveness you have to a brand,’ she explains. 

‘We’ve seen an increase in informative content across channels, particularly after the pandemic. Affordable recipe ideas, sustainable fashion… all those sorts of posts perform incredibly well.

‘We’ve already started to see a shift in these brand partnerships – Love Island finalist Tasha Ghouri chose to partner up with eBay rather than a fast-fashion brand this year, while content creator Jack Monroe – who focuses on recipes for people on extremely tight budgets – has seen her follower count steadily increasing, which feels indicative of the fact of high energy costs and people have been feeling the squeeze for some time now.’

Instagram’s changing algorithms have invited criticism from content creators (Picture: Getty Images)

But influencers getting their content out there to be seen in the first place has now become a dilemma in and of itself, as they face a two-pronged threat alongside the cost of living: changes to Instagram’s algorithm.

Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri came under heavy criticism when he told users of the popular photo-sharing app that the algorithm had changed to prioritise popular or ‘engaging’ content – with more emphasis on reels and videos. The move was widely criticised by casual users, content creators and even celebrities, with Kim Kardashian and Kylie Jenner vocalising their displeasure.

It’s hit some content creators, who rely on Instagram as their main source of income, particularly hard; posting a still of a product is faster and therefore more cost effective than having to film several reels.

‘It’s much more difficult to get reach on still image posts in particular,’ Hannah explains. ‘The main difference between now and a few years ago is the amount of followers who get shown a post. Sometimes a post will do ‘well’ because it hits the explore page or is shown as a suggestion to people who don’t follow me, but the percentage of my followers who see my posts is still consistently very low compared to the past.

Jay agrees. ‘My reach has been cut by roughly 70-80% – going from 200k down to 2-3k on a good day.’ 

In turn, fewer eyeballs on a post could mean advertising on Instagram may not be so appealing to big brands if it results in reaching only a small audience of consumers. Meanwhile, influencers may see their incomes drop if people aren’t purchasing through their affiliate links. It’s a vicious circle which leaves influencers vulnerable.

If I was starting out as an influencer today, I don’t think I’d do well.

For Jay, ongoing money troubles and worries about how much his next paycheck will be has started to bleed into his personal life.

‘I’m barely scraping by,’ he admits. ‘Things are so hard, my boyfriend bears the brunt of our arguments and I find I take a lot out on him. It’s not his fault, but I feel like I don’t have any life any more. All I do is work. 

‘I’m trying to save, but sometimes I get that pang where I ask myself why can’t I spend my last £10 that week on seeing friends? It’s so difficult because if there were any emergencies that I had to shell out for, I don’t even have the money to do that. 

‘My boyfriend has a more stable income – he doesn’t necessarily understand the difference of brands once offering money to work with me to suddenly asking me to make free content.’

Hannah, who is based in London, also points towards her own fears around affordable renting – with prices for flats rocketing in recent weeks.

‘The London rental market is particularly horrendous at the moment and home security being entirely at a landlord’s discretion is even more worrying than usual,’ she says. ‘On a human level I am extremely concerned about the lack of government support for those on lower incomes and benefits who just aren’t going to be able to afford to live.’

And with Instagram’s changing model, the need to diversify income streams has led to influencers branching out to new platforms and lines of work. 

Influencers are turning to TikTok to try and open up a new stream of revenue (Picture: Getty Images)

Both Hannah and Jay have turned to TikTok to see if they can add another stream of revenue. Meanwhile, Scott has his Celebrity Skin Talk series, which has earned sponsorship, as well as some acting work. He has taken up teaching online classes to earn extra cash to counter the rising cost of energy bills – which could hit as much as £500 a month next year, if trends continue. It’s a small slither of silver lining on an otherwise ominous black financial cloud.

‘I’m keen to do more talks and panels,’ Scott explains. ‘I think it’s important to be not so reliant on Instagram, I’m far more cautious than I used to be. But I am a big believer that nothing lasts forever – Instagram might die tomorrow. 

‘To be honest, if I was starting out as an influencer today, I don’t think I’d do well.  It’s so easy to get lost. The industry is just changing so quickly. I was lucky to start at the time I did.’

For Jay, he believes that he’s going to have to quit content creation altogether for a job with a sustainable, reliable income. 

‘I don’t think being an influencer is going to last and I don’t think I’ll be able to ride it forever,’ he admits. ‘The way it’s going it’ll be the next year or two I’ll see the end of income from social media.’

However, Hannah doesn’t feel that the threats teetering towards many influencers will spell the end of the industry.

‘My content and work has changed exponentially since I first went full time in 2015,’ she explains. ‘I have adapted to changes like more video content fine enough so far, and will continue to adapt albeit more begrudgingly.’

Penny agrees, saying that strong influencers will have to start being malleable in order to survive. Someone’s Instagram page is no longer just a shop window for brands to invest in. Instead, followers want to invest in a whole person, their story, and what they offer. More than ever, the relationship between influencers and their followers is symbiotic.

‘This is just another event that will force the influencer industry to change,’ she explains. ‘The beauty of working with creators is that they have that expertise to understand their audience, they can tell a story, and the good ones tend to be really good at creating brilliant content.

‘Those who are really strong content creators, who are really talented and have really worked to create content that resonates with their audience are going to be the ones that can survive.’

Do you have a story you’d like to share? Get in touch by emailing Kimberley.Bond@metro.co.uk 

Share your views in the comments below.


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