Malaysian Instagrammer Responds To COVID-19’s Impact On The “Influencer Market”

A recent article on Wired highlighted how, due to the recent COVID-19 pandemic, there is a “need for influencers to evolve” in order to continue benefiting from the “influencer industry”. With most brands and companies having to close and change their marketing strategy to suit the global quarantine/lockdown/movement control order imposed, the number of paid trips, #sponsored clothes and the other supplementary opportunities for the  “glam” lifestyle that influencers live on social media (socmed) have dwindled. Wired’s interview with Angela Seits, senior director of consumer insights and engagement strategy at the digital agency PMG, has her predicting that…

The pandemic is having a major impact on the overall influence industry, and it’ll likely have lasting effects.”

However, it seems that Malaysian influencers have been well aware of this need for evolution for a while now. Influencers like Arwind Kumar (@aforarwind) and Jenn Chia (@soimjenn) have built their following on funny, relatable, heartwarming content. Even with sponsored content, they’ve found ways to stay true to their own brand, values and purpose.


To share how the “influencer market” isn’t a priority for a lot of those dubbed as “influencers”, we sit down with Nicole Chen (@thenictionary). Since starting way back at the end of 2015, she’s honed her content to suit her brand of humour – be it through dance, makeup or fashion. For a glimpse into why she’s made changes to the way she uses her platform, she shares:


I dislike the term influencer; it’s tied in with the idea that you’re somehow responsible for how people perceive your content. It is really up to each individual how they want to be viewed by their audience because your content is owned by you! Having said that, I enjoy being able to connect with my followers on a deeper level.


She also goes on to explain why it’s important to change the way people perceive and use socmed as a source of income.


On the impact of COVID-19  on socmed work…

The impact is big – brands need influencers to reach out to consumers, but since products aren’t being sold, they’re all consolidating their marketing funds to ease their cash flow. Which means zero work for me and a lot of others. 


But it definitely reiterates my belief that social media can only be used as a secondary source of income.


A lot of the times, people misunderstand the concept of social media influencing. People who have garnered significant followings often have other sources of income. They could be radio DJs, hosts, celebrities, TV personalities, actors, musicians, writers, etc. Their main source of income comes from these jobs, as opposed to being reliant purely on brands and social media to sustain their lifestyles. Having a social media profile is a much-needed addition to this type of work, which also adds value to their brand and name, but both have to come hand in hand.


And this movement control order has really made us look at what we do, what we produce and who we’re producing the content for. Having to reshuffle ideas to fit the current climate we’re going through and think a little deeper about what it means to be privileged enough to still have a roof over our heads and good food to eat can do wonders in changing our perspectives from this being a “struggle” to being more of a “break”.  


From my own experience with content creation – one of the things that has helped me cope through difficult times has always been humour – it has been fun trying to find ways to incorporate that into the kind of content I’ve been pushing since MCO has started.


Everything doesn’t need to be dark and gloomy, because times are hard. Comedic relief can be such an amazing way to tackle stress, and that’s what I’ve been aiming for with my content.


On how it’s important that being an “influencer” isn’t all there is to your career…

A lot of people aren’t aware of this, but I actually have a full-time job as the lead for a digital marketing team of five at a furniture retail company (kind of like our local Ikea). My work involves planning digital campaigns, working with influencers, photography of new products, video shoots, handling all social media accounts, running ads on all digital platforms, as well as website maintenance, and I’m currently leading the move towards e-commerce in the company, so it’s a lot. On top of that, I teach dance twice a week and also create content on Instagram so I really never stop working. In this way, even with how difficult times have become, I can fall back on my full-time income. I can imagine how difficult it would’ve been had I only relied on my social media income to pay off my monthly commitments.


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This has been such a long time coming, but I have some really exciting news! 🐥 . Although we have yet to firm up a lot of details, I’ve finally decided to start teaching weekly classes! 🔥 I don’t know how long, when or how much they’re going to be, but I can assure you that we’ll work on a program that’s going to be fun, high intensity, and a whole lot of sexy 😏 . I want to share a little bit about why I like dancing in heels! 👠 For the longest time, we’ve been taught to shun our bodies. We were taught that loving our sensuality and sexuality was arrogant. But enough of that shit. 🖐🏼 . I want my space to be judgement free, safe spaces for ANYONE to explore their femininity, their womanness, their sexuality, their beauty, and look in those mirror and not just believe that you’re enough, but that you OWN everything! ✨ . Coming to you soon! I promise ❤️ . Shoutout to @oliviaxliew and @elizatoon for killin the choreo, and to my sifu @definitelymayb_, everything I do is inspired by you. 🍑 #flyproject #flyheadoverheels

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The movement control order will change anyone’s perspective of what social media can be used to do, what the industry can do with it and the income that can be garnered from it. Companies are moving into digital spaces to run their business; they’re drawing back from billboard ads to break down their ad spend by investing into micro-influencers, which then reduces the risk of putting all your eggs in one basket. And it resonates with the way we should be as well! No matter the industry, we need to always be prepared for when times could go bad – like it is today. 


On why she’s chosen to continue creating content…

Why do anything if you don’t put effort into it?


I find that my full-time job and influencing really compliment each other. It helps me see both the creators perspective, as well as the clients. At work, I’m careful with the influencers I work with; I’m understanding when it comes to deadlines for drafts, but when I’m in their position, I’m forgiving about the payment terms and also the kind of restrictions the representatives go through when the agencies give feedback from their clients! It gives me such a well-rounded perspective of the ins and outs of what influencer marketing is really like, which helps my work tremendously in both fields.


For example, when creating a makeup look for a client, it’s not just about the makeup. It’s how the makeup is being presented, if the audience understands how to use the product by the end of it and, ultimately, if it convinces them enough to make a purchase. Not only that, but it also involves styling your hair, finding the right accessories, wearing the right outfit to complement the look. The entire process needs to be well thought out for it to translate to the audience, to make them believe in what you do. And that effort is reflected in your end product.


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Dance knows no gender, no religion, no sexual orientation, no borders. It is to be shared by everyone, to be enjoyed, loved, expressed, just because we deem it so. ✨ . Because of social media, we all seem to think that you can only do something if you’re amazing at it, but fuck that. Do it for fun, do it because you LOVE it. Do it because you just fucking want to do it 😂 . This choreography was from my collab class with and @talithabe two days ago. I decided to feature people who took the choreo and ran to the sun and back with it 🙌🏼 They’re from all over the world including vietnam, Indonesia, Japan, the UK, and our home Malaysia 🇲🇾 . So to @talithabe @sorude_ @deviaristiyanti @riho_2g @elenalaurel @miakeyte02_ @marmar1616 @aynnihsan thank you thank you thank you 😩❤️ . To the rest who sent it to me, I LOVE YOU ALL, this Instagram limit sucks af I wish I could tag all of you. 😭❤️ I’m so grateful for this platform and grateful for this body, and the things I’m able to do with it. I love you aaalll! ✨ . #flyprojectco #flyheadoverheels #thenictionarydances #joanna #drogbachallenge #joannachallenge #dancechallenge #drogbachoreo #joannachoreo #joannachoreography #flyfemme

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It’s a bit of a struggle sometimes and if you didn’t keep your life organised (which is, honestly, me half of the time), it can get quite messy. But this MCO, I’ve found a way to reach out to people in a way that feels authentic to me. I’ve managed to start a podcast called “Bedroom Sessions”, where I speak about taboos like the effects Asian parenting has on us, women’s health, contraception options and generally about things that we’re too shy to open up about. So, as much as I’m using my platform to talk about things that make a difference, I still feel like it should ALWAYS be authentic to who you are.