Influencers. The new superstars among kids. What these mostly young people broadcast on Instagram, Tik Tok or YouTube is law for our younger generation. Much more than anything that any parent or teacher tells them. As annoying as this may often be in “regular” life, the influence of these influencers in the current corona crisis can be just as important and beneficial. At least that’s what one scientist from the Swedish Research Council is claiming.
It is important to inform people about government policies and regulations as quickly and efficiently as possible in order to contain and reduce the spread of COVID-19. And this is where the media comes in. All media. Not just the TV news and daily newspapers, since media consumption varies greatly according to social groups and age groups. Consequently, in order to reach as many people as possible, you need a multi-pronged approach. And that includes influencers.
Companies have been using the services of influencers for a long time already. They let young people promote their products, for a princely sum more or less, of course. And then millions of their followers buy exactly what their idols are recommending to them. “Nowadays, influencers not only have an enormous reach, but they also have a very special relationship with their fans, which governments tend to lack,” says Jonas Colliander from the Swedish Research Council.
But why do these internet stars have so much influence on their fans? That’s easy. Over time, they build up a (pseudo)relationship, reveal their personal details and habits, show their home and talk about their friends. This is how they create the illusion of a personal friendship with their followers.
“Their recommendations and advice are more likely to be seen as if they were coming from friends rather than from a media personality or a government source,” Jonas Colliander explains. “As a result, their advice is often taken more seriously and people are much more inclined to heed it.”
And this is precisely what might prove useful during the Corona crisis. Especially in Sweden, where – unlike in most other countries – the government has (still) decided not to go for a complete lockdown and is instead relying on restrictions and advice to maintain “social distancing.” Consequently, if influencers set examples by washing their hands, staying at home etc., and tell their followers to do the same, there is a good chance that many people will follow their advice. Not only that that, though.
Social media as a news medium
About half the population in Sweden follows one or more blogs, 74 % use Facebook and 61 % are on Instagram. Most communication takes place via private messages or in Facebook groups. “The government has been slow to exploit the power of social media to deliver its message. Regardless of whether they collaborate or not, people will use social media to share information, but also rumors and disinformation,” Colliander emphasized.
Yet there is one politician who stands out from the rest: Ardalan Shekarabi, the Swedish Minister for Social Security. He has asked fashion and beauty influencer Angelica Blick to interview him on her platforms. She then asked her 1.1 million Instagram followers to send in their questions.
“This is not what I normally post, but I think that as a public person you have a responsibility, and if you can help by sharing things that are important, you should do so,” Blick told journalist Emmanuel Karlsten.
And the Swedish government is reconsidering its approach. Although the interview was not a coordinated government initiative, the government has earmarked 75 million Swedish crowns (almost €6.9 million) for communication. Furthermore, the Swedish Agency for Civil Emergencies (MSB) has been tasked with coordinating this work. This is to ensure that the government’s information about Corona reaches as many people as possible and as efficiently as possible.
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