'Read The Room': Influencers Don't Know How To Influence During The Cost Of Living Crisis

As Lydia Millen discovered this week, 'escapism' can land you in hot water...
Influencers Molly Mae, Lydia Millen and Kim Kardashian.
Getty/HuffPost UK
Influencers Molly Mae, Lydia Millen and Kim Kardashian.

The cost of bills, food, gas and nearly everything has increased this year, leaving millions of Brits struggling on a daily basis.

For some, this means limiting the amount of times they travel abroad, or dyeing their hair at home rather than going to the salon. Others might have to choose between having a home cooked meal or putting the heating on.

But, there is a small percentage of people who will not feel the effects of the cost of living crisis at all. And increasingly, it’s starting to look like influencers are among them.

If you follow fashion, lifestyle or beauty influencers, you’d think they were living in a completely different world. Life hasn’t stopped for them, it seems, with posts detailing expensive hotels, lavish restaurants and designer clothes still the norm.

It’s why lifestyle and fashion influencer Lydia Millen (somewhat ironically) landed herself in hot water this week, after speaking about her broken boiler.

In a Tik Tok video, Millen told her thousands of followers that her heating had broken at home, so she was taking herself to The Savoy hotel in London to warm up. “I’m going to make full use of their wonderful hot water,” she said.

Rooms at The Savoy costs upwards of £1,000 per night and comments on Millen’s post quickly turned sour, as many users felt that the video was out of touch. “The room ( a very cold one) has not been read,” one person commented.

Another added: “I love you and your content, but my boiler is currently broken and I’m wearing three jumpers.”

Some argued that it wasn’t the hotel that was the issue, considering many of us follow influencers for a bit of escapism. But most seemed to agree the tone missed the mark.

“What she should have said was: ‘The boiler is broke, but I’m lucky that I will be spending a few days at The Savoy,’” one person pointed out.

Things only got more heated when Millen doubled down on her stance in the comments. “I am a fashion and beauty influencer not a campaigner,” she told one follower.

This isn’t the first time an influencer has been critiqued for saying something that feels out of touch. Earlier this year, Molly Mae was called out when she pleasantly reminded us we all have 24 hours in a day.

“Technically, that is correct, we do have the same 24 hours in a day,” she said, referencing the popular motivational adage that ‘Beyonce has the same 24 hours as us’.

“We do all come back from different backgrounds and financial situations, but if you want something enough, you can achieve it.”

She later apologised for her comments, saying they were not made with “malice or ill intent”.

But just a few weeks later, the reality star Kim Kardashian gave women some much-debated advice, when she told us to “get your f*cking ass up and work, it seems like no one wants to work these days.”

Anyone already working a 40+ hour week will almost certainly disagree.

You’d think influencers would have shown more caution as the cost of living crisis worsened, but in October, US influencer Mikayla Nogueira was criticised after talking about the difficulties of being an influencer.

“I just finished working, it’s 5:19pm,” she said in a TikTok video. “Try being an influencer for the day. Try it.”

To be fair to Nogueira, she did say she starts work at 6am most days (making for a very long shift), but as others pointed out in the comments, influencers tend to earn more money and receive plenty more perks than others working such long hours. (Nogueira later apologised for the video and said she regrets making it).

It doesn’t feel like influencers are helping themselves and people like Ellie, a sustainable event organiser from Kingston Upon Thames, have grown tired of them.

The 25-year-old says she doesn’t like seeing luxury content during the current cost of living crisis. “It often comes across as boastful and quite ignorant of the severity of our current socio-economic and environmental crises,” she tells HuffPost UK.

“The news we see in the mainstream media is a stark contrast to the ads, glamour, and incessant consumerism by many influencers on Instagram.

“It appears, at least ostensibly, that they are living a luxurious life of glamorous abundance in a virtual parallel universe as us in the real world, including many of their own followers, are struggling to make ends meet.”

Ellie, who chose not to share her surname, believes that people are becoming increasingly frustrated with such influencers because the contrast between us is ever widening. “It’s almost feels like a ‘us vs them’ thing.”

“While many of us are experiencing the most severe financial hardships of our lives or are witnessing our loved ones struggling, they appear to be unaffected, neither emotionally or financially, and are seemingly unwilling to offer any time, money, or support to help others,” she says.

And Ellie isn’t wrong about the public’s opinion; 64% of Brits say they have lost respect for influencers that are driven by commercial gain, and lack authenticity. Instead, people value un-filtered posts and real conversation over curated feeds and un-relatable lifestyles, research from the influencer marketing platform Room Unlocked revealed.

“I personally like to follow people who I can relate to.”

- Ellie, social media consumer and event organiser

More than a third (37%) said they identify more with influencers who post with a social cause at the heart of their content – highlighting the need for content creators to use their platforms not just for financial gain, but to make a positive difference in society.

Consumers also want to see themselves reflected in the creators they choose to follow, with 25% of Brits saying they only follow influencers who share the same beliefs and values with them. Ellie is a runner and primarily follows running influencers to seek information and advice about the sport.

“I personally like to follow people who I can relate to in some aspect,” she says. “Whether that be over a shared passion for the environment, running, sport, nature, food waste, or any other of my hobbies or interests.”

If this research is out there, why are so many influencers still posting content that misses the mark?

Alex Payne, CEO and co-founder of Room Unlocked, shares that competition amongst influencers has been growing over the last couple of years, especially with the introduction of paid partnerships, which has left many content creators in the position of choosing between their genuine interests versus the opportunities that they are served with.

In short, it means that more influencers are creating content purely to get paid, rather than out of interest.

“With the added cost of living crisis, a situation like this can be fuel to the fire ...people are keen to see reflections of the real world in their favourite influencers’ content” Payne adds.

“Quite naturally, we’ll begin to see a trend of people unfollowing creators who cannot share those emotions with them because it feels so out of touch and so far from the reality of millions of people.

“When a so-called piece of content isn’t in harmony with its receiver, it creates a huge imbalance, which influencers need to be mindful of. That’s not to say that they cannot promote items that they could not afford themselves, but perhaps it’s about their messaging.”

Sara McCorquodale, the CEO and founder of influencer marketing company CORQ, says since the pandemic, consumers have been more critical of influencers and feel they have a responsibility to hold them to account.

McCorquodale believes that influencers need to consider how they position the stories they are telling.

“The issue with Lydia Millen’s Savoy content was that she created a narrative which revealed her to be out of touch with the current energy crisis. What should have been escapism led Millen’s followers to compare her life to the wider public’s and this left a bad taste,“ McCorquodale says.

“Luxury creators who focus on delivering entertainment and escapism will be mostly fine in the current climate – problems arise when they try to be relatable or tap into something which hits a nerve too close to home for the majority of their followers who are not in their position.”

“Telling them to read the room when they’re in a different room to most is fruitless.”

- Demi Colleen, influencer

However, not everyone believes influencers should change their content, including myself. Though the cost of living crisis affects me, I understand that for some life will move on as normal. Though I can see why people are frustrated with the content influencers produce at this time, if I feel that if their content isn’t relatable, it’s up to me to unfollow them.

Demi Colleen, who is a 28-year-old influencer from London, thinks consumers should not expect influencers to be relatable at all. “The whole notion and set up of an influencer is not relatable,” she says.

“Even if an influencer tries to frame themselves as such, their lifestyle and behaviour will never be considered normal and generally most of what we do and show can be considered out of touch or insensitive when a lot of the general public are struggling.”

Colleen believes that influencers often produce content that provides escapism. “However, there’s a fine line between that and feeling envious – but it’s important to remember that they do not owe you relatability and it’s not their job to make you feel better about what’s going on,” she says. “Telling them to read the room when they’re in a different room to most is fruitless.”

Colleen isn’t going to change her content during the cost of living crisis and says she will continue to do the things she normally does.

“There’s nothing wrong with booking into nice hotels, going away or still buying expensive items – but I never have or will tell people they need to do the same,” Colleen says.

“Additionally, I always like to have balance, so whilst I may be living it up in a 5 star hotel in London one day, I’ll be at home wearing the same trackies for three days wearing spot cream the next. That’s my reality though, and some people have more of one than the other.”

Does this mean we should strive to follow influencers who feel more authentic to us? McCorquodale doesn’t think so.

“We really need to rethink this notion of authenticity in the influencer space as it is being conflated with ideas of relatability and these two things are very different,” McCorquodale adds.

“At the end of the day, influencer content is performance – creators are giving consumers a version of themselves, so striving for ‘authenticity’ is not really possible and a bit of a trap, especially as influencers become more successful and affluent.”

Should influencers strive to a live a life less glamorous to appease their followers? I don’t think so. Should they read the room and realise that their life is completely different to the majority of us? Yes.

For me though, I’m going to continue to curate my social media feed and follow people who make me feel good. This means muting and unfollowing people when it suits me, whilst reminding myself that the life of an influencer isn’t my reality. Especially when they’re staying in The Savoy.

HuffPost UK has contacted Lydia Millen’s representatives for comment.