The Coronavirus Economy: What it means to be a travel influencer when no one can travel anywhere

March 31, 2020, 5:00 PM UTC

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Lifestyle blogger and content creator Lindsay Silberman is often seen posting to her Instagram account from far-flung destinations like Thailand and fabulous hotels like the Rosewood Mayakoba in Mexico. Her 165,000 followers chime in with all sorts of inquiries for travel tips, packing inspiration, and which wine she’s drinking. But when news of the extremity of COVID-19’s effects hit last week, she, like many other content producers, asked the question: “If people can’t travel, what do I post about?”

Fortune spoke with Silberman for a new series, The Coronavirus Economy, to ask about how COVID-19 has affected her day-to-day work, what it’s like to work in the travel industry amid a public health crisis, how she’s engaging with her followers now, and how she’s been handling this news, both emotionally and financially.

Lindsay Silberman is a lifestyle blogger and content creator.
Lindsay Silberman

Fortune: You were on a trip to St. Barth’s when news of COVID-19 came out. What was it like to watch the story unfold from a relatively isolated location on an island in the Caribbean?

Silberman: It was simultaneously bizarre and disheartening. The island hadn’t been affected yet, so things were business as usual. I spent the last two days of my trip completely glued to the news and social media, trying to get an understanding of what I would be coming home to—and if I would be able to get home at all. People were messaging me telling me to “enjoy paradise, because New York feels like the apocalypse.” Like everyone else, I’m heartbroken thinking about all the ways people are going to be negatively affected by this. It’s not just those who will lose their lives to the virus—it’s going to have devastating consequences for so many people and industries, from travel to small business, and entrepreneurs like myself.

Many influencers and bloggers faced this: There’s a dilemma about whether to post as usual or to focus on COVID-19, given the enormity of the public health crisis. It’s not something to take lightly. How did you handle this decision?

I’ve always had a very open, transparent relationship with my audience on Instagram, so rather than making the decision my own, I left it up to them. I wrote a message along with a poll asking people to vote on the type of content they wanted to see from me. I received thousands of votes, and the vast majority wanted a sense of normalcy.

The overwhelming sentiment was that people were craving an escape from the news, because for most of us, it has become all-consuming. Even influencers were reporting on coronavirus-related topics, giving safety advice, and sharing their perspectives on whether or not people should be traveling. That just didn’t seem natural to me, and I didn’t feel like it was my place. I acknowledged the gravity of the situation, and then continued posting the kinds of things that I know my audience enjoys—funny videos with my husband, beautiful travel photos, self-care tips—anything that would take people’s minds off the news, if just for a few minutes.

I was nervous people would call me insensitive, but in fact, the reaction has been quite the opposite. I received messages from ER doctors and nurses begging me to keep up my usual content—telling me it was what they looked forward to seeing when they got home from work because it reminded them of what life was before, and what life will be like after.

A lot of what you do is travel. How do you approach travel content at the moment?

Aside from the obvious—not being able to travel—I’ve definitely had to shift my priorities on my blog content for this month. I have a handful of travel guides that were scheduled to go live over the next few weeks, and had planned on beginning a few others, but instead I’ll be turning my attention to beauty and lifestyle content—like how to organize your makeup or the behind-the-scenes of blogging—which feels more fitting right now. My website traffic has dipped, but luckily it hasn’t done a complete nosedive, since I cover a diverse range of topics.

One thing I’m not doing is covering anything COVID-related on my site. It’s not my place. I’m not a medical expert, and in terms of travel, my opinion is that people shouldn’t be traveling at all. So there’s not much to say beyond that.

Travel blogger Silberman had to ask herself, “If people can’t travel, what do I post about?”
Lindsay Silberman

Has it changed your engagement metrics?

At first it felt weird to post beautiful travel photos [on my feed], but the feedback I’ve gotten from 99% of my followers is that they want to see that kind of thing now more than ever. It’s a form of escapism, I guess. The engagement on my [Instagram] feed has also been higher than normal.

What does it feel like for you to be so homebound?

To be honest, for me it’s a welcome reprieve. I guess because I spend so much time running around and essentially living out of a suitcase, being home has allowed me to take a pause, start thinking about long-term projects, and catch up on things that had been falling through the cracks.

Luckily, you don’t cover travel-related content alone. Your topics include beauty, lifestyle, home design, and, of course, an enthusiasm for rosé. How has this “diversity of your portfolio,” so to speak, benefited you in a time such as this?

Having a diverse portfolio has been crucial. If I relied solely on travel partnerships for my revenue, I would be in a really precarious financial situation right now. I’ve had a handful of brands postpone campaigns, but there’s still a lot I can do from home: skin-care product reviews, makeup tutorials, and fashion try-ons.

The most important thing when it comes to sponsored content right now is being overly sensitive to the situation, and adjusting the content accordingly. While I know that talking about a lipstick or a night cream might feel frivolous to some, at the end of the day, I still have a business to run and bills to pay. I’m just trying to make sure I strike the right balance between addressing what’s happening and trying to continue with business as usual. For example, I launched a charitable initiative to raise money for Feeding America this week.

I’m also lucky in that I have a blog generating additional income, through ads and affiliate links, so I plan to churn out a lot of non-travel content over the next few weeks and months.

How do you plan on continuing to inspire your followers?

I think a lot of content creators are paralyzed with how to handle the situation on their platforms, because no one wants to say or do the wrong thing. But I actually think now is the perfect opportunity to engage your community in a completely different way. In a sense, I think my followers like the content that I’m posting while holed up in my apartment because it’s much more relatable than when I’m gallivanting in St Barth’s.

My goal right now is to keep my audience in good spirits—to provide entertainment, inspiration for future travel, and beauty and skin-care tips. I also run an incredible Facebook group, The SilbSquad, where women all over the world are finding community as they struggle in adjusting to their new normal. We have a thread where brides-to-be are exchanging tips and advice for postponed weddings; in another thread, women are sharing work-from-home playlists and loungewear recommendations. In that respect, my audience feels closer and more engaged than ever.

My income might be taking a hit right now, but if I can use this time to strengthen my relationship with them, I’ll still feel like I’ve accomplished something. I have no doubt it will end up paying off in the future.

More coronavirus coverage from Fortune:

—This famed economist doesn’t think we’re headed for another Great Recession
—South Korea has the most comprehensive coronavirus data. What it’s taught us so far
—10 questions about the 2020 election during the coronavirus pandemic, answered
6 steps to sustainably flatten the coronavirus curve
—How hackers are exploiting the coronavirus—and how to protect yourself
—Hong Kong launches a surveillance operation to track suspected coronavirus patients
—Listen to Leadership Next, a Fortune podcast examining the evolving role of CEOs
—WATCH: The race is on to create a coronavirus antiviral drug and vaccine

Subscribe to Fortune’s Outbreak newsletter for a daily roundup of stories on the coronavirus and its impact on global business.

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