New Delhi-based stand-up comedian Appurv Gupta, who has over 21,000 followers on Twitter, largely posts jokes and select video clips of his stand-up comedy on his Twitter account. However, when the second wave of COVID-19 infections hit India in April, Gupta’s feed morphed into a log of requests from people he had never met before, asking him to arrange medical equipment such as oxygen cylinders and life-saving drugs.
Between April and May, as daily reported cases increased to as many as 400,000 a day, India’s healthcare system broke down. Hospitals were forced to turn down patients from admitting due to lack of beds and oxygen cylinders.
With no one to turn to, people started approaching actors, comedians, chefs, and other content creators who have a large following on social media platforms. In response to their followers’ desperate pleas for help, influencers mobilized volunteers, compiled relevant information into lists, sourced critical medical supplies, and crowdsourced updates on the availability of hospital beds, oxygen cylinders, and plasma donations.
When Canada-based Surbhi Chaturvedi discovered that her mother, who lives alone in her house in the northern Indian city of Kanpur, urgently needed liquid oxygen, she reached out to Gupta on Twitter in April for help. Gupta got in touch with Chaturvedi’s mother and found that she could barely speak and was on her way to a hospital. Gupta’s team, over the next 15 days of her treatment at the hospital, ensured she got all the medicines, including Remdesivir, that were hard to source for COVID-19 patients due to high demand.
Urgently needed Remdesvir Injection at Gorakhpur
Patient name – Sobha , admitted in Gorakhpur Nursing Home Hospital
— APPURV GUPTA (@appurv_gupta) April 30, 2021
In another instance, when testing laboratories were overburdened, Gupta helped a family of six get the test done at home within hours. Only when the family got the result were they able to start treatment.
“That experience made me realize that Appurv is not just an influencer but is also very resourceful,” said Prateek Shukla, who approached Gupta on Twitter.
Preparing for the third wave
Even as India slowly recovers from the second wave of the pandemic, officials and health authorities are now routinely warning people of the possibility of a third wave. And with the Supreme Court asking the Indian government to devise a pan-India approach to prepare for the third wave, state governments are busy ramping up their health infrastructure.
While the government makes its own preparations, public personalities who have a wide reach and a team of volunteers are equally prepared to rise to the fore, as they did during the peak of the second wave. Influencers, big or small, helped out in many ways, as the surge in infections overwhelmed hospitals, morgues, and crematoriums that left families and friends of COVID-19 positive patients scrambling for scarce medicines and oxygen.
Some influencers went a step further and roped in chefs and tiffin service providers to prepare home-cooked meals for patients who were under home quarantine. In mid-April, Saransh Goila, a popular social media influencer and chef, started an initiative called ‘Meals for India, ’ an online platform that connects food volunteers with COVID-19 patients.
Patient name. -Kiran Rai
Age – 74
Location – Kanpur
Contact Name -Amar Rai
Contact no- 9560743322
Requirement – oxygen cylinder and home icu setup with a nurse or attendant to take care of the patient@DivyaSoti @Covid_Kanpur @SorabhTiwari13 @shalabhmani @AdityaRajKaul
— Surabhi Chaturvedi (@dearsurabhi) April 29, 2021
“The second wave created a unique problem in India as people were falling ill in clusters without any access to home-cooked meals. Relatives and neighbors who would earlier bring food while visiting the sick stopped doing so as the risk of getting infected was high due to the new strain of the virus,” Goila told KrASIA.
When Goila started getting direct messages on Instagram asking him if he knew about any tiffin services for patients in isolation at home, he began collating a list of home chefs, tiffin services, and food volunteers on a spreadsheet who were willing to send food. “We started with about 200 volunteers and 12 home chefs who were spread across 12 cities. Currently, we have 3,500 volunteers across 300 cities. The spreadsheet has now been turned into a website,” he said.
As for the third wave, Gupta said, the second wave has taught his team a lot. “My team of 50 volunteers and I are better prepared for a third wave as we have a response system in place. Thankfully, the number of cases have come down now, but if there is a surge, we can start all over again.”
Pause on brand promotions
Dozens of social media influencers on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook had to take a break from posting their personal stories, including putting a halt to brand endorsements—the cash cow for social media content creators.
Gupta said, “Time was crucial for us, so I didn’t want to shift my focus from amplifying SOS calls of patients across various cities that could help them find hospital beds, oxygen cylinders, and critical drugs.”
“I asked the brands to come back after the second wave subsides and when they have another campaign.”
The pandemic made digital content creator Aanchal Agrawal, who has 175,000 followers on Instagram, realize that “as creators or influencers, it’s our responsibility to use the power that comes with the enormous reach that we have.”
Getting around 300–400 calls daily, Agrawal kept aside all the promotions and focused solely on helping people. “My content calendar was fixed long back with promising collaborations with brands, which I had to postpone or cancel. I couldn’t be more thankful for them to be so understanding.”
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She and her team spent more than a month volunteering for medical resources and did not get the time to create regular content because “deep down we felt we would be letting people down if we missed even one patient.”
“It was all so stressful, and I could barely keep my mind straight. Let alone create content during such tough times,” she said, adding, “We’re back to our regular content now because even creators need to pay their bills and survive.”
When asked about revenue loss, Gupta said that there has been no loss “simply because I did not do the promotions or shows, and even if there is, I have not calculated it.”
A study by AI-driven influencer marketing platform, ClanConnect, states that 78% of marketing leaders leveraged influencer marketing in 2020, while over 13% initiated influencer activity for the first time in 2020. Budget allocation for influencer marketing grew significantly in 2020, compared to 2019. Almost 90% of marketers plan to allocate 25% of their entire marketing budget towards influencer-led activities this year.
“Influencer marketing continues to gain momentum, with large and smaller brands increasing their investments in creating engaging content with influencers. We have seen campaigns double over last quarter,” said Suneil Chawla, co-founder of Social Beat.
Content creators who KrASIA spoke to said that brands realized that it was not the right time to indulge in product promotions during the second wave. “Most brands pulled back the campaigns that were planned to go live during the peak of the second wave as that would have definitely been insensitive,” said Chawla.
When cases started to rise exponentially around mid-April, digital marketing agency Influencer Solutions did see a pause for a short period during the peak of the second wave. “Both influencers and brands were focused on optimizing the social media space for the health crisis in the country,” said Karan Pherwani, director, influencer solutions at Chtrbox
Although for now, brand promotions on social media platforms are back, brands and influencers are not yet celebrating as the third wave is inevitable and is expected to hit the country sometime in July.