Italian influencer Chiara Ferragni is taking political actions by setting a precedent, which reflects a more American approach.Voice
April 2020, almost everyone in Europe was watching Italy as the first thousands of coronavirus victims in Bergamo were transported out of the hospitals through military trucks.
April 2021, almost everyone in Europe is still quarrelling about what to do with the vaccination campaign. Italy isn’t in a good place with roughly 13 million doses inoculated and still plenty of debate on how to carry out the campaign and who should lead it.
So, as everywhere else in the world this has become a quite hot topic that goes beyond the AstraZeneca fears or the vaccination passport discussions.
A Famous Granny
There was a spike in the debate recently as Chiara Ferragni posted on her Instagram account—with 23.3 million followers—that her husband’s 90-year-old granny was still waiting for her first vaccination appointment. In her stories she expressed some frustration on how the Lombardy region administration is managing the vaccination campaign, saying that many elderly people are paying the heaviest price. Despite being the most vulnerable, they’ve either been forgotten, invited to go to the wrong vaccination hubs or were even alerted of the appointment too late.
She argued in a later post (liked by 1,209,742 people) that Federico’s grandmother was then invited to have her first dose because of what she posted. She said she felt angry, since Nonna Luciana was offered the vaccine only because she (Chiara) is a public figure with the power to raise attention on such situation.
She said she wondered for quite a long time whether to come forward and express her views on this, but now she has chosen to provide a platform for all her followers who have been contacting her to raise their voice and share their “covid-stories” with her. Additionally, she is addressing her post to the newly appointed Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and to all Italian politicians to say stop the small talks and act, as the people are fed up.
This post was commented by more than 30 thousand people and surely occupied the Italian headlines for quite a while. Yet, this is not very common for us.
A Shift Toward More Active Engagement
In Italy we are used to seeing public figures becoming good will ambassadors or becoming the voice of important causes, such as cancer research or disadvantaged children education. When Chiara and her husband promoted a fundraising campaign to raise money for a new ICU structure for Milan’ San Raffaele Hospital last year, that wasn’t much of a big deal. Again, the fact that she and many other actors, singers and famous faces are publishing social media posts encouraging their followers to abide with the coronavirus restrictions and stay at home didn’t come as a surprise. Everyone everywhere is doing so.
What I feel is new for the Italian public is seeing someone, whose fame and fortune is associated with fashion, taking such a strong position in what is both a social and a political debate.
In some other countries this is totally accepted and in others, like the USA, it is even expected, especially when it comes to the presidential elections. Cinema stars, singers, talk shows faces, influencers… everyone has to say who they support. There was even a survey, promoted by BuzzFeed US, that says that 78% of their respondents think that influencers cannot produce relevant content while being apolitical.
Yet, for a country like Italy, where politics is mainly left to politicians and journalists, Chiara’s actions are really setting a precedent, which seems to go towards the American way.
A New Public Discourse
She is mixing her usual social media content with discussions on gender equality, the vaccination campaign, female empowerment and who knows, perhaps one day she will even disclose more about her political beliefs. It will be interesting to see how the Italian public will react to this.
Surely there will be a big gap between the older generations and the millennials. The old guard will approach these new methods very warily or they will even criticise them strongly and openly because “what does she know about politics? She is just good at collecting Vuitton bags” (I can truly hear this resonating in my ears. I know what my people can get up to unfortunately…)
However, the younger generations might welcome this as a change of air. Perhaps they’d expect that Italian influencers follow the examples of so many others from the US or the UK or even Latin America, as they already know by being connected with them through social media platforms. When you grow up exposed to such content, then you’d expect to see it replicating in your more familiar national environment too.
Strategy and Identity
The question would then be, how much personal economic interest is there behind such a “strategic” change of content? Is it truly neutral, is it because these people want to use their privilege to advocate for social justice or it is a business affair?
Scholars consider “identification” as a significant component in the persuasion process through which celebrities influence their audience behaviours.
In a 2019 interview with the Financial Times,
Chiara said she doesn’t really have a social media strategy. She says she posts instinctively. However, as she is truly the face of her multimillion business, speaking openly about social and political business could be seen as a sort of corporate social responsibility choice. By adding some “real” content to her glittery posts she is somehow demonstrating that she is all but superficial.
Ferragni is one of only a handful of high-profile Italian businesswomen—a rare thing among a sea of ageing, gerontocratic men—nevertheless, the power she holds is undebatable if we want to believe the nonna Luciana story.
In my opinion this only demonstrate that Chiara’s professional journey is evolving, she seems more focused and perhaps more aware that when granted privileges, duty follows. This is an evolution that will not just benefit her public image, but it will position her business more strategically in both the national and the global market. She may post instinctively but she surely knows how to walk the talk. •