There’s no skirting the issue when it comes to the influence that someone or something can have on a person. Even by definition, Merriam-Webster describes an influencer as “one who exerts influence” and “a person who inspires or guides the actions of others.” When you think of someone who was an “influencer” in your life, a slew of names and faces probably pop up. But in today’s social media-obsessed world, that particular association of “influencer” is tainted with a new kind of definition. As “people who have built a reputation for their knowledge and expertise on a specific topic,” influencers on social media are the new it-factor that enhances the tired definition of the word.
Though it may sound like a “fake” sort of occupation, there are real benefits for the social media socialite. They reach across the web to partner with brands and labels, all to “influence” their audiences on the newest trends. Even though influencers occupy every social media platform, now they’re taking to the skies. The new Willa Air service exposes how social media influencers are placed atop digital pedestals, which revolutionizes what it means to “worship” celebrities in a very 2022 way.
According to CNBC Make It, Willa Air launched in April as a private airline specifically for social media influencers. This project was brought to life by the masterminds behind the Willa company, a payment app that caters exclusively to influencers’ habits. Willa provides “superfast payments for creators” and their ever-growing brand deals, and because this money-managing multinational helps make influencers’ everyday lives easier, it makes sense that they’d want to simplify every aspect of the social media lifestyle. Responding to influencers’ need to jet across the country at a moment’s notice, Willa Air combines the busy social media schedule with 21st-century luxury. Deemed “the world’s first creator airline,” Willa Air capitalizes on the ways influencers travel and post about their adventures, to make their jet-set lives more indulgent with every trip.
But where will this private plane shuffle the social media stars? For their first flight, Willa Air took 12 social media influencers from Los Angeles to the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. The A-list event was not a random choice to kick off this service either: As People recalled from Aron Levin, the company’s co-founder, “Naturally, we are launching during Coachella, one of the biggest influencer events of the year.” Essentially, the influencer’s need to be at the center of the hottest happenings of the season helped to make the private flight possible. Mixing together the bells and whistles of infamous events with influencers’ immense online popularity provides Willa Air with a reputation as not just a flight, but an experience.
While a speedy trip from point A to B is already intriguing for festival-goers, the lux benefits don’t stop there. From the beginning of the inaugural flight, social media guests were treated to car-to-plane service at Willa’s Venice Beach lounge, complete with a pre-flight champagne bar. Throughout the flight to Coachella Valley — just a quick 30-minute sprint by air — the private jet was sprinkled with specialties begging for their close-up. Social media influencers got to bond over the flight, and take juicy insider snapshots before touchdown at the festival. After a weekend of fun in the desert sun, Willa Air incorporates recuperation into their vacation as well: From detox massages and “IV drips to treat that hangover,” the company pre-planned to leave their influencer stars better than when they found them.
Of the 12 social media influencers who got to hop on board, all were picked from an application pool of thousands. Anyone who’s even remotely involved with the influencer community online was invited to apply, but those who already use Willa’s money-transferring app were prioritized over other applicants, a sneaky marketing ploy that helped the Willa app grow users seemingly overnight. Levin’s overall hope was that Willa Air would “provide superfast and convenient travel for the content creators who are jetting off to events across the U.S.” With the entire “airline” consisting of one private jet making a 12-passenger flight, the exclusivity of the whole concept questions its necessity.
It’s one thing to have a target audience in a project, but it’s another to specifically cater to an industry that is still growing into all it could be. Considering that the idea of Willa Air for influencers is “as novel as the occupation itself,” the identification and “need” for this service seem unnecessary to the majority. However, there’s a constant demand for influencers to be everywhere and promote everything, which helps them make bank in the process. They earn their living “by partnering with brands to promote products on social media,” hence, social media savvy individuals will ultimately “influence” their followers by living out experiences that are untouchable by most — and pocket the cash that results. After all, attending “huge events rife with opportunities for content and selfie-taking” is just another day on the job for this niche occupation.
The main issue behind the “influencer” title does not necessarily lie with the job description, but rather an influencer’s ability to be feted alongside A-list celebrities. Yes, social media influencers are an integral part of tapping into the digital grid, but pampering these stars as if they were superstars does come across as excessive. The presence of influencers has become such a pervasive part of today’s society, to the point where it’s easy to forget the immense privileges that come with their role. Everything under the sun seems to fall into the laps of these internet socialites: Lux treatments and invitations, complete with a surplus of free items, all reveal the benefits of thriving in their career path. Yet, the glamor of the influencer lifestyle also marks the vast gap between “them” and “us.”
For example, even though applications for the first Willa Air flight were open to all kinds of creators — from those who make videos in their childhood bedroom to the verified influencer — a hierarchy still arose in the already “micro” industry. Although Willa Air explicitly stated that “in order to fly, it’s not simply about having the most followers, but creating a well-rounded experience fueled by great influencers,” they still found a way to push their own Willa app customers to the front of the line. In addition, the app’s services to the social media influencer conducting brand deals provide no room for avoiding the question of “likes” and “followers.” Even if Willa’s intentions were to promote every type of influencer possible, they are already operating within a field that breeds competition among who’s more “popular” than the rest.
The privileges of the social media socialite also came about in the “free” aspect of the trip. Regardless of the way that Willa Air was “designed to fly social media influencers to the most Instagram-friendly events throughout the country,” transporting influencers for their jobs does come at a price. However, for the stars in question, the price tag to fly to Coachella rang up as completely free for all passengers. A free flight is something wonderful to celebrate, no matter who gets to enjoy those opportunities; yet it is the fact that such a benefit adds to the list of riches given to social media influencers that muddies the concept. One user on Twitter pointed out the confusion that comes with influencers constantly handed free things, such as Willa Air: “Don’t influencers rely on getting everything for ‘free’ because of their ‘media.’ Nah, I don’t understand it either.”
Just as favorite celebs get free gifts and lush treatment 24/7, social media influencers also rise to that same status in today’s digitally saturated world. Over time and online scrolling, the lines between who’s a “celebrity” and who’s a “social media influencer” have blurred into the same occupations. In that respect, these social media moguls get to relish in the riches that are often reserved for the highest status symbols. For Willa Air, the company was quick to see this connection, and simultaneously found a way to cater and turn a profit out of it. For social media influencers, the opportunity to jump on the plane and take snapshots of luxury was just another brand deal added to their “to-do” list. As Morning Brew bluntly described the transaction, “Like most influencer antics, it’s all happening on another company’s dime.” When both Willa Air and their social media influencers are on the same page, the only people that find it to be a semi-ridiculous partnership are those not involved in either sphere: The rest of the world watching this all unfold tries to get a grip on the high niche industry. Lo and behold, the free flight ended up serving these split-second stars, as their image would ultimately make themselves and the Willa Air company both look “trendy” today.
The success of Willa Air over Coachella weekend ignited the spark for the airline’s future. According to their website, plans are in motion to conduct another journey that will tote influencers to New York Fashion Week later this year. While there is nothing inherently bad when it comes to the role of social media “influencers,” these present-day celebrities enjoy a massive number of privileges most people will never get to touch. Even if such advantages are built into the up-and-coming career itself, it’s still a tricky situation to watch these social media “stars” enter the forefront of the internet and celebrity conversations. If anything, Willa Air definitely exposes how far the textbook definition of an “influencer” has been distorted by the waves of technology overcoming everyone’s lives. To complicate the meaning of a “deserving” job against a background of the loudest tech noise to date leaves room for almost too much exploration into how to profit from all this commotion. For sanity’s sake, it’s best to keep an open mind for whatever influencer innovation comes flying by in the future.