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How taking a break can help save an influencer's dying career, even when it seems like there's no hope

How taking a break can help save an influencer's dying career, even when it seems like there's no hope
  • Gabbie Hanna returned to the internet after a yearlong hiatus, to a positive reception.

  • Hanna's break allowed her and her audience time to heal and forgive.

  • Experts say audiences tend to be forgiving of influencers who show genuine change.

Last year, Gabbie Hanna took an extended break from the internet, with some thinking she would never come back.

But she did, and despite having contended with a string of controversies before her departure, she was welcomed back with open arms.

The shift in perception is not guaranteed by stepping away, but it does help, experts say.

Content creators feel pressured to consistently post to stay relevant, and Hanna's example could challenge the fear in the creator economy that stopping even briefly could ruin livelihoods as fans move on.

Like many before her, Hanna saw the benefits taking a break could have on her career, particularly when she returned as someone who seemed more down-to-earth and less focused on the relentless drama mill.

Hanna has been a content creator since 2013, getting her start on Vine and then building a fan base on YouTube, where she told stories, released music, and had a brief stint in David Dobrik's Vlog Squad.

But her career was marred with backlash for promoting poor-quality makeup brushes, her friendship-ending feuds with fellow creators, and some controversial comments about mental illness and neurodivergence.

In January 2023, Hanna stopped posting on all her social media accounts following a self-described manic episode where she posted over 100 TikToks in a single day. She stayed away from posting for over a year.

She was spotted a couple of times in the real world, but for the most part, she was gone, leaving fans and critics to wonder whether she would return.

They would get their answer on February 29, when Hanna released a music video on her channel titled "Where Did I Go?"

Accompanying the video were some social-media posts, then a handful of vlogs where Hanna detailed her break, saying she quit smoking weed and was recovering from a social-media addiction.

After a period of several years where it seemed like she could do no right in the internet's eyes, Hanna's videos were finally met with positivity.

The comment section filled up with people welcoming her back, saying they missed her, and praising her new song. They were glad to see her creating again, they said, and doing what she loved.

Many said they were happy to see Hanna "happy and healthy" and were "proud" of her.

It was a striking turnaround.

Taking a break the right way

Toni Ferrara, a public relations expert and the founder of Ferrara Media, told BI that stepping away from the spotlight can be "a powerful act of accountability."

"This not only allows influencers time for introspection and personal growth but also grants their audience the space to heal and forgive," she said.

"However, true redemption lies in action, not just words," she said.

"It's imperative for influencers to return to their platforms with tangible evidence of positive change, demonstrating their commitment to growth and accountability."

Katya Varbanova, the CEO of Viral Marketing Stars, told BI that Hanna's"incredibly dramatic" exit led to speculation.

Over time, though, the chatter died down and everyone moved on. This allowed Hanna to really step away from the drama and focus on herself.

Her return to the internet was positive and honest, and people picked up on that.

"That kind of break allows you to really step away from the stress, focus on your well-being, and make visible improvements and mental improvements," Varbanova said. "So that when you come back, people can see that you have really grown, improved your life. It's a very good story arc."

Varbanova contrasted Hanna's comeback to that of Colleen Ballinger — a YouTube veteran who faced allegations of "grooming" and inappropriate behavior and returned with a notoriously poorly received ukulele apology. Her conduct was criticized as inauthentic and "manipulative."

"The public tends to be more forgiving of celebrities and influencers who come back and show genuine change," Varbanova said.

"You can tell when someone's coming from a good place energetically versus when they're coming from a place of being forced or from a place of having to do so, which is why I think transparency and humility and down-to-earthness also contributes to a good return."

How getting 'canceled' has changed

Hanna, like many influencers, has been "canceled" multiple times over her career. Before her time away, she seemed unable to avoid such run-ins.

But Sophie Wood, the director of strategy at the influencer marketing agency Fohr, told BI getting canceled looks very different from how it used to.

Once, beauty influencers publicly fought over trivial misunderstandings, leading to fierce fandom wars and mass unfollowings that became a kind of online blood sport.

More recently, creators have come under fire for putting their friends in danger, cultivating unsafe and unethical working environments, and sexual impropriety. The increased stakes make other disputes seem petty in comparison.

"I do think that cancellation is just more normalized now, or it just happens so frequently, that it's not a case of if but when for anyone who has a platform on the internet," Wood said. "It does bear the question of, does cancellation hold the same weight as it did before?"

There's still an appetite for backlash. On TikTok, viewers jump to conclusions and take sides in heated disputes, whether it's a cake gone wrong, a rude Etsy store owner, or an ill-fated brand deal.

The pendulum swings both ways, Wood said, with some getting canceled "for really silly things" and others keeping their platform when they've potentially committed a crime.

But largely, there's a culture of telling people to "touch grass" and reflect on whether a given influencer drama is actually significant.

"It's like, OK, you're actually too online and this doesn't actually matter," Wood said. "You need to go outside and touch grass because this is not a cancelable offense, and we've taken it too far."

The shift may be thanks to a greater understanding of how mental-health problems can impact a person. Gen Zers, in particular, are ready to forgive people for acting out in times of hardship, Wood said.

Hanna was clearly in a bad place a year ago, and is in a noticeably better one now. Audiences are smart, Wood said, and they know when change is authentic.

"I do think that she did it right," she said of Hanna. "It's really refreshing and I'm glad that people are welcoming her with open arms. Because everyone deserves a redemption era."

Hanna did not respond to Business a request for comment from Business Insider.

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