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What Happens When a Brand’s Insta-Girl Deletes Her Instagram?

Kendall Jenner, a high-profile face of Estée Lauder, is taking a break from social media.

Kendall Jenner on a red carpet. Photo: Andrew Toth/Getty Images

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On Sunday, Kendall Jenner deleted her Instagram account and it was reported widely across the media. On Wednesday, she revealed why she did it, and that made news again. She told Ellen DeGeneres that she “just wanted a detox,” that she “felt a little too dependent on it.”

It’s certainly understandable. In this current climate, social media is one of the most stressful things you can engage in. Then there’s also the fact that her older sister, Kim Kardashian, was robbed in Paris a few weeks ago and has been avoiding social media since then. Kendall herself had an alleged stalker acquitted last month. All of these are very good reasons to never log in to any social media platform ever again.

But Kendall is not like most of us. The model has a lot of deals with brands who hired her because of her social media following. One of her biggest is Estée Lauder, which signed her on as a very prominent face of the brand almost exactly two years ago. At the time, she had 16 million Instagram followers. Before she deleted her account over the weekend, she had a staggering 68 million. So what does a brand do when one of its most valuable influencers no longer has one of her biggest platforms?

Sometimes when brands work with influencers, they have requirements about how long posts have to stay up before influencers can delete them. (Which influencers often opt to do, according to Thomas Rankin, the co-founder and CEO of “visual intelligence platform” Dash Hudson, because they don’t want their feeds to look too monetized.) “In the case of Kendall and Estée, when she’s literally the face of the campaign and retained on that basis, I’d see [deleting her account] being a problem. It may put Kendall in breach of some of the agreements she have with those companies,” says Rankin. (Estée Lauder declined to comment, so this is all conjecture.)

The truth is, though, it’s not very likely that she’ll stay off Instagram forever. Kendall herself told Ellen that she’d likely return, and she can do this with her Instagram following intact. According to Instagram’s help page, you can temporarily disable your account so that no one will see it anymore, but you can go live again without losing your content or followers.

“One of the most valuable things is scarcity,” notes Rankin, as anyone who has tried to get their hands on Rihanna’s furry Puma slides can attest. He does not at all discount taking her explanation about social media fatigue at face value, but let’s indulge in a few conspiracy theories for fun.

If this much media attention was given to her deleting her account (even the AP covered it), imagine how much attention she — and whatever image she posts — will likely get when she returns. Estée posted behind-the-scenes images on its brand account two days ago featuring Kendall in a shoot. Perhaps that campaign picture will be the first thing she posts upon her return to the platform. Yes, this is admittedly cynical, but she will get a lot of attention if she returns to Instagram.

Rankin also wonders if maybe she’ll show up on Snapchat more frequently instead, since there’s so much attention on that platform now because of its impending IPO. It doesn’t appear that she has been there in the last 24 hours, but it’s a possibility.

The takeaway here, though, is that in the short term Estée probably stands to lose more from Kendall not being on Instagram than Kendall does. Rankin compares the climate now to the ‘80s, when celebrities were the face of a product, but the platform belonged to a media property, like Vogue or NBC. Now the platform belongs to the celebrity.

“The influencers have a lot more power than you would imagine, because it’s so personality driven and they’re so in demand,” explains Rankin. “They definitely hold the balance of power, because of the whole broader reach through social.”

Rankin actually thinks that influencers doing collaborations with brands is going to get even more popular, like Gigi Hadid x Tommy Hilfiger. While Kendall did do a lipstick collaboration with Estée, the deal seems to be more traditional — she fronts the things that Estée produces without a lot of creative input.

We’ll have to see how this plays out, and of course I hope that Kendall finds some peace of mind in the meantime. Because frankly, it’s tempting for everyone to delete their accounts now.