Influencers are the new norm for entertainment in the modern day, and we can barely move for them. Whether we scroll into them on our phones, lock eyes with theirs via a billboard poster or catch them on reality TV, influencers have become an instrumental part of our lives. But what is an influencer, and how do they make the money they make doing what they do?
The term ‘influencer’ is a relatively new one, born of a new era in entertainment. As social media platforms have become ever-more central to our lives, so too have the personalities that made their name within them. Andy Warhol was extremely prescient in his ‘fifteen minutes of fame’ prediction, as the shift to reality television and then again to social-media-based entertainment trends have seen fame afforded to the everyman.
While people of all stripes have made a name for themselves online, influencers are anything but ‘everymen’. The have come to be trailblazers in fashion and culture, dictating new trends and embodying a crucial voice for fans of all kinds. For older generations, it can be difficult to understand exactly what influencers ‘do’, but in truth it couldn’t be simpler. Influencers curate their digital presence to appeal to specific subsets of online communities, using their lives as a frame through which to sell themselves as an aspirational ambassador for the finer things.
Influencers come in a variety of shapes and sizes, from niche hobbyists and experts to mental health representatives and domestic wizards. The most popular kind of influencer, though, is the rich kind. Popular influencers document lavish lifestyles, including private jet travel, luxurious international retreats and expensive home décor. But where does the money come from?
Influencers make their money, by and large, from brand deals with other businesses. These can take a wide variety of forms, from product placement in a pre-agreed number of social media posts to full-scale advertising sprints via paid media platforms. Brands will pay a hefty sum to get placed in front of an influencer’s audience. Shrewd saving and investment via tax-free savings vehicles allow influencers to grow their income quickly and efficiently, enabling more ambitious content and in turn attracting more prospective sponsors.
Social media, and indeed the wider internet, is an ever-evolving thing. New platforms are ideated and launched at a breakneck pace, and new technologies threaten to completely disrupt the old. The influencers of today already bear little in common with those there at the early days of Facebook and Twitter; this is perhaps most easily demonstrated in the trajectory of the ‘YouTuber’ over fifteen years of the video platform, with earnest vlogs giving way to ambitious stunts, compilations and long-form pseudo-academic essays.
The real future of social media, and hence of the influencer industry, is difficult to pin down. New BBC regulations are already changing the trajectory of influencer-hood, with future Love Island contestants (a reality show that has created many of the UK’s most famous influencers) unable to keep their social media accounts running during the show. The future is bright, but extremely unpredictable; what might become lucrative yet?