BREAK THE INTERNET
by Olivia Yallop (Scribe £16.99, 280 pp)
Unless you’ve been living the life of a hermit for the past 15 years, you will be at least vaguely aware of Kim Kardashian, the curvaceous American model and billionaire businesswoman who owes her vast wealth to one thing: she is among the world’s most successful social media influencers.
A decade ago, few of us had heard of influencers — those people who, thanks to their expertise or popularity, shape the opinions and buying decisions of their followers. Now they’re everywhere; starring in ad campaigns, walking the red carpet at film premieres and appearing on Strictly. Joe Sugg, the first influencer to appear on the show, got to the final in 2018.
Olivia Yallop has penned a ‘deep dive into the world of social media ‘influencers’. Pictured: U.S. former reality star Kim Kardashian owes much of her billion-dollar fortune to social media
Instead of dreaming of making it big in showbiz — that’s so last century! — many of today’s teens aspire to be an influencer. Often those who’ve made it are so young they’ve never had a proper job, yet on Instagram, TikTok, Facebook and Twitter, they have become a powerful, sought-after marketing tool for businesses wanting to reach young consumers.
As Olivia Yallop comments wryly in her book, which bills itself as a ‘deep dive into the world of influencers’, those who grew up being told off by their parents for spending too much time on Facebook or playing Call Of Duty now find they possess the perfect skills to make a career from being an influencer.
The ‘supersectors’ for influencers are beauty, family life, fashion, health and fitness. But how exactly do you become one?
An agent tells Yallop that the formula for success is a combination of ‘attitude, work ethic, consistency, and creativity’.
It requires total dedication: you can forget about having a private life or phone-free family gatherings because absolutely everything is for public consumption.
One beauty influencer reported that if she went a day without posting, her followers worried that she had died.
For the few who rise to the very top, being an influencer can be hugely lucrative. British fashion and beauty influencer Zoella (incidentally the sister of Joe Sugg) has earned more than £5 million since 2009 from merchandise sales, sponsorship and books. Her first title, Girl Online, was the fastest-selling debut novel ever.
‘Homefluencer’ Sophie Hinchliffe from Essex, aka Mrs Hinch, started an Instagram account in 2018 to share tips on house cleaning. A string of bestselling books, plus the money she makes from sponsored posts on Instagram and TikTok, now earn her at least £1 million a year.
British fashion and beauty influencer Zoella (pictured) has earned more than £5 million since 2009 from merchandise sales, sponsorship and books
Even children are becoming influencers. The top ‘kidfluencers’ are Vlad and Nikita, Russian brothers whose cheerful, silly videos look like something a proud grandmother might post. Small children love them and the moppets’ YouTube channel has earned the family £47 million through advertising and brand partnerships.
Another influencer subset are ‘junklords’, who specialise in posting prank videos involving outrageous experiments, such as spending 24 hours in a hot tub filled with peanut butter or driving a Lamborghini into a swimming pool. Amazingly, millions of people watch this sort of thing, making small fortunes for the videos’ creators.
Yallop traces the rise of the influencer back to the 2008 economic crash, when young people reacted to the competitive job market by starting blogs and using social media to show off their skills.
The most successful influencers, she says, are akin to lifestyle gurus, responding to ‘the emotional needs of an anxious, atomised, alienated generation’.
BREAK THE INTERNET by Olivia Yallop (Scribe £16.99, 280 pp)
However much one scoffs at people earning a fortune from setting up pranks or making videos showing how to remove the mould from a shower, influencers have become increasingly mainstream.
In January this year, the Government paid 42 social media influencers tens of thousands of pounds to promote its Track & Trace programme.
Pope Francis has even got in on the act, posting a message to his 19 million Twitter followers describing the Virgin Mary as ‘the world’s first influencer’.
Yallop doesn’t make enough of the sheer weirdness of many influencers, whose seemingly perfect onscreen lives often hide fairly miserable-sounding existences IRL (‘in real life’), and she is rather too fond of hyperbole: an eyeshadow palette is ‘iconic’, an internet comedy show ‘legendary’.
Yet cut through the verbiage and she has a serious point to make. In 2015 the influencer economy was valued at $500 million; by last year, that had soared to $10 billion.
The influencer industry, Yallop says, is about much more than posting selfies or live streaming the launch of a new handbag.
We are in the middle of ‘a fundamental restructuring of the way that information is disseminated, power is accumulated and culture is produced’.
And in the battle for control of the internet, no one knows who the winners will be.