Influencers are products, too

What do you do if you are wealthy and successful but cursed with a talent-free son or daughter? Back in the old days, you could send them into a nunnery or make them bishop or cardinal. Alternatively, you could buy the sons a post as an officer in the British Army where they could order the charge of the light brigade and send poorer men into their death. Throughout the 20th century, a time-honoured career path was to give them the starting capital to open a shop to sell stuff nobody needs to people with too much money. This apparently still works, because, in my southwest London neighbourhood, some parents just opened a store to sell ski clothes run by their children in the middle of a pandemic. So far, I have come up with 14 reasons why this is a moronic idea (and yes, I have been counting).

But in the 21st century, the rise of social media has created a whole new career opportunity for people with fewer brain cells than the money I have in my bank account. Nowadays, you can become an influencer.

As far as I can tell, an influencer is someone who does diddly squat but takes nice pictures and posts about 250 times a day on social media. And then, once they have attracted enough followers who look at their pictures doing nothing, they can get paid by companies to take a picture of themselves wearing the company’s clothes while doing diddly squat. 

This is a great business for the companies that sell clothes and stuff because they can make a lot of money off the influencers, but I wonder if the influencers will have a sustainable career doing that. Of course, the Kardashians have turned doing nothing into an art form that has made them billionaires, but the average influencer is much less successful. 

Verena Schönmüller and her colleagues have shown how influencers have a product lifecycle like any other good or service. The figure below shows their best fit to the number of active followers of influencers on a large social media platform. To me, it very much looks like a typical product life cycle. It takes a new influencer about six months to hit their peak. From then on their active follower base steadily declines with a half life of about 12 months or so. For you, as a parent, this means that once your offspring decides to become an influencer, your best bet is to expect that in three years’ time they will be living in your basement again. And you still can’t send them to a nunnery or the army…

Average active followers for social media influencers

Source: Schönmüller et al. (2021).