Dec 14th, 2023, 12:00 PM

Is Influencer Culture Dying?

By Kaetanno Fernandes
Image Credit: Bing AI Generator, Personal Use
How are today's influencers combatting a fleeting carrer?

We all remember the glory days of Musically, Emma Chamberlain's daily vlogs posted on YouTube, the rise of King Kylie in 2018 and 2019, the stars and movie icons connotated with being huge celebrities and our favorite Disney Channel child stars growing up to become some of the most influential people in the world. This evolution of celebrity was shortly followed by influencer culture. Recently, influencer culture is more prevalent than ever. Children’s aisles in grocery stores are lined with wooden tripods and multicolor ring lights instead of velcro tomatoes and pizzas.

As social media becomes more populated, users find themselves being more influencers than consumers. Thanks to the hype days of TikTok in 2020, social media users have seen more and more random people becoming celebrities or influencers overnight. Charli Damelio joined TikTok at its ripe stage in the spring of 2019. “Back then, there were far more people consuming, rather than creating, content. Users were able to gain exposure at a faster rate,” explains Madison Dewey for the New Yorker. On September 5, 2020 Charli D'amelio had amassed a total of more than 6 billion likes and 82 million followers. TikTok is a discovery-based app. Consumers of TikTok content interact and form a "For You" page algorithm based on engagement. The more one engages with content, the more curated a discovery page becomes, and the more the content gets spread to other people. Today, TikTok has become such a populated platform that nearly everyone is fighting in the race to fame. Of course, being extremely populated comes with the challenges of not reaching as many people as before as there are more than 34 million TikToks posted each day to be distributed within the For You page of 1.1 million active users

Charli D'Amelio's TikTok Profile on Iphone. (Image Credit: Kaetanno Fernandes)

The same phenomenon happened way before the rise of TikTok in youth platforms. The YouTube boom of 2012 until 2019 brought many new creators to light including the Dolan Twins, James Charles, David Dobrik and, more specifically, Emma Chamberlain. On June 2, 2017, Emma Chamberlain posted her first YouTube video titled “City Inspired Summer Lookbook 2017." By November of 2017 she had nearly 300,000 subscribers. Today, Chamberlain’s YouTube channel has 12 Million subscribers.  Each video posted to the channel gets roughly three to five million views. Clearly, Emma is no stranger to the life of being a social media celebrity. Yet, just like many other creators on social platforms, Chamberlain understands this journey is one that is not stable nor long-lasting. Social media influencers inevitably fear getting to a point of irrelevancy. Thus, they are constantly under pressure to evolve. Evolving may come with either new business ventures or new subjects of content. Emma Chamberlain has extended her career through Chamberlain Coffee and a podcast, Anything Goes with Emma Chamberlain. In one of her episodes, “There is a Culture Shift Coming (part 1: social media)," Chamberlain discusses the death of the influencer as a phenomenon happening faster than one may perceive. 

Ipad playing Anything Goes with Emma Chamberlain. (Image Credit: Kaetanno Fernandes)

Emma starts the podcast by discussing influencer culture. “10 years after social media started, a new celebrity came from being on the internet. I would say this started on YouTube first. It’s the first time there were celebrities that were not mainstream celebrities. Prior to that, you really couldn't become famous unless you had an agent, a manager and a record label.” Chamberlain categorized herself as a celebrity who became famous almost by accident due to her sole presence on social media. She believes her fame came through the first wave of celebrity influencers who depicted real, relatable content. But, it has gotten to a point where social media has become oversaturated and too “stale.” As Chamberlain puts it, “too much power of anything dilutes the power.” The more social media gets saturated with “influencers” the more dull content gets, making it stale. We see everyone copying each other, the same content being produced and overall experiencing the same feeling that over time becomes unfulfilling. Consumers are coping with staleness by relying on each other’s content, looking for authentic and meaningful engagement formed on shared interest and values. 34% of social media users in the UK identify a greater use of consumer-generated content as it applies a greater value of trust and relatability than influencers who are paid to sell product.

This dullness and staleness to Emma Chamberlain lies in a bigger problem with major consequences. Chamberlain states either one of two things will happen, “Either 80% of people are famous in some way or another, and fame just becomes universal. Or, the meaning of celebrity will change and it will become extremely exclusive. Where if you have 1 million followers, you are not considered a celebrity.” Emma questions these concepts and applies them to the fears of every influencer or celebrity in the current stream of social media content. Creators are scrambling left and right to figure out a way to extend their financial stability and careers as the consequences of oversaturated social media platforms start taking place. 

What will differentiate one influencer from the rest when everything has been done, everything has been invented, and there's no possible way to evolve from social media content creation other than away from social media? Emma Chamberlain has been on a hiatus from producing YouTube videos and has focused mainly on her podcast and Chamberlain Coffee. Major celebrities have started building their own businesses and even empires due to the need to extend their careers into financial stability. There are a vast number of celebrities of all categories who have expanded their image into business ventures. These names range from Noah Beck to the Kardashian/Jenners. Noah Beck, like Charli D'amelio, gained popularity and celebrity status through TikTok in 2020. Starting with "thirst traps" and dances, Noah Beck has evolved his career into the fashion industry. Still categorized as a TikToker, Beck's career is one whose long-term is not promised, especially as a male figure in influencer culture. His shifting from shirtless in California to shirtless on red carpets in Paris inspired ventures into the undergarment department, such as starting his own unisex underwear line, IPHIS. IPHIS becomes a brand that can be depicted among every space he attends due to a heavily branded band, sure to show up in any photograph. This business venture then shifts Noah Beck's career to not only image but to merchandise, thus boosting the longevity of his career.


A post shared by IPHIS (@iphis_)

Noah Beck is a recent creator who just stepped into the limelight of celebrity status. But his fears of losing his place in the culture are no different than the celebrities that have been prevalent for years. Today, each business venture of the Kardashians and Jenners has built an empire not easily digested. Kim Kardashians Skims is the world's leading shapewear brand, earning 500 million USD in 2022, Khloe Kardashian's Good American has sold over 200 million USD, and many other businesses to each of the members of the Kardashian Jenner family have amassed an empire worth over two billion USD.


A post shared by SKIMS (@skims)

There is a shift hitting the world of influencer culture whose future doesn't look so bright. The glorification of the influencer as a career is one that will further constrain platforms to oversaturation, and result in each social media user being their own version of an influencer. As the platforms become more stale, the need to consume peer-based relatable content becomes progressively in demand. This diminishes the power coming from established influencers and applies it directly to consumer-created content, taking away financial stability and progression. Emma Chamberlain's theory of two possible outcomes of social media oversaturation is very well possible. We could soon live in a world where having ten thousand or even one million followers is normal. We could also potentially live in a world where you must have over 100 million followers to be considered a celebrity. But what does that rank constitute? Icons of our generation will continue to use their platforms to boost their own business ventures as a response to the reality that influencing is unstable.