Stephanie McNeal is a senior editor for Glamour magazine, where she covers social media’s impact on daily life and an assortment of pop culture topics. Below, she shares 5 key insights from her new book, Swipe Up for More: Inside the Unfiltered Lives of Influencers. Listen to the audio version—read by Stephanie herself—in the Next Big Idea App.
1. Influencers are changing the way millions of women live their lives.
I started to truly understand the impact Instagram influencers have on society and culture at large when I examined how much they had influenced one person: myself. I buy clothes based on the recommendations of influencers, I cook their recipes, and I fill my home with their “must-buy appliances” on Amazon.
It goes deeper than that though. The advice of influencers, the “smart friend in my pocket,” helped me prepare for parenthood. They have helped me cope with infertility. They have helped me dig out of financial holes with budgeting advice. They have guided and inspired me, in small ways and large, without me even realizing it.
Millions of women are absorbing influencers’ content every single day. Influencers can make a dress sell out, make or break a business, and change the way someone disciplines their child. They can convince someone to go to therapy or stop believing in modern medicine. It’s a huge impact, and it matters.
2. Many influencers are getting rich.
I’ve been reporting on influencers for many years, and everyone asks, how much money do they really make? The short answer is a lot. The influencer marketing industry is estimated at more than $21 billion in 2023, which means it has more than doubled since I started reporting this book in 2019.
Here is just one example: LTK, the affiliate marketing platform that for many influencers is just one revenue stream, has made 130 women into millionaires since it launched in 2011. LTK has been lucrative for companies too, generating $3.6 billion in retail sales for brands each year.
“If the influencer has a couple hundred thousand followers, expect them to be making $10,000 minimum per post.”
Or, what about those sponsored posts you see on your feed? If the influencer has a couple hundred thousand followers, expect them to be making $10,000 minimum per post. Brands usually pay much more to get in front of the eyeballs of followers, especially for established creators. No wonder some influencers just give away cash—they can afford to!
3. Influencing is a high-risk, high-reward career.
Being an influencer is like walking a tightrope. It’s an amazing feat. Tons of cash, recognition, opportunities, and fame. Invites to parties and so much free stuff. It’s like influencers have a genie in a bottle because almost anything they ask for, they can get.
But it’s incredibly easy to fall off the tightrope and plummet into oblivion. Influencers open their lives to the public for consumption every single day. The public eats it up, and then sometimes spits it back out. They are ruthlessly criticized for the ways they parent, how they act, and how they speak. One mistake can be ruinous for their careers, from partnering with a brand their followers don’t like to not handling a follower interaction the right way. They can become uncool, they can “fall off.” Their real lives are under a microscope, leading sometimes to strained relationships in their personal lives. It’s a big sacrifice for a big reward.
4. The influencer industry is the wild west.
Did you know a parent can film their child for YouTube nearly 12 hours a day, and no law exists to make sure the child gets a break? Or that, more than once, an “influencer marketing agency” has ghosted thousands of its creators, leaving them with unpaid invoices and little to no options?
“Currently, there are no laws regulating kids on the Internet.”
The influencer industry employs hundreds of thousands of people, makes billions of dollars a year, and deals with some of the biggest brands in the world, yet it faces little to no regulatory scrutiny. As influencers will tell you, there is no “influencer university,” and for many years, people just made things up as they went along. One of the biggest issues with this is featuring children online. Currently, there are no laws regulating kids on the Internet. Children have no guarantee of privacy, no mandated work breaks, and are not required to be given any of the money that adults make off their image.
There’s no other industry in the U.S. of a comparable size that faces so little regulation, and that’s a big problem.
5. Influencers aren’t going anywhere.
The influencer bubble isn’t bursting. The industry is just getting bigger and bigger. According to a recent survey, one in four Gen Z adults aspires to make money from creating content online. And why wouldn’t they? Facing recession after recession and entering an economy plagued with uncertainty, many young people are choosing to bet on themselves, eschewing the traditional confines of corporate America to try their hand at influencing. In this way, influencing may reshape the U.S. economy in ways we may not even be able to anticipate yet.
Let’s start paying attention. Let’s delve deep into this world, taking seriously the economic and sociological impacts of the influencers who subconsciously drive so many of our decisions, and start treating them with the gravitas they deserve.
To listen to the audio version read by author Stephanie McNeal, download the Next Big Idea App today: