Before there were Instagram likes, Twitter hashtags, or TikTok trends, there were bloggers who seemed to have the passion and authenticity that traditional media lacked. The Influencer Industry tells the story of how early digital creators scrambling for work amid the Great Recession gave rise to the multibillion-dollar industry that has fundamentally reshaped culture, the flow of information, and the way we relate to ourselves and each other.
Drawing on dozens of in-depth interviews with leading social media influencers, brand executives, marketers, talent managers, trend forecasters, and others, Emily Hund shows how early industry participants focused on creating and monetizing digital personal brands as a means of exerting control over their professional destinies in a time of acute economic uncertainty. Over time, their activities coalesced into an industry whose impact has reached far beyond the dreams of its progenitors—and beyond their control. Hund illustrates how the methods they developed for creating, monetizing, and marketing social media content have permeated our lives and untangles the unforeseen cultural and economic costs.
The Influencer Industry reveals how, in an increasingly fractured and profit-driven communications environment, the people we think of as “real” are merely those who have learned to exploit the industry’s ever-shifting constructions of authenticity.
Emily Hund is a research affiliate at the Center on Digital Culture and Society at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication and a consultant to industry, academic, and government groups. Her work has appeared in leading publications such as the New York Times, the Atlantic, and the Guardian.
"A penetrating, well-considered look behind the polished scenes of the influencer industry."—Kirkus
“The Influencer Industry is a must-read for any journalist or general reader who has found themselves confounded by the ever-shifting meaning of ‘authenticity’ on the internet. Hund provides the best explanation I’ve read of how we all became personal brands.”—Kaitlyn Tiffany, author of Everything I Need I Get from You: How Fangirls Created the Internet as We Know It
“Authenticity might be the moral pose of our time and nobody flexes harder than social media influencers. Emily Hund masterfully chronicles their rise in this sophisticated, comprehensive book. By turns adeptly critical and empathetic, it will define our industrial understanding of this precarious media work.”—Michael Serazio, author of Your Ad Here: The Cool Sell of Guerrilla Marketing
“Hund paints a compelling picture of the interventions and tensions surrounding monetization, technological innovation, and self-brand building within what she calls the ‘influencer industry.’ Her book offers a rich historical texture to this industry, with new insights into the rise of self-entrepreneurship within cultural economies. A must-read.”—Sarah Banet-Weiser, author of Empowered: Popular Feminism and Popular Misogyny
“An illuminating look into the behind-the-scenes commercial dynamics that shape our social media feeds. In her fascinating study of the influencer industry, Hund shows how authenticity is turned into profit, metrics into assets, influence into propaganda, and what this means for the future of social media content.”—Angèle Christin, author of Metrics at Work: Journalism and the Contested Meaning of Algorithms