Based on conversations with a friend in the online marketing industry, this has been an open secret for a long time.
There comes a time in the life of every person or youth-oriented organic energy beverage brand when one must reckon with the loss of some previously cherished idea. A young woman realizes that she is no longer in love, or that her religion is now meaningless to her; the organic energy beverage brand that wishes to authentically connect with her as a customer realizes that throwing hundreds of dollars at some dick with a man bun and a few thousand Instagram followers may not be the best way to do it. Friends and beverage brands, that day of reckoning is today. We must throw off the shackles of our relationships and our assumptions and baptize ourselves anew in the fires of whatever bullshit is the next big trend in youth-oriented marketing. We must understand, right here and right now, that “influencers” are not going to save us.
An influencer, for those readers who have never commuted to a funky converted-loft office space for work, is a person, usually a teen or early-twentysomething, who has a large following on some social media platform, and has used that large following to trick some decaying capitalist institution into believing that they are valuable in some way. The decaying capitalist institution pays this teen lots of money to attend a rooftop party or add a branded hashtag to their latest casually racist comedy Vine, and in return, hopes to absorb some of the teen’s cultural cachet before his teen followers find some other, hotter teen to glom onto, or he’s caught on camera saying the n-word.
Here's more on the subject by Sam Biddle.
Once brands began to realize that some dipshit’s Vine account wasn’t going to make cans of Ragu or whatever go flying off the shelves, “influencers” cried foul. After all, their way of life–waking up, posting an Instagram of a cereal box, tweeting about laxatives, calling it a day—was threatened. They’d found a tremendous scam, and it sucks when your easy money train gets derailed. (I get it! I’ll be just as upset when blogging dies.)
Even MTV News was angry about the prospect of not being able to make a living typing proper nouns into an app caption. Amber Discko, a former Creative Strategist at Tumblr, has become a sort of Spartacus figure among the disgruntled, entitled influencer class. She’s also the person behind “Who Pays Influencers,” a new website aimed at exposing the payment practices of brands, much in the same way that Who Pays Writers has become a great source of transparency and accountability for freelancers. A key difference between that at “Who Pays Influencers,” though, is that writing can be good and worthwhile, while advertisements from a social media figure are always scummy. Who Pays Influencers has flung open the drapes and brought sunshine to the influencer economy, but instead of making it clear that these Viners are being exploited, it’s made it clear just how moronic this whole thing is.
The world of tech and social media reporting is deeply incestuous, filled with conflicts of interest. Worse still it is rife with insecure journalists who don't understand their subject and who are terrified of missing out and being behind the curve. As a result, every scam and fiasco is treated as a potential next-big-thing. Like Cracked and CollegeHumor, Gawker is exceptionally good at cutting through this bullshit.