We are now in the age of influencers. People who have social media following, covering every niche topic imaginable. Being an influencer requires no degree, but enough people hanging on their posts to be considered influential.
This essay is prompted by my going through the podcast Conspirituality, which is critical of wellness influencers. (Yes, full review still pending. A couple more months to go…) A phrase Derek Beres keeps on saying is “Watch what they are saying, then watch what they are selling.” The second part of it is I have been doing the Marie Kondo method of going through stuff as my (going to go beyond) summer project. Which made me think: How is Marie Kondo different from influencers?
The first question is: What is Marie Kondo selling? The first layer is simple: books. She has several books explaining her method, then books talking about making a joyful home, and there is even a manga. They aren’t all the same—the Spark Joy books goes into more detail of exactly how to fold and organize your stuff, the manga uses a fictional story to show how her method works. Her Netflix show is sold by Netflix subscription, there is certification in her method to become a home consultant, and she sells various home décor items on her website.
What do all of these have in common? Books have a set price and are a physical object. She most likely has a contract with Netflix that pays her a flat amount per episode of her show, and probably makes a certain amount off each book sold.
The second layer of what is being sold is, like Martha Stewart, the image of her, Marie Kondo. She is an attractive, slight, and sweet young woman. Her entire business is built on a traditional feminine role of maintaining the home and making it a lovely and joyful place. The second part of what she is selling is the idea of being like her, and that tidying your home will improve the rest of your life.
Here is the thing: You don’t have to buy into the second part when you buy her products. Even if you don’t care about the person, you can still buy one of her books and use the information in it, or buy her home décor items because you like them. She also doesn’t give a set prescription of this is how your home must be, but more guidelines. She also usually explains why those guidelines are there and gives specific examples. I personally am cynical of the idea that tidying my home will improve my whole life, but I do think that getting rid of clutter and having stuff organized means I won’t waste time and energy trying to find stuff, so I can use that for other things.
Now, go to your average Instagram/ Tik Tok influencer. This is the opposite—you have to buy into their brand, their expertise, to buy their stuff. What are they selling? Themselves. Oftentimes, there is a subscription that lets someone get more of this person’s content, like pay only videos. Classes on their topic. Affiliate links with other influencer’s classes and products. Most have some sort of sales funnel—free content meant to direct customers to the paying content to make money.
A lot of influencers come big by learning the algorithm. Some become big by luck. But algorithms are fickle things, that are changed by major platforms overnight. To be an influencer and to keep numbers, they have to stay relevant. Which means they often adopt the hottest trends to keep their content in front of eyeballs. The fact is, you can’t be an expert at everything. This forces an influencer to talk about and have content on topics they know barely anything or worse, know only misinformation about.
Marie Kondo doesn’t have to. Her book sales and Netflix views probably fluctuate, but she can always write more books or change her stock. Home décor is evergreen. It might be because she rose to fame before social media was huge, or because English is her second language, but her main income stream is not social media from what I know. No one expects Marie Kondo to become an expert on International politics when the Ukraine war broke out, but influencers felt they needed to jump into the war because well, that was what everyone was talking about. Instead of simply staying in their lane and waiting it out to become relevant again, while maybe doing a charity drive to help those harmed. Less views means dwindling engagement. Means dwindling dollars.
Marie Kondo is more protected than influencers are. Unless there is a scandal, her book publishers aren’t going to drop her books, whereas a social media influencer can find themselves suddenly with no viewers due to an algorithm change or blocked if the platform decides it. There is no contract between influencer and their platforms—Marie kondo most likely has a contract with her publishers, Netflix, etc. She also probably has professional assistants—lawyers, photographers, staff to schedule appearances, and people to get her to each place on time and make sure she is on brand.
This makes influencers—and wellness influencers especially in a precarious position. After all, how do you define wellness? Someone could always be better, physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually. Anything can be adopted under the umbrella of wellness if it works for someone. Just as easily, anything can be dropped. The viral video is a flash of pop culture trivia, and with the views goes the money.