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Kylie Jenner and the end of the Instagram influencer business model

Influencer culture as we know it is over.

Kylie Jenner, the youngest and most popular member of Instagram’s first family and the pioneer of the Instagram influencer business model, cannot keep up with it herself.

This Insta-business model that Jenner perfected is based on two primary revenue streams: sponsored posts and branded products. Once an influencer has mastered the art of the sponsored post, there is the opportunity to attain the Holy Grail of influence, making the leap from hawking other brands’ products to pushing their own custom-branded merchandise.

Influencers who start their own line make a powerful statement signaling they have graduated from glorified bikini model, vegan muffin maker or whatever their niche may be, to insert-niche-here mogul who can afford to build a tangential product.

In Jenner’s case, she capitalizes on her 179 million followers to reportedly pull in seven figures for sponsored posts. She taps back into that same audience to promote her multimillion-dollar cosmetics business without having to spend a dime on traditional marketing. Both sides of the business grow together, jobs are created, fans are satisfied. It would appear as though everybody wins.

Aspiring influencers look to Jenner’s model as the gold standard that, in theory, works across all categories — take, for example, dog lovers, twin moms and even anti-vaxxers. This leads starry-eyed influencers to believe that if they follow the Jenner model of success, they, too, will reach the promised land of Instagram-fueled fame and fortune.

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However, with Forbes’ recent expose revoking her title as the “Youngest Self-Made Billionaire,” the underlying issue is not that Jenner fell from being a billionaire to a mere $900-millionaire. Nor is the issue that she allegedly doctored her tax returns (not my issue, at least). Instead, the problem here is the inherent pressure to do something like produce fake tax returns in order to prove how successful a business is. That’s because in the world of Instagram influence, the appearance of success is more important than success itself. (Jenner has denied Forbes’ allegations.)

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