Chiara Ferragni, The Italian Exception That Proves The Influencer Rule
For some with communication skills and charisma, likes on social media can turn into lavish earnings. But influencers face a crisis of trust, as well as algorithms that often discriminate — particularly against women.
TURIN — There may be difficult years ahead for social media influencers. Having lost some of their shine as creators of authentic, personal content, unswayed by advertising dollars, they may need to reinvent themselves to stay on top and get paid.
But for now, they're holding on with audiences who may trust them less, but still follow along, as if watching a soap opera.
There are many kings in this ranking of social superstars, but there is only one undisputed queen: Chiara Ferragni, with not only her own followers (29.5 million) but also those of her relatives, from her husband Fedez (14.7 million), to her sisters Francesca and Valentina, her mother Marina Di Guardo and her children, the little stars, Leone and Vittoria.
It's a real family business, which can be seen in the series about their lives, "Ferragnez." Alone, her fortune is estimated at $40 million.
Some argue that the rise of influencer marketing stems from the crisis of elites, who feel less and less relevant to many people, and to the rise of populism. But the fact is that, credible or not, social media stars continue to be passionate, and reflect the opportunity we all want and could have in life, like so many Cinderellas, graced with communication skills and charisma.
Michele Morrone ranks fourth among the most followed Italian profiles.
Men in the lead
Consider Khaby Lame, class of 2000, the world's most-watched Tiktoker; Senegalese-born, and recently officially an Italian citizen (sworn in at the Municipality of Chivasso).
His short, ironic videos of everyday life never cease to fascinate audiences who see in him a way of dealing with life and a yearning for a less complicated world.
He does not speak, but his facial expressions say it all, and more. His story is one of rebirth, with success coming during the COVID-19 pandemic after he was laid off. In 2021, his net worth was estimated at between $1.3 and $2.7 million, which is not bad for a guy who makes a few funny faces and cross-eyes.
Looking at the rankings of the most followed influencers, it is hard not to notice that those at the top are mostly men, many of whom are completely (or almost) unknown offline, where fame and success is not attributed to likes.
Algorithms used by social media platforms discriminate against women.
Michele Morrone is one of them, ranking fourth among the most followed Italian profiles. Just over 30 years old, born in Vizzolo Predabissi, a village in the Milanese hinterland; before finding success on social networks, he was known for his role in the highly erotic film 365 Days, which was released on Netflix in 2020.
Before the film, he played small parts in homegrown TV series such as "Antimafia Squad 6" and "Try Us Again Prof!" It was through social media that he made a breakthrough, at least in terms of his bank account.
In Italy, there are more than 350,000 professionals in the influencer marketing industry; in 2022, more than €299 million was invested in the business.
The dance moves of Gianluca Vacchi — a 55-year-old entrepreneur who has 22.4 million followers on Instagram alone — are no joke. He too thought of creating, for the sake of posterity, a documentary about his lavish and hectic life. If he made his domestic helpers dance in the films, one of them later made him dance by saying that she was forced to do so and abused if she missed a step.
But where are the women?
For those not interested in soccer, Fabrizio Romano's name might mean little or nothing. A journalist and expert on the soccer market, he has an impressive 21.6 million followers on Instagram, and in 2022 was included in the list of the 30 most influential public figures under 30 worldwide by the U.S. magazine Forbes. His slogan "Here we go!" is famous, and used whenever announcing a soccer market deal.
For women among the top 10 influencers, the numbers are far lower. With over five million followers, we find Eva Menta, Giulia De Lellis and Benedetta Rossi, the "social cook" who attracts fans with her recipes.
Even further below is Cynical Aesthetician Cristina Fogazzi, who has created an empire by giving serious advice with ironic packaging to those who want to take care of their bodies. She also created a line of products sold throughout Italy. So has ClioMakeUp — real name Clio Zammatteo — who offers makeup advice on YouTube and Instagram.
How does the patriarchy affect social media? What is certain, according to a study by Columbia University in New York, is that algorithms used by social media platforms can discriminate against women. Tests conducted on Instagram showed that women's profiles receive fewer "likes" and fewer comments than those of men. But at tax time, the ax of the IRS will be the same for everyone.
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