Indonesians spend over eight hours on the internet per day, and new users are coming online at three times the global rate. Paired with Indonesia’s consumer habits and hype for online shopping, the country’s influencer economy is booming. 

A social media influencer serves as the point person between products and consumers and can claim a good fee for that privilege. Regardless of their niche, they generate earnings by promoting an array of goods on their social media pages, a practice known as “endorsement.” While the actual charge depends on metrics like follower count and engagement rate, a typical macro influencer (more than 100,000 followers) can charge 6,000,000 rupiah ($420) per Instagram post. Requests for services like posting a series of images — known as a “carousel” — or posting an Instagram Story will incur an extra charge. 

If a macro social media influencer posts 10 times a month on their Instagram profile, they can make at least $4,200, or an annual income of $50,400, just from uploading content to their feed. This one income stream can dwarf top earners, like software engineers who work for Indonesian technology giants; their average annual income can range from $8,500 to $14,300. To put these numbers into perspective, the monthly minimum wage in Jakarta is about $3,700 annually, less than one tenth the income of a macro influencer. The pay outside Jakarta is far less. 

It is no surprise that public figures, including established celebrities, like Ari Lasso, Maia Estianty, and Jokowi’s youngest son, Kaesang Pangarep, have rushed into the space to multiply their wealth. Raffi Ahmad — a longtime celebrity turned YouTuber who runs an Instagram account with his wife, the actress Nagita Slavina, with more than 55.7 million followers — openly describes charging 40,000,000 rupiah ($2,803.60) per Instagram post, 60,000,000 rupiah ($4205.41) for Instagram videos, and 100,000,000 ($7,009.01) rupiah for an Instagram Live. He is considered one of Indonesia’s most successful content creators.  

Social media influencers have swayed the Indonesian public. There have been cases of restaurant review ratings dropping overnight, thanks to an influencer posting a bad dining experience on their Instagram Story, and other cases where they have used their platform to boost friends’ businesses. Raffi Ahmad’s son’s nanny has become a social media influencer in her own right, sharing her secondhand experiences of travel and luxury with over 1.3 million followers. 

Their authority goes beyond what to buy and where to eat. Before the Delta variant surge, Indonesians were notorious for not following Covid-19 health protocols — going on vacations and refusing to social distance, despite rising cases and warnings from health officials. When Covid-19 vaccines first rolled out in January 2021, social media influencers were among the first to receive them, a deliberate government strategy to promote trust.

The entire process was televised. Raffi Ahmad was the first to get vaccinated, wearing a mask and face shield as he received the first dose. Less than 24 hours after his vaccination, Raffi was found defying the health protocols he preached, unmasked in a public gathering with other influencers and public figures. Raffi later delivered an apology via an Instagram video. 

The Indonesian government has long recognized social media influencers’ power and attempted to leverage it. Jokowi’s administration has spent a total of 90.4 billion rupiah ($6.3 million) on influencers since 2017. Each department and ministry has its own budget for social media influencers, who are tasked with promoting government programs online. 

There is no transparency regarding where the money goes, how influencers are chosen, or how these methods are assessed for impact. Every year, the budget allocated increases. There can be a mismatch between the chosen influencer and the program they are promoting: Gritte Agatha, an influencer with a background in film and acting, promoted the Omnibus Law on Job Creation, using the hashtag #IndonesiaButuhKerja (Indonesia needs work). Influencers do a good job at promoting goods and products, but what about social programs or economic initiatives?

This growth could come at the expense of the country’s future. 

Government-backed social initiatives intend to improve Indonesia’s most persistent problems: among them, widening inequality and a struggling education system. But using influencers to promote them can have an unpredictable effect. There is no way to control an influencer’s future actions, which may contradict what they promote. Given that they receive government funding, accountability and transparency are needed. 

We know that influencers’ reach is especially potent in Indonesia. While it is tempting to use their power as a one-size-fits-all solution, relying on them to promote things beyond their remit — like Raffi Ahmad with health protocols and Gritte Agatha with social laws — feels much like slapping a Band-Aid on a complex issue. 

The Indonesian influencer economy will only continue to grow. While over 70% of Indonesia’s population uses the internet, the country’s internet penetration rate lags behind neighboring countries like Singapore and Malaysia. If Indonesia’s influencer economy promotes surface-level change by having citizens mimic celebrity, not by making enduring reforms, then this growth could come at the expense of the country’s future.