More and more, younger generations are viewing life as an “influencer” as a viable, desirable career path.
For the uninitiated, influencers are bloggers, YouTubers and Instagrammers who gain massive followings by essentially documenting every aspect of their life on one, if not multiple, social media platforms. They can make a decent living simply by allowing advertising on their YouTube channel, blog, Twitch streams, etc.
Through things like Patreon, online followers can pay their favorite personalities to gain access to special perks or request what kind of content they’d like to see. But the real money comes from sponsorships. A personality may simply say the current segment is sponsored by a specific product, or might spend an entire video reviewing and recommending particular products.
At the highest echelons, it can really pay. For instance, model Kylie Jenner, of the reality TV Kardashian/Jenner empire, made $1 million per Instagram post last year, according to Business Insider.
But you don’t have to be a celebrity to make it work. A few years back, multiple publications documented how a YouTube channel that depicted a young boy, Ryan Kaji, opening toys, playing with them and (sort of) reviewing them, made $11 million. Now, the 7-year-old has his own toy line and a television show on Nick Jr.
Who wouldn’t want to get paid to open toys, right?
The picture of an influencer’s life isn’t so rosy when examined more closely, though. Ryan, a boy who vaulted to internet stardom when he was 5, has been named in a truth-in-advertising complaint filed with the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC alleges his YouTube channel, which is operated by his mother, didn’t disclose that almost all of the videos contained at least some sponsored content.
YouTube, particularly, is littered with videos from influencers announcing a hiatus or the complete shuttering of their channel. A lot of content has to be produced to stay in the online beast’s ever-churning algorithm. It takes constant, grueling work. A lot of influencers who got into the game because they legitimately enjoyed showing people how to use certain products or sharing aspects of their life with others, find there’s not much joy in it when it becomes a job and sponsors start making demands.
Accelerating burnout among influencers is that most predictable of online phenomenons, unnecessary backlash. There are people who will dedicate their lives to making negative, degrading comments about everything one particular influencer does. That can easily cross the line into more malicious harassment, cyber-stalking and hacking. In some cases, it even spills over into the real world.
Most dangerous of all is that influencers can lose their identity — not online identity theft, but the actual loss of self. When choosing to share their lives with the public, it’s natural to want to put their best spin on what followers are seeing.
That can be damaging in multiple ways. What happens to an actual life when it’s romanticized online? What happens to someone’s own identity when it’s so tangled up with what’s presented? What do you do if it all comes crashing down, and your only developed skill has been sharing a life that no longer exists?
There are some who document the fall the same way they documented the rise. Tragedy is, after all, the stuff of drama. There are some who never polish it up to begin with. In the end, though, life as an influencer seems to be a young person’s game. It can be fun, rewarding and life-altering. But the career path itself, as it exists now, isn’t built to last a person’s lifetime.