Help Teen As Social Media Influencer

What should a parent know about a teen who strives to be a Social Media Influencer?

A graphic from Shutterstock of a magnet reaching out from a phone drawing in likes - in other words, what social media does.
“influencer fatigue” ??

Dear Ms. Smartphone: What to do with a son who wants to rise up as a social media influencer?  He and his friends have played videogames for years but now they record the action so that they can post online and get other people to watch them.  I don’t know much about screen games, but he points out that there are daunting tasks in each game and equally daunting obstacles, like ‘monsters’, ‘imposters’ , and ‘mazes.’ After he posts these on You Tube, he plans to makes videos about school and daily life. He says there is a lot of tie-in between games and handling real life obstacles. It sounds creative, and I’m not opposed. I just don’t understand what it means to help a teen as as social media influencer and what the attraction is.  Melanie, Novato

Dear Melanie: You didn’t say how old your son is, but I am guessing he is in high-school. Things are different if you have a child say under age 13 who wants to be an influencer on YouTube or a similar platform. In this case, parents are accomplices that turn toddlers and pre-teens on to social media.  Seldom does a young kid’s sheer talent randomly rise-to-the-top. 

With older children, like your son, we need to realize that this is the world they live in. I would just make sure that he doesn’t expect to make his future livelihood as a social media influencer. While some kids will become celebrities online, the majority will not. It’s a bit like the old sports scholarships: did you know that fewer than 2 percent of high school student-athletes are offered athletic scholarships, and often not a full ride. There are a lot of kids vying to do the same thing, in fact, one poll says 86% of those ages 13 to 38. When it comes to social media the competition is global, not just here in North America. 

New Fads, New Ads

For those of us who grew up with newspapers and TVs, influencers are hard to comprehend. Isn’t influencing the role of an advertisement?  But today, when there is so much space or air-time to fill, social media is a formidable contender.  

Traditionally, you might have gotten a product recommendation from a personal friend or family member. And, over time you learned to find integrity in certain brands, say Toyota or Proctor and Gamble. A recent book by Tim Wu called The Attention Merchants may help you see how the rules have changed. An influencer creates content, and content becomes the magnet to get attention (eyeballs) and establish credibility. Ultimately, credibility is what matters. It moves an audience to take action, say to buy something or sign up.

Fad, Ads, Comrades

Young people, like your son, are watching less TV and reading less in print, so companies are following them to social media. And teens producing content for social media can become corporate influencers if they gain a wide audience, so there it is, distilled in a nutshell. Influencers come in all shapes and sizes. A new book called The Influencer Code identifies four types:  celebrities, authority, affinity, and expertise. I’m not sure which one your game-playing son is vying to be, but for yours truly, Dear Smartphone, it’ about authority and expertise. At least I think so: full discloure- I learned of this book from an IG recommendation!

There is an element of gamesmanship, and while I doubt that your son is going to win a million dollars, I am intrigued by a brand new promotion that Snapchat is running until the end of 2020. They want to keep kids glued to Snapchat instead of TikTok or Instagram. So, every day they will award ” a share” of one million dollars for exclusive content that meets their standards and goes viral. 

Here is the interesting part: When users post videos on Snapchat, they must obscure their profiles (ie. Identity). Thus, a post from someone with millions of followers faces will face the same hurdles as a first time video from a new user, like your son,  in reaching higher tiers of viral fame. The intention is that with anonymity, new influencers will emerge. Pure speculation, but is Snapchat keen to do this to overcome what Chinese consumers (see graphic), experience as influencer fatigue?

Influencing Careers too…

That said, you might look over your teen’s shoulder more, and help him and his/ friends channel their work on social media into longer term career moves. One direction is to understand the code that makes the website work, and dive deeper into learning how to program, or at least make better websites with CSS and HTML.  And, he will surely learn more about video and editing, camera angles, and lighting. Finally, being a would-be influencer in high school might be a fine way to prepare for a future career in ad-sales and marketing. What makes a product successful and what drives people to want it? All the stuff of business 101.

Is Smartphone Making Me Worried Sick?

Checking for Covid results on email brings even more angst with the avalanche of email messages…

Worried from messaging on phone? Pacific Lutheran University sends its community reminders of a daily wellness check in on their phones.
Worried sick from messaging? (graphic courtesy of PLU)

Dear Ms. Smartphone: Is my phone making me sick? I got very worried last week while waiting for the results from a Covid test.  My health center sends out the results by email. So, I kept opening and checking email on my phone to see if it had arrived. Then, each time I went to email, it felt like there was an avalanche of other messages I had to read or respond to. That made me feel even more worried sick! The Covid test came back negative (thankfully) but I am wondering how to tame this email habit I acquired.  Soren, Walnut Creek 

Dear Soren: Glad to hear you are well. Surely it was useful to know the results of your Covid test quickly, particularly if you were feeling under the weather or planning a visit with other people. But, suppose that the result had sat in your inbox for a few hours, instead of checking as soon as it got posted. Would finding out a few hours later have changed things, or made you less worried-sick?

Now, prepare to get scared by the numbers, as the phone tells all! There’s a quantitative way to see how much your phone use increased last week.

On an IPhone (iOS 12 or later) go to Settings and then Screen Time (for Android, look here). Then, under the chart that shows daily activity, scroll far down. There you will find a section that visualizes the number of times you picked up the phone each day, and further report time on the individual apps you used, like email! 

Not So New…

But, back to your question, which was submitted, no surprise, by phone! You make a good point that one behavior, namely checking for a specific message, “begets” another behavior, like doing more email. However, the anxiousness brought on waiting for vital information is not new:  think about time spent waiting for a test-score to arrive in the mail or the nervousness when your doctor’s office tries to reach you over the phone about surgery dates. What is new is that smartphones have no time-constraints so they feed and spiral the angst as we wait for updates or news.

Taming the EMail

With regard to email, analyze how much you need to  use it. There is a recent review that suggests trying Slack or Chat . But, it’s not clear- these platforms might just switch your time use to a different channel, one that emphasizes social, one paragraph content. One latent problem is that using Slack could keep you in an ‘always-on’ status with friends or colleagues.

A different approach is to go on an email diet.  While you continue to check it via your phone, you commit to writing and responding to messages just once or twice a day. On weekends, you try out an email Sabbath. 

Taming the Speed

I used to have a co-worker (whose name I shall not speak aloud) who said that only organ transplant candidates and surgeons needed to check their phone messages around the clock.  In that case, speed matters and lives could be spared.

As early as 2012, Pew Research found that nearly a third of phone and tablet users checked their phones throughout the day for breaking news, and not during a specific time of the day (say before 8 am. or from 5 to 9 pm). So, reflect on what the speed of knowing gets you.  Does the speed feed an ever-growing mound of angst?

Speed will not always be an advantage and time away from our phones may compensate in terms of well-being. You learned this week, gratefully, that well-being, is everything. Thanks for writing.

Should Kids Use Phone on Break?

Learning pods are supposed to replace socialization and school….is the phone adding distance?

Young children studying in a pod  like classroom during Covid virus. At each desk there is  computer and desks are 6' apart.
Daily Herald, photo by John Starks 8/25/2020

Dear Ms Smartphone: Should kids use their phones during a break? This fall my daughter is in a learning pod with seven other middle-school students. It seems to be going well, and I think that she will be prepared for high school next year. The issue I have is that the instructors allow the pod kids to take out their phones during the breaks between classes. There are multiple breaks during the shortened school day. In our normal school, the kids cannot use their phone until the end of the day. Do you think I should say anything?  Sharin, Berkeley

Dear Sharin: These are interesting times and I am glad that you were able to locate an instructional pod for your student. For pods, the equity issues have been substantial, along with access to technology and the Internet. You raise yet another important issue about these makeshift classrooms.

If the students use computers for most of their lessons, I would argue that they need a break from the screen. It is important that they refresh their eyes, refresh their minds, and seek out personal interactions, at a six foot distance, of course.  Taking a short stroll or engaging in some physical exercise would be a great alternative to spending more time with online games or search. 

WhAt is the Attraction?

Second, you need to question what students do online, the online sites they visit, between classes. Since they are in seventh or eighth grade, question whether they are spending time on social media like Tik-Tok or SnapChat. You might look at your daughter’s posts, if you have access. Looking over her “digital shoulder” and getting access is vital at this age. But, it begins with a collaborative discussion and her perspective on her podmates, free-time, and how the pod functions during breaks. 

According to Pew Research 33% of teens note that it is simply easier to connect with a friend online than to attempt connecting with them physically. There are two instructional things that parents must do: one is to show kids how to disconnect in order to connect, and second, we need to teach the tools of digital literacy. Is this pod facilitating either?

Speak Up!

So, you might take this up directly with the lead instructor- ask for some time “after class” to discuss media use. You mentioned that there was more than one instructor, so they might have inconsistent enforcement or rules. Most likely you and the other parents that hired these teachers first agreed on the curriculum.  So, also reach out to the other parents in your pod. And, hopefully you will all be back in your regular classroom soon.