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.