Youth making money through #selfies: study

Young people have learned the power of the hashtag and are making $$$

As young as 16 years-old and millions of followers, teen instagrammers are making profit. Photo: Deborah Oomen
As young as 16 years-old and millions of followers, teen instagrammers are making profit. Photo: Deborah Oomen

Astronaut, veterinarian … Internet celebrity? Many young people are pursuing a new career goal — Internet fame — and are finding it’s easy to do with social media. In a new study #Instafame, researchers at Toronto’s Centennial College found that kids as young as 15 are curating their own personal brands and making money off them. Led by Debbie Gordon, director of the kidsmediacentre, a think tank focused on children’s media, researchers explored how social-media-savvy youth are on the forefront of building audiences and making a profit.

Companies offer teens and preteens money and gifts to promote clothing, games or anything directed to their follower demographic. Advertisers create partnerships with popular accounts as a “direct influencer” marketing campaign. Accounts can also make money by doing a “shout-out” to promote another account and requesting a fee. Once they hit the one million followers mark, they could be approached by talent agencies to record a CD or make a paid event appearance.

“Many youth have learned the more you reveal, the more controversial your posts; the more you hashtag, the more effective your marketing,” explains Gordon in a press release.

“They see the democratization of media, ubiquity of pocket technology, unaware parents and the easy lure of #instafame as real choices being made by their peers.”

Kaitlyn MacEachern, a fourth-year student at Dalhousie University, gained a following on Instagram when her fitness idol shared a picture of her progress. MacEachern now has two accounts: personal (@kaitmaceachern) and a yoga account ran with her best friend (@yoga_twins) creating a combined following of nearly 6,000 users. She’s not making money from them, but does get a discount from a yoga clothing line if she posts pictures in their products.

MacEachern doesn’t think young people should strive to have millions of followers. “It’s stressful to have a lot of influence and I don’t believe someone under 15 [years old] should be exposed to that. You need to have a tough skin.”

“I find with just some thousands of followers, people forget you’re actually a person. With the positive comments there’s also a lot of negativity,” she said, recalling when her instagram “blew up” and many users were harsh towards her weight and fitness progress.

Many young people on Instagram are ignoring the threat of cyber-bullying and making their content as public as possible, even using promotional hashtags such as #f4f (follow for follow). Sometimes they’ll even buy followers, investing in their social presence.

“I wish I had a profitable Instagram account at 15,” said Chad Porteous, the man behind a humour Twitter account (@chetprtr) with more than 40,000 followers. In the early days of the account, he had been offered $2,000 for it.

He doesn’t see a problem with youth making money off social media platforms.

“They can start saving money without having to go to work, so they can dedicate more time to school or have more free time in general.”

Porteous is currently managing social media for a couple businesses. He said he can work from anywhere provided he has his phone on him. But being “Internet famous” as your career goal? He said that’s a lazy kids’ dream.

“It happened to me by accident, I just think of it as a fun hobby.”

Many in the hashtag generation relate the importance of appearance to social success and profit. The most common hashtags observed in the study among young males was “shirtless,” as well as “flexing” and “abs.” Female trends include “selfies,” “lip,” “mirror” and “beauty.”

The year-long research study #Instafame has a multi-media resource and website. Directed at parents, educators and adults, to gain insight into the cultural phenomenon and to create conversation.

Gordon was unavailable for an interview.

 

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