Mom, I Want to Be a YouTube Star
Influencer: Possibility or Fantasy?
NOTE: ARE YOU TIRED OF ARTICLES ABOUT THE CORONAVIRUS? ME TOO… SO IN A WORLD WHERE OUR KIDS ARE SPENDING EVEN MORE SCREENTIME, LET’S TALK ABOUT ONE OF THE BIGGEST ISSUES WITH YOUNG PEOPLE AND SCREENS TODAY…
A little over a month ago (just before the world went into quarantine) I was speaking to about 1,000 teenagers at a school assembly in Texas.
“If your birthday is between January 1st and November 9th,” I announced, “stand up.”
Over 80 percent of the room stood up. 86% of their birthdays were in perfect dynamic equilibrium.
“Look around you,” I said. “This is the percentage of you who statistically would like to be social media influencers in some shape or form.”
They all looked around at each other. Some gave high fives or fist bumps.
“Now everybody sit down, unless you happened to be born on May 10th before 4:27AM.”
One girl stayed standing.
“What’s your name?” I asked.
“Megan.” She said.
“Everyone give Megan a hand, because she represents the .00051 of a percent who will actually get enough traffic to become a full-time influencer.”
I wasn’t trying to be a dream crusher. I encouraged them to pursue their dreams. But I left them with one simple piece of advice:
Have a backup plan.
Eight Out of Ten
The little device in our kids’ pockets never ceases to amaze me. It’s changed the way they communicate, the way they feel about themselves, the way they consume entertainment media, and now it’s changing their life-goals.
Long gone are the days our kids wanted to be teachers, firemen or the President of the United States. Now they want to be an influencer. My school assembly numbers are spot on. 86% of young Americans say they want to try out influencing on their social media platforms like PewDiePie or Kylie Jenner do. Another survey shows 72% of Generation Z wants to be an online celeb.
My friend Julie is an elementary school teacher. Every year she asks her students the age-old question: What would you like to be when you grow up?
“In the last few years it’s completely changed,” she said. “Now 8 out of 10 of them want to be a ‘You-Tuber.’ Truly 8 out of 10.”
Bottom line: the overwhelming majority of kids are all about getting more followers…which has huge ramifications how they are now beginning to navigate social media.
If you have kids on social media, chances are one of them wants to be an influencer.
I’ve shared these numbers probably 10 times in the last month at parent workshops or doing radio interviews. Each time there are always awkward silences, followed by an adult explaining, “Well, yes, my son/daughter does actually have their own YouTube channel, but they realize…” and then they try to rationalize it. Once I brought this up and every parent in the room had a kid who wanted to be a social media influencer.
So here are the big questions?
- How should Mom or Dad respond if their kid has aspirations to be the next, YouTube influencer, Insta celeb, or TikTok Star?
- What happens if they don’t get enough followers…or how far are they willing to go to get more followers?
Let’s peek a little bit closer at what influencers actually look like today and whether this desire to become a full-time influencer is a possibility or just a fantasy.
And please allow me to insert a quick tip when talking about this with your kids: don’t be a dream-crusher. When LeBron James was 10-years old and he told his friends and family, “I want to be in the NBA,” I’m sure many of his buddies thought, “Suuuuuuuuure. You just go on dreaming Little LeBron.” But he made it happen. I think it’s great for our kids to pursue their dreams with persistence and practicality (the hard work that makes it happen). But let’s be honest. LeBron was one in a million. Actually, if you believe he is the “Greatest of all time” (the GOAT), then he’s actually more like one in 7.5 billion.
So what about influencers. Are they one in a million?
When I talk with kids about this I focus on that word a million, because if your kids are one of those 8 out of 10 young people who want to be an influencer for their full time job, then let a million be their “traffic target,” because that’s literally how many followers they need. And for those of you who have read you only need 500 followers to get paid… keep reading.
Let me break down the math (yes, if someone wants to influence, they need to do a little math. Here it is summed up in just a few paragraphs). Here’s what they need to know.
Let’s say you’re a gamer who wants to get money for views. On average, an established influencer who has built relationships with sponsors can receive about $3 to $5 for 1,000 YouTube views. Do the math really quick. If you get sponsored (“If” is the key word there. You have to first attract a good sponsor, and those sponsorships always have strings attached about what you can say and do) and then one of your videos gets 100,000 views, you could make $500 in ad revenue once.
If you got a million views, and if you had sponsors lines up, you could make $5,000 once…
Key word: once.
Which would pay your bills for just one month at roughly the same pay a high school teacher gets (except she gets it every month).
But typically, if you aren’t PewDiePie, or you haven’t been featured on Kim Kardashian’s “Glam Masters,” then an average influencer will make “about 1 percent of follower counts per sponsored Instagram post, or $100 for every 10,000 followers.” If you have about 100,000 followers, you might start around $1,000 per sponsored post.
I know, some kids think $1,000 sounds pretty good. And it is nice “extra income.” But if your teenager starts making comments like, “I don’t need to go to college, I’m going to be an influencer.” Then simply clarify, “Oh, so you’d like to do this full-time?”
Because if someone wants to become a full-time influencer, then we are not talking about making $1,000 once or twice. We are talking about whether someone can quit their job at Chipotle and do this as their full-time job. Again, do the math really quick. If your kids want to make as much money per year as their teacher, they’ll need waaaaaaay more than those 100,000 followers.
The Big Bucks Myth
And that’s probably a good question to ask. How many of these “influencers” get enough posts to actually live on? After all, some of you have read misleading articles about how even “micro-influencers” (100,000 followers or less) or “nano-influencers” (those with 500 to 5,000 followers) are making big bucks.
Big bucks is very misleading. More like some bucks.
Huffington post just interviewed a bunch of everyday influencers who are actually making income and asked them to break down what they really made. Most of them haven’t been able to quit their day job. Read that again.
Most of them haven’t been able to quit their day job.
In other words, they still work at Target, but they YouTube on the side. For the typical influencer who wasn’t featured on a Kardashian show, and maybe had 15,000 to 30,000 followers, most of them made only about $3,000 to $5,000 in the entire year. Just one or two made a few thousand a month…again, what your schoolteacher makes, not what Kylie Jenner makes. In fact, InfluencerMarketingHub interviewed a YouTuber named Dunn who started a YouTube channel with a friend and currently has over 700,000 subscribers. Dunn admitted, “despite this success, we’re just barely scraping by…but it’s not enough to live…Brands think we’re too small to sponsor, but fans think we’re too big for donations.”
InfluencerMarketingHub concluded: “Once a YouTube channel’s subscriber-count reaches the millions, life becomes easier for the owners.”
Those are the numbers:
- Under 100,000 followers, maybe you make some extra income to buy that new equipment you use to film your videos.
- Over 100,000 followers and lots of sponsors, more money, but in most cases not even enough to make a living.
- One million followers, you can finally quit Target and start influencing full time.
How many people influence full time?
Of the active 31 million YouTube channels out there with more than 10 subscribers, only 16,000 of them have over a million followers. That’s about 1/20th of one percent. Instagram and TikTok have worse odds.
Let me explain it this way: if your kid’s high school has 2,252 students, then about 1,937 of them want to be influencers, but only one will be able to make it full time.
What’s my point?
Again. Simple: have a backup plan (especially when we are all seeing how Covid-19 has impacted influencer’s ability to actually influence).
Have a Backup Plan
Maybe our kids will be the one in two thousand two hundred and fifty-two students in their school to actually get sponsored enough to be a full-time influencer. But just in case they don’t, maybe they should keep pursuing something else. If they want to be a nurse or a teacher, then they should keep college in their radar.
Fun Fact: college graduates with a four-year degree average $24,336 more per year than those who begin working immediately after graduating from high school.
Or if they’d like to be an electrician, plumber or x-ray technician, then they could become an intern or go to a trade school to learn those skills and be working and earning a solid living in just a few years.
Here’s the thing: an electrician can make fun YouTube videos on the side of how to install a ceiling fan. If your videos do well enough, you can tell people to “be sure and use ACME wiring” (or whoever sponsors you) and earn a little bit of side income.
If your kids enjoy shooting fun videos—then they should shoot fun videos. You never know. They might actually pay someday. Just don’t quit school or close doors to other career opportunities. Always keep a backup plan in the works.
Noticeable Side Effects
Let’s pause for a moment and consider the 1936 students who wanted to be an influencer, but didn’t make it full time.
Some of them might be content doing it as a side thing.
Some of them won’t.
How do you think this will affect them?
Ask Sam Benarroch, who had about 166,000 followers on TikTok, but purposely took a break from it because of the anxiety it was giving him when his “likes” started dropping.
“Not getting the numbers that you want is so harmful. It’s scary because it’s this spiral of not ever feeling like you’re enough, and that leaves this mental scarring. It’s contributed to my mental health not being the best lately. I definitely had to get some therapy because of this.”
Sam is not alone.
Let’s look at two noticeable side effects experts are seeing right now:
- Depression: Today’s young people are experiencing record levels of depression which most experts attribute to the pressurized environment social media is creating. It’s pretty understandable. When 86% of young people are desperately seeking more followers, and the overwhelming majority don’t get as many as desired, then it affects their self-esteem. “Why don’t I have as many followers as Taylor?” “How come they didn’t like my post?”
- Risky Behaviors: Since most young people feel the need for more followers, they aren’t using wise privacy settings and are exposing themselves to online predators.
Have you observed either of these realities with your kids?
If you have even two kids with screens, chances are at least one of them has had thoughts of becoming an influencer in some shape or form.
Don’t freak out. It’s normal. Instead, turn your overreaction into interaction. Keep the conversation open so they see you as a safe source to talk with about their desires.
Here are a few resources that can help you engage them in meaningful conversation on the subject:
- This fall my new book to young people, Teen’s Guide to Face-to-Face Connections in a Screen-to-Screen World, co-written by my Gen-Z daughter Alyssa, will be hitting the shelves and it devotes an entire chapter sharing these numbers and helping kids understand the need for a backup plan. It also has a chapter on how to navigate social media safely and identify predatory behavior. Pre-order that book NOW on Amazon.
- Our article, Building the Self Esteem of Generation Screen, gives you four practical ways to help your kid feel better about themselves.
- Our article, The Unforeseen Problem with Insta Followers, exposes how this desire for influencing has effected how young people navigate social media, and how we can help our kids avoid some of these dangers.
WANT TO INTERACT WITH JONATHAN PERSONALLY ABOUT TEENS AND SCREENS? BOOK JONATHAN’S ZOOM WORKSHOP NOW FOR YOUR CHURCH, SCHOOL OR ORGANIZATION!
Jonathan McKee is the author of over twenty books including the brand new The Guy's Guide to FOUR BATTLES Every Young Man Must Face; The Teen’s Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices; If I Had a Parenting Do Over; and the Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket. He speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for parents on his website TheSource4Parents.com. Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.