Social media is everywhere, so it is not surprising that young people continue to show interest in the jobs that stem from it. In a survey of 7- to 11-year-olds carried out by the Education and Employers charity, social media and gaming appears fourth in the list of most popular jobs, (coming in at second place amongst boys).
Today, the top social media influencers are well-established on the world’s rich lists; and you can barely visit a city, beauty spot or tourist attraction without encountering people posing “for the ‘gram”. From bloggers to vloggers, YouTubers to Instagrammers, what are the issues for young people considering a career as a social media influencer?
Time and effort
Despite making it look easy, most influencers have to work very hard to make the job pay. It is time-consuming to build a defined brand and produce original content, day-in, day-out. It’s not as simple as chasing likes and followers; the most successful influencers provide innovative and quality output targeted to their key followers (and then they keep doing it), and that takes a lot of work.
This world is competitive and the stakes are high, particularly if this is how you plan to earn the money to pay the bills. Social media algorithms, which determine who sees a post or video, tend to reward high engagement. This puts a lot of pressure on influencers keen to establish or maintain a strong social media presence. It’s no surprise that some YouTubers are experiencing burnout, as highlighted by this article from The Guardian late last year.
Standing out, finding a niche or taking a new perspective is essential if you want to make a career of this. The most successful influencers don’t just post the things they like, they understand what their brand is, what their followers want, what might make money for them and then go ahead and wield their influence.
Essential skills and qualities
Influencers work for themselves, so they don’t get far without motivation and enthusiasm, along with a healthy dose of adaptability and resilience. Some successful YouTubers and Instagrammers started from nothing. These days, plenty have a background in their niche subjects, be that gaming, fitness, make-up or travel.
Influencers need to be multi-skilled; in essence, they have portfolio careers, gaining income from a range of sources, curating their own online brands, and contributing and advising others. They also need to be one step ahead of the trends and the competition.
Their skillset might include:
- The creativity to produce content (writing, filming, photography, etc.)
- An understanding of social media, analytics and algorithms
- The ability to network, online and face-to-face
- Commercial, financial and marketing awareness
- Knowledge of, or talent for, their niche topic.
Many of today’s influencers have had to adapt and learn as they go, particularly as the algorithms keep changing, and the regulations about how influencers and businesses work together change too.
Influencer roles can be full of contradictions. How do you maintain an authentic voice while selling something? Can you display a perfect lifestyle while also being honest? Laying yourself open to criticism from all-comers while feeling the need to engage with followers means that this job can require perspective, a thick skin and a good support network. The links between constant connectivity and mental health issues apply equally to social media users and influencers, so it is important to learn when to step away or have a break.
It is hard to know how the influencer role might develop and what it will look like in three or five years’ time. Will companies and advertisers still be throwing their money in the same direction? Will the volume of people aspiring to these roles all be able to make money from them? These uncertainties all reinforce the importance of aspiring influencers having a back-up plan, just in case.
But it’s not all bad. For those that make it, with all the hard work and commitment come the benefits of flexibility and freedom. After all, influencers can work anywhere, beach, city or mountain, restricted only by access to Wi-Fi or any specialist equipment they might need.
Other benefits that influencers cite include the variety of their work; the exciting evolution of the job; and the chance to use their creativity. There can be some great perks in a role like this, namely going to glamorous events, meeting interesting people, getting freebies or opportunities to travel. Once established, the job offers the possibility of variety, despite the challenge of staying on top.
Life after Instagram
When the social media bubble bursts, what next for influencers? Their broad skillset means that a range of other opportunities could be open to them. Qualities like adaptability, creativity and resilience; coupled with enterprise skills and creativity could lead to roles which include:
- digital and social media consultancy
- presenting or public speaking
- make-up artistry
- games testing and development
These opportunities could provide some interesting career alternatives for aspiring young people.
Cerys Evans is a Careers Leader, practising Careers Adviser and member of the Careers Writers’ Association with over 15 years’ experience in helping young people to make career decisions.