The business of online influencers

"You’re basically working for the internet, and on the internet, you are very easily replaced."

The business of online influencers
Get that waffle. (Photo by Bianca Ackermann)

Full story: Millions work as content creators. In official records, they barely exist.

While some advertisers have tapped into the giant follower bases of big names, others have targeted the broader and cheaper pool of mid-level creators, paying to send them free products or to fly them out for “curated experiences” with the expectation that they’ll fawn over the glamour of it all on their personal feeds. Even the platforms themselves, such as Reddit and TikTok, have begun handing out cash in hopes they’ll keep the creators and their audiences coming back.

That money has helped fund and elevate a new class of online “micro-influencers,” including video game players, amateur comedians and other creators that Linktree’s report refers to as “recreational” or “semi-pro.” As Bethany Werth, a 20-year-old at a private Christian university in Minnesota, said in an August makeup video to her 75,000 TikTok followers: “My eyelashes are paying for my college tuition.” ...

Some of the jobs are newly tailored to the industry, such as the YouTube channel managers who set up publishing calendars and boost subscriber counts. The designers of the clickable images for YouTube videos, known as thumbnail artists, often promote themselves as helping unlock virality: Jonathan Sippel, a former freelance photographer, tells clients his thumbnails are made to feel “photographic, yet simplified in a whimsical way.”

And for the ears

I spoke with Kai Ryssdal on NPR's Marketplace about the new creator industry:

It’s a huge 1% economy. You have the stars, like you know, MrBeast, who are at the upper crust, who make millions of dollars. And then there’s a giant creator middle class that try and professionalize it and sort of make it a career. There’s a lot of also people on the flip side who pour a ton of blood and sweat and tears and time into it, and basically stream to no one and get nothing out of it. So it’s a very precarious job, it’s a very demanding job. You’re basically working for the internet, and [on] the internet, you are very easily replaced.

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