Time was, before social media and our complicit acceptance of 21st-century jargon such as ‘content’ and engagement,’ influence could be gauged on good old-fashioned herd hierarchy and gut feelings, like fear—think: Michael Corleone in The Godfather or Regina George in Mean Girls. These days, in an interactive digital world, a newfangled, ever-evolving concept of ‘influencer’ has become a bona fide career path—a recent Harris Poll survey conducted on behalf of Lego Group found that American and British children aged 8 through 12 selected YouTube star as their dream job, way ahead of astronaut, musician, teacher and professional athlete. Now the strategic acquisition of influence can be both quantified and monetised, to the tune of US$8 billion last year alone.
Those kids, they’re onto something. Case studies abound. Beauty influencer Jeffree Star, who first found social-media fame on MySpace in the early 2000s, went from having only US$500 in his bank account six years ago to owning and operating a product empire that nets US$150 million annually. Filmmaker and high-school dropout Casey Neistat was a relative unknown, despite having had a show on HBO for one season in 2010, until he vlogged for 600 days in a row. When he finally took a break from posting videos daily in late 2016, experts estimated that, on views alone, not counting additional brand deals, Neistat was earning between US$200,000 to US$300,000 each month. The proliferation of streaming platforms has also been a boon to influential gamers— earlier this year, Tyler ‘Ninja’ Blevins reportedly inked a deal worth between US$20 million and US$30 million to leave the streaming platform Twitch in favour of Mixer, which is owned by Microsoft.
“There is a stark dichotomy in the ambition of students who enrol in digital marketing [courses],” Victor Tang, VP of Marketing at Lumen5 and adjunct professor at the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business, tells Tatler. Students are acutely aware of their personal brands and the influence-contingent opportunities available to them. “The majority are traditionalists who are seeking typical employment postgraduation. However, for many younger undergraduate students, there is the allure of influencer or KOL fame. Why do a 9-to-5 job when you can travel and eat for free, simply by having a strong following online?
“Regardless, students are keen on developing their personal brands,” Tang says. “For the ones looking for a traditional career, they’re building their LinkedIn profiles, while the others are looking at building their Instagram and TikTok followings. Many younger students think that being an influencer is an easy and quick way to make money.”
It’s this promise of money and fame, along with the perception that influencers can bank millions doing whatever they please—endlessly travelling the world, playing their favourite video games, getting in twice- daily workouts at the gym, or even hiding out in the comfort of their own homes putting on make-up—that give this modern-day notion of influence its allure.
Why do a 9-to5 job when you can travel and eat for free, simply by having a strong following online?
So you want to be an influencer? It’s never too late to start. The demographics of top key opinion leaders (KOLs) in Asia are a female-led majority (70 per cent) targeting audiences aged 18 to 35—but, according to Vin Ng, business development manager at Spread-It, an agency that engages more than 20,000 KOLs across Hong Kong, Singapore and Thailand, micro-influencers geared toward different consumer niches, ages and interests can command twice-higher rates of engagement.
Hype House influencers; gamer Tyler “Ninja” Blevins and beauty mogul Jeffree Star; YouTuber Casey Neistat
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