NEXT UP ON this.
Fancy the thought of making a career out of sharing your rock-hard abs, fashion know-how, idyllic holidays or make-up tips with the world?
Yes, becoming a social media influencer can be the stuff of dreams. Who wouldn’t want to whip up some fun YouTube videos in the kitchen, or swan around a tropical beach while people send you free stuff or pay you to post?
Alas, in the world of social media, not everything is always quite as it seems.
Some influencers, such as Australian fitness blogger Kayla Itsines (11.8 million Insta followers) are killing it. But for many mere mortals, creating a full-time ‘influencer’ career is an extremely time-consuming, risky slog.
‘At the moment when we talk about digital marketing, influencer marketing is part of that mix, which is very important in promoting, selling and communicating particular brands,’ says Dr Earvin Cabalquinto, who teaches digital marketing in Deakin’s School of Communication and Creative Arts.
He says there are three levels of influencers: the micro, with 1000+ followers; the macro, with 100,0000+; and celebrities, who usually have millions of followers. (Aussie star Chris Hemsworth has a casual 38.3 million Instagram fans).
The appeal of becoming an influencer? ‘It’s screaming fame and fortune,’ Dr Cabalquinto says.
After all, platforms such as YouTube, Instagram or Facebook do offer a real opportunity for creative people to start building, or growing their audience. (Comedian Celeste Barber’s ‘modelling’ shots on Instagram have earned her 6.1 million followers).
Is becoming an influencer even a ‘real’ career?
‘Some people really consider it as a career because they’re really passionate about it, but at the same time there’s some risk, and lots of challenges in doing it,’ Dr Cabalquinto says.
One thing is for certain: behind any influencer success story is a hell of a lot of hours spent behind the keyboard.
‘You can be working 24/7 and that’s another issue. We have reports of burnout of influencers,’ Dr Cabalquinto says.
There’s also the risk of exploitation, via companies who may want to pay you too little – or not at all – for your hard work. Sometimes a company can simply pull out of a deal at the last minute, leaving you high and dry. You can’t pay your rent with free clothing or make-up.
As with any solo business, you’ll also need to work out how to get by without holiday pay, sick pay or superannuation.
And a social media platform could change its algorithms at any time, making it harder for you to succeed.
'Some people really consider [becoming a social media influencer] as a career because they’re really passionate about it, but at the same time there’s some risk, and lots of challenges in doing it.'
Dr Earvin Cabalquinto,
School of Communication and Creative Arts, Deakin University
There’s no reason you can’t use those social media skills to start climbing up the career ladder elsewhere.
‘If you want to earn money straight away after finishing your degree, I would really encourage you to get some experience,’ Dr Cabalquinto says. ‘For example, if you’re passionate about creating content, I would encourage you to work in advertising (particularly in an agency with a digital advertising department).
‘Or if you’re passionate about creating content for social media, you could get an internship, perhaps in a company doing social media content production or management.’
You could also try corporate communications, which involves handling the internal, or external, communications of a company – or delve into public relations.
Dr Cabalquinto says those with a journalism background might try digital publishing, perhaps writing for online newspapers, magazines or other publications. TV channels or radio stations also usually have websites, or other digital departments.
Got storytelling skills? Consider producing podcasts or undertaking freelance writing or digital content for businesses, or co-ordinating social media strategies or projects.
Social media is called that for a reason, so if you’re just as social ‘IRL’ (in real life), you could put those skills to use by becoming an event host or organiser.
Dr Cabalquinto says someone who is savvy on social media may have plenty of other skills as well, such as photography, and knowledge of search engine optimisation and digital analytics. These are easily transferable in the job market.
When thinking about your long-term career plan after university, Dr Cabalquinto says, ‘I would really encourage you to widen your networks, work in a company, but at the same time don’t forget your passion.’
While you showcase your creativity within a company, you can still maintain your social media projects on the side (for example, that blog or Instagram page about body positivity, surfing, veggie growing, personal finance, ukulele-making…).
Or you could go ahead and join an influencer agency, either as an influencer or as part of a marketing program.
Even if you don’t become a full-time influencer, Dr Cabalquinto says social media can be a valuable use of your time as it provides you with another channel to showcase your creative portfolio.
Subscribe for a regular dose of technology, innovation, culture and personal development.