When I was still teaching, I saw a distinct shift in the attitudes of my students from years past. When you would ask tenth grade students what they wanted to do for a career, you would get sensible answers mixed in with answers about being professional athletes. In 2018, something interesting began to happen: students began telling me that they wanted to be social media influencers and stars.
When I first heard about Tik Tok, it was because one of my students became famous on the platform. She had over a million followers and was becoming a quasi-celebrity. We would host other schools for sporting events, and she was the captain of the cheerleading squad. Students of other schools would approach her and ask for her autograph. This made every other student of the school want to try out Social Media as a career.
I once had an in depth conversation with her after watching one of her YouTube videos. The videos are of nothing but teenage mindlessness. She told me that she was making about $5,000 a month of of those videos. I told her that the only reason that she was making so much is that she was young, pretty, and female. My advice to her was that she invest the money for the inevitable day when she was no longer young and someone younger and prettier came along, “After all,” I said, “do you see 17 year olds still watching you when you are 30?” She ignored that advice, and was busy spending the money on designer purses and clothes. She and her mother (who was helping her spend the money) were trying to get her a movie or TV role in California.
That was three years ago, and I just looked at her page: At 19 years old, that young lady has over 600 million views and 5 million regular followers, JUST ON HER TIK TOK page. Her Instagram page has another 1 million, her YouTube has over 200,000. So a total of 6.2 million people tune in to watch her videos. To put that in perspective, ABC’s World News Tonight has only 7.3 million regular viewers. A 19 year old making videos about putting on make up, how to do your hair, and the latest Social Media dance moves is scoring as many eyeballs as a nationwide television news show.
The impact that social media is having cannot be overstated. Influencer marketing is a $14 billion industry. Businesses report that they receive $5.78 return on investment for every dollar spent on influencer marketing. Teens are largely turning away from conventional media and turning to Social Media.
We need to pay attention to what is happening on Social Media. Teens are our future, and their future is being sent out on Social Media.