Can my daughter become an Instagram influencer?
Tanith Carey sent her daughter to Instagram’s ‘academy’, training social media stars of the future
On one wall of the “classroom” is a giant neon sign; scattered nearby are beanbags so deep you can hardly see the pupils reclining in them. Forget the old half-term activities of drama workshops or tennis camps: this is Instagram’s “academy”, designed to teach teenagers how to become social media stars.
The photo-sharing app is running free half-term workshops, from make-up tutorials to comedy videos, to train would-be influencers in how to become an online success – Lily, my 16-year-old daughter, among them. Its curriculum covers camera angles and how to make your content “relatable” – the subtext being that “vlogging”, or uploading your own videos to social media to attract ad revenue and sponsorship – is now a viable career path for young people.
One in three British children aged six to 17 has ambitions of becoming a professional Youtuber, a poll last year found: three times the number looking to be a doctor or nurse. By the time they reach 15, more than four out of 10 children are uploading videos to the web, according to the non-profit organisation, Internet Matters.
Rack up a few viral videos and you could join the ranks of Zoella, who has 11 million Youtube subscribers and an estimated net worth of £2.5 million. Such ambitions may rankle for parents who want their children to knuckle down and get a “proper job”. But is influencer-based ambition so wrong?
Lily and I visit Instagram’s pop-up in Shoreditch (where else?) to find out, attending a comedy video workshop taught by “content creators” from The Hook, a social media channel with 10 million subscribers. The 15 pupils in attendance are tasked with making an improvised clip based on a Halloween theme, using boxes of props. Tahliatyger Zeckler, 17, was encouraged to attend by a teacher from the Global Academy in Hayes, Middlesex, whose aim is to educate “young people who will go on and wow the world.
She is joined by schoolmate Krystal D’anjou who, in a previous era, would
‘In a previous era she’d be head girl – now she’s her school’s head of Instagram’
have been head girl material – but now fills the role of her secondary’s “head of Instagram” instead, updating the school’s online feed.
While they are reticent – shy, even – in person, this is a generation that comes alive for the (smartphone) camera. Lily uses her own Instagram account to post videos of herself playing the violin, which she sees as “a way to promote my future career”. A friend of hers, meanwhile, “got 1.1 million views just for filming herself opening her 14th birthday presents. For many people my age, vlogging looks like the best job ever.”
The resulting clips shown at the end of our session are a mix of zany comedy skits from Harry Potter’s Halloween party chat-up lines, to a wedding ceremony between Batman and Spider-man.
Could this content propel them to future stardom? Sunil Singhvi, Instagram’s strategic partnerships manager, hopes so. He’s here to encourage them to get uploading via a new feature on the platform, IGTV, which allows users to film themselves more easily on their phones because the format is vertical (as opposed to needing to hold the phone landscape).
Singhvi believes it will be a welcome addition to a generation who have already “grown up with Instagram”. The platform, which launched eight years ago which, “for a 16-year-old, is 50 per cent of their lives.’
Whether it will make them any money, however, is another matter: research by Mathias Bartl, a professor at Germany’s Offenburg University of Applied Sciences, found that 96.5 per cent of all those trying to become Youtube vloggers won’t make enough money out of advertising to live above the poverty line.
The remote odds mean little to those with their sights set on social media stardom, says Professor Andy Phippen, Professor of Social Responsibility in IT at Plymouth University, who visits schools to talk to young people about their internet usage. “It used to be that children would say: ‘I want to be a footballer or a pop star’, now it’s ‘I want to be a Youtuber’.”
There’s nothing wrong with teaching young people to be creative, he says, but high profile vloggers are not an accurate reflection of the industry at large. “The numbers simply don’t add up. Not everyone can be famous.”
Can these Hallowe’en skits bring the likes of Lily, Thalia-tyger and Krystal fame and fortune? Likely not. Millions of subscribers worldwide and a lucrative income aren’t out of the question, of course – but as ever, it will be the technology firms creating them, rather than their humble users, who will be the real winners.
Online influencer: Lily gets advice from Instagram’s Jessica Lever