"The Influencer's Ouroborous"
January 27, 2020 11:00 AM   Subscribe

 
I would think the relative level of fame that comes from having 500,000 youtube subscribers would get in the way of lot of day jobs. Can you work at Starbucks if customers freak out and ask for your autograph? Can you be an effective marketing manager for a medium sized company when your personal brand is more well known than the company?

So it's a catch 22 - if you're too successful blogging about your life, your life changes.
posted by allegedly at 11:11 AM on January 27 [11 favorites]


I hope they are able to stay profitable in that line of work, because after that life, I imagine, to transition back into working FT would be roooough.
posted by captain afab at 11:17 AM on January 27 [9 favorites]


I was starting to have thoughts about how irresponsible it is to do something like this, but then I remembered how precarious jobs are anyway, especially if you live in an "at-will" state.

I've worked in corporate mediocrity for 24 years and I don't like it. Hell, if they can pay their bills doing this, why not?
posted by Fleebnork at 11:20 AM on January 27 [25 favorites]


500,000 youtube subscribers

is a ton if they're in your local area but not that many spread out worldwide, so the life-disruption level would vary by audience.
posted by Flannery Culp at 11:23 AM on January 27 [10 favorites]


I feel like a lot of youtubers have an audience that's geographically biased to be near them, at least at the national level. Maybe I'm wrong though, I don't know of any stats beyond individual anecdotes.
posted by allegedly at 11:26 AM on January 27


I hope they are able to stay profitable in that line of work, because after that life, I imagine, to transition back into working FT would be roooough.

I don't know, I'm friends with and work with and worked with more than a few people who played in/toured with/managed/wrote songs for/were the main star in the video for/etc. etc. for artists/bands that 7 out of 10 random people on the street would definitely know about, and 10ish years later pretty much all of them had regular lives and regular jobs like the rest of us.

In fact, all of them have said that having a real job/career beats the living shit of very temporarily being someone that most people following popular culture would know about.

Although, in complete fairness, I've met most them through work, so I've run into them during the "very comfortable" stage of making a living.

I guess my point is: something like 99.99% of people you think of as famous will eventually have regular day jobs, so going back to normal life is the usual route, not the exception.
posted by sideshow at 11:54 AM on January 27 [25 favorites]


A tangent but I get very sad when fashion bloggers/instagrammers quit their day-to-day office jobs. It's hard enough as it is finding stylish business/business casual clothing that isn't sequined or see-through. When they trade in the blazers for caftans, it breaks my heart.
posted by kimberussell at 12:00 PM on January 27 [10 favorites]


Fame is a bee.
It has a song—
It has a sting—
Ah, too, it has a wing.
--Emily Dickinson
posted by chavenet at 12:45 PM on January 27 [47 favorites]


I would not put my faith into someone else's platform, that too with the power to suspend at will or at the whim of a black box algorithm.
posted by Mrs Potato at 1:12 PM on January 27 [2 favorites]


especially if you live in an "at-will" state

All 50 states in the U.S. and Washington, D.C. are at-will employment states, unfortunately.
posted by Iris Gambol at 1:23 PM on January 27 [7 favorites]


captain afab: I hope they are able to stay profitable in that line of work, because after that life, I imagine, to transition back into working FT would be roooough.

YouTube’s top creators are burning out and breaking down en masse -- ‘This is all I’ve ever wanted. Why am I so unhappy?’ (Julia Alexander for Polygon, June 6, 2018)
Constant changes to the platform’s algorithm, unhealthy obsessions with remaining relevant in a rapidly growing field and social media pressures are making it almost impossible for top creators to continue creating at the pace both the platform and audience want — and that can have a detrimental effect on the very ecosystem they belong to.
If you're making enough money to survive off of being an "influencer," you're more likely working way more than a 40 hour week.


Flannery Culp: 500,000 youtube subscribers is a ton if they're in your local area but not that many spread out worldwide, so the life-disruption level would vary by audience.

I think it depends on your topic/ theme, and where you live -- are you vlogging or posting about a local thing, or part of a local scene with global attention (for example, Harajuku is a local space, but with global influence). I think the life disruption is more the fact that your life is your job. You can't take a break, or you get replaced, so you're out of your job.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:28 PM on January 27 [7 favorites]


I have to admit: I really don't understand the "influencer" culture. I follow ContraPoints - but I would say that she is a philosopher/film-maker making commentaries on the world, not her life. Similarly, James Charles seems to be a make-up artist/trainer - there's a lot of content in that.

Are there people who just have people following their life? Like, "today I got a coffee, and updated my Outlook contacts at work, and then I had a hangnail..." I don't understand where they get the content - especially if they quit their jobs and then don't have even that life to blog about (if they could ever blog about work in the first place - I can't even talk about the more interesting things I learn at my work).

But I also have another, strange part of me that always puts myself into the thing I'm reading/hearing about (like when I kept imagining how I would handle challenges on America's Next Top Model and thinking about applying, even though I was 3 inches too short and 15 years too old, and have no interest in fashion or modelling) - and than I start thinking about what kind of "influencer" thing I could do on YouTube - only I hate being on camera, so instead of me, I would have to film a puppet or a little figurine instead - and I hate talking (too much) about my real life online, so I would just make up stories ...

... this could work. I could have a channel staring a cute little gargoyle talking about its life and the best way to get guano stains off your shoulders, with heart-felt confessions about the hard transition from a glorious cathedral roof to a small garden.
posted by jb at 2:33 PM on January 27 [10 favorites]


jb, there are definitely people who don't have a traditional 9-to-5 that people follow on Instagram. What came to mind was mefi post of Instagrammers living the #vanlife.
posted by mmascolino at 2:52 PM on January 27 [1 favorite]


sideshow: ...have said that having a real job/career beats the living shit of very temporarily being someone that most people following popular culture would know about.

Regardless of level of fame, this somewhat tracks with my experience freelancing in various capacities -- and influencers are effectively freelance artists working for whoever gives them the best paycheck.

Both myself and my wife liked the control and flexibility of freelancing, and seeing your name in publications or being quoted by somebody really has a rush of 'somebody likes me!' but my wife, who held out longer than me in getting a 'real job', is absolutely loving her job at a thrift shop where all she has to do is get told what to do for eight hours on any given day and then she gets a consistent amount of money on a predictable schedule.

Fame can equate money but it's not necessarily a profitable equation until you're at really, really high levels, everybody striking out on their own is still trying to keep the income flowing like any other freelancer or small business owner.
posted by AzraelBrown at 2:57 PM on January 27 [10 favorites]


This is how people were talking about Donald Trump 30 years ago.
posted by East14thTaco at 3:24 PM on January 27


Quitting your job -- basically selling out ver. 2020

Getting Fired from your Job -- relateability soars!
posted by eustatic at 3:56 PM on January 27 [1 favorite]


A few years ago Gabby Dunn wrote a very good article that looked at people struggling to work day jobs at the same time that they were YouTube-famous. They do indeed get hassled by fans when they're trying to serve customers at Starbucks. (I was harsh about Dunn in the comments but I've since come around and I'm a fan.)
posted by Ursula Hitler at 6:16 PM on January 27


I don’t get any of it. (Yes, I am old, why do you ask?) I can’t figure out the appeal of following someone else’s banal routine of waking up, getting dressed for work, commuting in etc. I have my own banal routine, why would I want to watch someone else’s?

As mentioned already, it’s not like you’re learning a skill via YouTube like a makeup tutorial - I understand why they’re famous. It’s not even like reality tv because that’s made up drama. Having said that, millions of viewers clearly disagree so if these people have find a way to monetise it, that’s amazing!
posted by Jubey at 6:45 PM on January 27 [2 favorites]


Quit your job and turn your life over to YouTube’s algorithms. That way lies madness.
posted by interogative mood at 6:46 PM on January 27 [2 favorites]


If you're making enough money to survive off of being an "influencer," you're more likely working way more than a 40 hour week.

but it's not "work" if you're doing what you love: living the brand.
posted by Rat Spatula at 7:49 PM on January 27 [3 favorites]


I would think the relative level of fame that comes from having 500,000 youtube subscribers would get in the way of lot of day jobs. Can you work at Starbucks if customers freak out and ask for your autograph? Can you be an effective marketing manager for a medium sized company when your personal brand is more well known than the company?
So it's a catch 22 - if you're too successful blogging about your life, your life changes.

I hope they are able to stay profitable in that line of work, because after that life, I imagine, to transition back into working FT would be roooough.

I was starting to have thoughts about how irresponsible it is to do something like this, but then I remembered how precarious jobs are anyway, especially if you live in an "at-will" state.

I've worked in corporate mediocrity for 24 years and I don't like it. Hell, if they can pay their bills doing this, why not?


I kind of agree with all of this, but then on top of that, you get the stalkers and haters coming after you....I mean, I'm so sick of my work life, but unfortunately it also seems like the only reasonable option (and my job is insane already) because stalkers and haters will follow you for life.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:06 PM on January 27 [1 favorite]


"Look at this great new job I just found!"
posted by Cardinal Fang at 12:51 AM on January 28


I can’t figure out the appeal of following someone else’s banal routine of waking up, getting dressed for work, commuting in etc.

There are two main factors, I think, in the appeal of watching internet strangers go through their banal daily routines. The most obvious one is that a lot of people are lonely and socially isolated, and videos of "relatable" influencers talking about their lives is sort of a parasocial version of catching up with friends. We also tend to take our concept of normal and boring for granted. Going to college, working a 9-5 job, having a family you actually want to spend time with -- as mundane as those things might seem, they're still aspirational to people who don't get to have those experiences.
posted by mcfighty at 12:52 AM on January 28 [11 favorites]


All 50 states in the U.S. and Washington, D.C. are at-will employment states, unfortunately.

Ok, I used the wrong term. I guess I wanted to say "right to work" state or whatever the Republican phrasing was that translates to "minimal worker protections".
posted by Fleebnork at 3:56 AM on January 28 [3 favorites]


I guess I wanted to say "right to work" state or whatever the Republican phrasing was that translates to "minimal worker protections".

"Right to work" means anti union. "At will employment" means you can be dismissed on the spot because the manager decided they didn't like your shoes, in the general case without recourse. "Freedom" means minimal worker protections.
posted by PMdixon at 4:59 AM on January 28 [3 favorites]


I can’t figure out the appeal of following someone else’s banal routine of waking up, getting dressed for work, commuting in etc.

I was following a YouTuber in Japan whose channel was really informative about living and teaching there (when I was still considering it) but it essentially devolved into her filming her daily life with her new fiance. I lost interest around then, and I wondered how he tolerated it. At the same time, I was also fascinated by why so many people were interested in some random person's diet, or "go vegan for 30 days" or "stopped eating sugar", etc experience. There is something strangely appealing about it, like case studies into the human experience, even if I know it is highly scripted and curated.

Humans are bizarrely voyeuristic even if we want to deny it.
posted by Young Kullervo at 5:40 AM on January 28 [5 favorites]


The most obvious one is that a lot of people are lonely and socially isolated, and videos of "relatable" influencers talking about their lives is sort of a parasocial version of catching up with friends.

This is what I was going to say as well. For all our connection through the internet and social media, I think people have become more isolated and are desperately lonely. Hearing about the mundane life of a complete stranger is presumably better than being alone.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 6:47 AM on January 28 [1 favorite]


I sort of understand it - I'm quite interested in guitar effects, and I watch videos by Brian Wampler and Josh Scott, and as a Londoner I have a complex relationship with transport, and I watch videos by Geoff Marshall, but lots of people make videos on those subjects that I go out of my way to avoid. I suspect the reason I watch their videos is that I like them and enjoy the simulacrum of their company. I still find it difficult to visualise the engagement without the shared subject matter, though.

(I have tried to watch such videos, if only out of curiosity, but I find it literally unbearable and don't even get to the one minute mark. I worry that YouTube has done something very odd to people's minds.)
posted by Grangousier at 7:17 AM on January 28 [3 favorites]


I think it’s very MetaFilter that there are so many comments pathologizing the draw of personal vlogs by ascribing it to dire loneliness or wish-fulfillment or voyeurism or tech ruining people’s brains or whatever. Y’all, we’re the weird ones. It’s pretty normal for people to be interested in other people.
posted by en forme de poire at 9:17 AM on January 28 [15 favorites]


Well, I was partially drawing on my own experience and discussions with (real) friends in my reply. It's normal to be interested in other people, yes, and I'm sure that's the sole reason many people watch vlogs. I still think there's an argument to be made that it goes beyond pure curiosity for a not-insignificant number of viewers, especially when you consider this alongside other internet-intimacy phenomenons like ASMR.

We might be the weird ones (okay, we definitely are) but that doesn't mean we can't be right sometimes, dagnabbit!
posted by mcfighty at 11:15 AM on January 28


Sure, I'm not saying those darker elements don't come into it at all. But I think there's a danger of over-focusing on them, to the point where we end up missing -- or underplaying, or mischaracterizing -- a cultural phenomenon's obvious appeal. I suspect we're probably particularly likely to do that here, because the modal MeFite is significantly more introverted and more interested in ideas/logic than personal relationships than the average American, and on top of that probably doesn't share a ton of interests with your average Z/ennial "relatable lifestyle" vlogger.

I also wanted to mention one other thing that I think hasn't been mentioned much in the thread so far, which is the light self-help/advice vibe of a lot of these vlogs. Of course they're still well-curated and somewhat aspirational, but even so, watching someone's morning routine or how they shop for work outfits can give you ideas of things you might want to try out yourself. Or maybe you're flirting with the idea of making some change in your life and you want to see what the day-to-day is actually like for people who've done something similar. For those purposes, it's actually pretty important that the person be someone you can relate to: the morning routine of a big-name Hollywood star might be more "interesting" from an anthropological standpoint, but unless your income and lifestyle is already similar to theirs, there's not going to be a ton you can incorporate into your own life.
posted by en forme de poire at 1:36 PM on January 28


Vlogs are basically the video version of LiveJournal and diaries (online and paper, though more the online version due to the interactivity). Sure, nowadays there's more of a potential commercial element, but in essence they're not that different.

Also having a large following is no indication that you have a lot of money. Virality doesn't equal income (especially if you're marginalised and/or have a marginalised audience - people are reluctant to pay you because they would rather sponge off you for free and those that do want to pay you don't often have the resources to do so). But making content to the point that it'll get you any sort of money takes more than a full time job's worth of hours. I could see trying to manage both things be unsustainable after a while and you just gotta choose where you spend that time.
posted by divabat at 5:19 AM on January 29 [2 favorites]


Vlogs are basically the video version of LiveJournal and diaries (online and paper, though more the online version due to the interactivity). Sure, nowadays there's more of a potential commercial element, but in essence they're not that different..

It's true, and I was very active in LJ and on forums and such in the mid 90s to mid 2000s. Online interaction was my main method of socialization throughout most of my teen and early adult years because I was otherwise bullied and tormented by everyone around me until I went to college. It's so odd to see this becoming the PRIMARY form of social interaction and even a method of employment when even I knew back then it was abnormal and because I was too socially weird to have meaningful face-to-face interactions. Like I know what my malfunction is, but the fact that it has exploded to this level...

Like when did my social refuge, that was at one point considered bizarre and antisocial and "not real" by the majority of society, become someone else's cash cow? And what does that say about society at large?
posted by Young Kullervo at 7:41 AM on January 29 [1 favorite]


A friend of mine once complained that she always hated when singer-songwriters became successful, because then in order to pay the bills they would spend much of the year touring. Once they did that, their next album would largely be songs about travelling, since that was the experience that consumed their lives.

I think about "the post-tour travelling album" a lot whenever I see a film about filmmaking/Hollywood or a book about a troubled author. It seems like "write what you know" also encourages a "maybe go Know something good to write about" approach sometimes.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 5:21 PM on January 29 [3 favorites]


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