A few weeks ago I had an epiphany.
Driving down a poorly paved backstreet, I saw a young man pointing his iPhone toward a random batch of bamboo. The bamboo runs up against the concrete wall of a backstreet overpass and is not at all a place anyone would want to take a photo.
Driving closer, I realized the man wasn’t taking a picture of bamboo alone. A step or two back, in the already shallow bushel of bamboo, was a young, petite woman wearing short-shorts and a crop-top posing for a photo. It immediately occurred to me that if framed properly, with the correct lighting, the pair would be able to make it appear as if the woman was somewhere exotic and far away.
To be clear, she was in Northwest Washington, D.C., around the corner from the Takoma Metro station.
The epiphany that fell upon me was a realization that this young woman was working hard to find a scene that would garner as many Instagram likes, comments and shares as possible and that the effort put forth could easily be compared to the first draft of a high school junior’s college application essay.
The Rise of the Instagram Career
If you’re an Instagram user, you’re almost certainly aware of the Shanaynay reincarnate “TiTi,” played by Kwaylon Rogers on @blameitonkway. There’s Claudia Oshry who runs @girlwithnojob and posts relatable memes all day. @abikiniaday founders Natasha Oakley and Devin Brugman are major players in what’s possible when it comes to turning social media content into a seven-figure business.
All of these individuals have millions of Instagram followers and have found various ways to monetize the number of eyes that see their content. They demonstrate daily that entertaining pictures, videos or memes on Instagram and other social media platforms can translate into big bucks.
It begs some really important questions – Is the pursuit of an Instagram career now more sought after than becoming a doctor, lawyer or Fortune 500 CEO? Is the pursuit of large audiences on various social media platforms a more direct path to income as an adult than the long, arduous path of higher education and expensive post-secondary degrees?
We discussed this very question on a recent episode of Manage Your Damn Money with Ben & Malcolm. Here were our top takeaways:
Instagram Careers Are Real
Number don’t lie. In a 2016 ABC News profile of @girlwithnojob Claudia Oshry, the interviewer suggests sponsored posts alone can earn high-power Instagram users $10k per post. At that rate, doing five “sponsored posts” per month, a person could stand to earn $600,000 a year. This doesn’t count any other efforts in creating products or public appearances. This annual income over a 10-year span would equal $6 million. That’s the beginning of wealth creation. #4:44
High School Students Know It’s An Option
Speaking to a 2017 high school graduate, it was explained to me that as many as 20 percent of Generation Z-ers (the generation behind Millennials) are conscious of the opportunity social media presents and are taking steps to build a monetizable audience. The next generation has never known life without social media and they clearly understand its potential as a driver for income.
Legacy Media’s Continued Struggles
High-power Instagram users are essentially small media companies. They create micro-content they can analyze and sell to brands that want exposure and sales. Magazines, television networks and newspapers continue to struggle with providing brands with deep insight into what their ad dollars are buying and makes the more detailed analytics (and lower price-point) of Instagram stars much more attractive and business savvy.
On-Ramps to Entertainment Careers
I have a former classmate and friend who is on this season of ABC’s The Bachelorette. Though I haven’t spoken to him personally in some time, Eric Bigger moved to Los Angeles relatively soon after college and is now pursuing an entertainment career. (Unless The Bachelorette is for finding real love, in which case Eric is in L.A. to find love). Securing large audiences on social media is now serving as a sort of on-ramp to entertainment opportunities without having to take the full risks of moving to L.A. and finding a slot on the 43rd season of ABC’s long-running so-called love show.
We Don’t Know the Over-Saturation Point
It's unclear whether or not there is a max number of food, fashion or travel accounts that can be created by Millennials and Generation Z-ers. The internet is infinite and, in theory, so might be the collective attention of those surfing the web. But traditional supply and demand theory says there is always a point at which the market can no longer support more of a particular kind of service or product, reducing the attractiveness of entering that business. Whether or not we are arriving at that point with social media stars and Instagram career paths is yet to be seen.