I tried, and failed, to earn a living as an influencer. Here are 5 hard lessons I learned after gaining and losing thousands of social-media followers.
- I gained tens of thousands of followers by creating content about K-pop group
- My biggest mistake was trying to change my brand in order to earn a living.
- I ultimately decided that my mental health was more important than being an influencer.
In 2020, I lost my job and decided to spend my free time pursuing a dream I'd had since teenhood: becoming an influencer. I'd spent more than a decade idolizing
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"It's so rare to see some actual research on BTS and ARMY," one wrote ("ARMY" is the name of the group's fandom).<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">In just 7 years, <a href="https://twitter.com/BTS_twt?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@BTS_twt</a> has changed the world. These are the 7 lessons the band has left us with since 2013 <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/7YearsWithBTS?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#7YearsWithBTS</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/ARMY?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#ARMY</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/BTS?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#BTS</a> <a href="https://t.co/a2uON7mmoh">pic.twitter.com/a2uON7mmoh</a></p>— NowThis (@nowthisnews) <a href="https://twitter.com/nowthisnews/status/1271806529151184896?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">June 13, 2020</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
It helped that I genuinely enjoy BTS's
Here were the hard lessons I learned.
Lesson 1: YouTube ad revenue can be inconsistent, so don't expect to make a living from ads alone.I loved the content I was making, but it was effectively a full-time job. I spent much of my free time producing videos and coming up with ideas for new ones. And there were expenses involved, like $326 per month for a paid subscription to Mediabase, a music industry service that gave me access to specific radio airplay numbers for BTS songs, which I shared with fellow fans. These updates became the primary driver of my follower growth on Twitter.
However, I was earning hardly any money. My tweets made me nothing, but I thought that by building a following on Twitter, I could direct followers to my YouTube channel, which was monetized. I quickly learned that earnings from YouTube ads can be highly inconsistent. The views on my videos swung wildly, from highs of hundreds of thousands to lows of a tiny fraction of that, meaning I wasn't developing a loyal audience who tuned into every video. As such, my earnings were unpredictable. One video that took me three weeks to produce currently has 43,121 views and made $76.34; another, in which I rapped in Korean with BTS' SUGA collaborator MAX, has just 5,737 views and earned $18.67.
Lesson 2: Before you ask your audience to pay you directly, do your research.These ups and downs drove swings in my mental health. The correlation between YouTube views and ad revenue meant that when my videos did well, I felt elated and dreamt about how big my earnings might become in the future. But when my videos flopped, I felt paralyzed by fears that I was a failure, and struggled to focus on producing the next one.
I advertised my Patreon on Twitter - and immediately received a backlash.While it made sense to try to diversify my income and not rely on YouTube ad revenue alone, I made a huge mistake by not speaking with others within the community first about whether starting a Patreon was a good idea. Basically, I didn't do my research. Instead, I shared a news update about BTS and, in a second tweet, told my followers that they could support my content on Patreon.
The backlash came almost immediately. Hundreds of accounts condemned the fact that I was asking for money from a fandom that's known for its ethos of volunteerism. Many fans before me had built followings by posting chart positions and other updates without asking for a dime. As a result, some stated I had established influence within the fandom for the sole purpose of reaping financial rewards. Several users with large followings, including those that had supported my work in the past, unfollowed or blocked me.Lesson 3: Be wary of changing your brand after you've built a following. If you do, expect a large chunk of your audience to unfollow you. While the criticism eventually passed, as it does for many things on the internet, my anxiety about my future did not. While I was still determined to make it as an influencer, I knew now that the following I had grown would not support me financially. Sure, I did have a handful of patrons, but like my YouTube channel, I earned a pittance: $190.97 in three months. This led me to my second mistake.
During a conversation with a more established influencer in the K-pop community, I learned that they had grown a significant subscriber base on Patreon by posting reaction videos to various K-pop groups. While I never found out how much they were making, their expression of disbelief as they talked about the sheer amount was enough to convince me to try the same thing on my YouTube channel. Until this point, I'd mainly posted content about BTS, so producing reaction videos of other groups was a significant pivot. That's because on the internet, K-pop groups are like sports teams. If you declare yourself a supporter of one, fans may not be pleased if you start stanning their rival. In my case, I'd declared myself a BTS fan, only to later post content about a competitor, BLACKPINK.
The week I published my reaction to BLACKPINK's "DDU-DU DDU-DU," I lost 8,000 Twitter followers. After sharing the video on Twitter, my follower count started to freefall. I tried to address the mass unfollowing by tweeting that I didn't intend to shade other K-pop groups, including BTS. But that only made things worse.<iframe width="560" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/UNFX4dn45Mk" title="YouTube video player" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe>
ARMYs expressed their outrage in the comments: "This my friends, is an example of a perfect clout chaser," one wrote. "He identified as army, hopped off on a profit gaining train from us, and now he's onto another fandom."
Another posted: "Why do u think he used first army and now blinks [BLACKPINK's fandom]? I don't understand why both fandoms or others support youtubers when they only use kpop groups for views."Lesson 4: If you want to be an influencer, be prepared for regular, public criticism from strangers, even if you feel it's unwarranted.
It was my own fault for not explaining that because I spent so much time producing content, I either needed to earn more money from it, or quit, and find something that did earn me a livable wage. I considered posting a long-winded response, but when I asked some friends, their reaction was mixed. Some supported me trying to clear things up, while another, who has a considerable following on YouTube, said I wouldn't be able to change the assumptions people had already made about me."It happens as you grow," they wrote to me in a DM. "People create narratives & backlash is bigger. You know how the saying goes. The bigger you are, the more hate you get."
Lesson 5: My experiences taught me that being an influencer isn't for me. But if you can avoid the mistakes I made, you could have what it takes to succeed.For all the upsides to becoming an influencer - the dopamine rushes and the supportive comments - my mental health means more to me. I'm happier being a nobody. For you, though, things could be different. If you can avoid letting financial insecurity rush you into poor decision-making and have skin thick enough that bad-faith comments won't wear you down, becoming an influencer may be for you. Just recognize that it's a lot easier to gain new followers than it is to convince them to spend money on whatever it is you're creating. Understand that making a living on the internet is hard, and to succeed, you'll need the patience and persistence it takes to find a means of monetizing your content that is palatable to your audience.
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