Do you have what it takes to make an income in the content creator economy? Many young adults seem to think they can and they aspire to become influencers.

According to a study by Morning Consult, if the opportunity presented itself, 57% of Gen Zers said they would want to pursue a career in social media, considerably more than the 41% of the general adult population who said they would.

However, not every influencer gets a decent enough share of the $250 billion industry to be considered “big time.” In fact, most don’t.

“In a recent survey, only 12 percent of full-time creators said they made more than $50,000 a year,” per The Washington Post. “Some get free products and services as ‘microinfluencers.’ But earning enough to leave a full-time job often means gambling on the fickle nature of online relevance.”

Media personality and influencer Emma Chamberlain, who gained her fame and 12 million subscribers by making “day in the life” videos on YouTube, criticized herself and others for putting social media on a pedestal when it lacks authenticity:

“It is not fun to live a fake life for the internet,” Chamberlain said in a podcast. “And I think the key to turning that off is to make it a rule in your mind that you will live for you first, (and then) live for the phone and live for the camera second. That makes life so much more enjoyable.”

Using social media for extra income

Today, with the struggles of rising costs and inflation that may make life seem unaffordable to some young adults, some are using social media as a side hustle to bring in extra income. Adobe Express surveyed 48 countries around the world to see which side hustles were most common.

In the past 12 months, “TikTok influencer” was the third most-searched side hustle, behind Uber driving and selling Amazon products. Becoming a YouTube influencer was fifth, and Instagram influencing was sixth.

Upon asking the experts, “45% of experienced entrepreneurs recommend using content marketing and 40% suggest posting on TikTok,” the survey found.

A representative at Adobe Express shared the following statistics regarding Utah with the Deseret News:

  • Utah had the second most searches of any state when looking only at influencer-related side hustles.
  • “How to start a YouTube channel” was the fourth most popular side hustle search.
  • “How to make money on TikTok” and “How to make money on Instagram” ranked sixth and seventh, respectively.
  • Searching for freelance content creation landed in the 30th spot.

Creating and growing a platform

For Cale Winward, it’s about creating content for the girls.

“Honestly, it’s something that I’ve always wanted to do. I’ve always been very passionate about being creative and expressing myself through fashion,” Winward said.

Originally from Canada and now living in Utah, Winward said she was already sharing her favorite products virtually with her friends back home. So a little over a year ago, after having her second child, she decided it was time to create a platform where she could share her lifestyle with others.

“My friends in Canada would always call and be like, ‘What are you wearing?’ Or ‘where is that from? Where’s this from?’ And I was recommending products all the time anyway,” she said.

With the enjoyment of doing what she loves, Winward expressed that success doesn’t come unless you put in the work, and although she’s been at this for about a year, she said it wasn’t till these past three weeks that she has really seen growth in her following.

Winward said it’s all about being consistent and not being concerned with other’s critiques of you.

“You know, it’s a vulnerable space being in the social media world. So it took me a while to, I think, gain the confidence to just share more. There wasn’t like, a pivotal moment, I just decided to start sharing more and then it kind of just led to what I’m doing now.”

Still in the beginning stages of her platform and growing it by working with popular brands like Madewell and Citizens of Humanity, Winward emphasized that doing something she truly enjoys while “generating some income, getting some paid collabs (and) some gifted collabs, that’s kind of (become) the ideal situation.”

Creating the “It” factor

Working as a talent agent associate at Estate Five Media in Dallas and at the beginning of her professional career, Brynn Justice explained that it’s been fascinating being on both the consumer and product side of content creation.

With the creator economy more saturated than ever and with the recent state of the economy, brands have become more particular with whom they do business, making 2023 a uniquely difficult year for Justice’s agency to get brand deals for their clients.

Working with influencers who range on macro to micro levels of following, Justice connects with brands that she thinks would fit her client’s platforms.

“There are just so many people, and they all do different things, but you need to find your niche as well as (have) the ‘It’ factor,” Justice said.

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Knowing the ‘why’ behind content-creating

Since 2020, Lindsay Arnold Cusick has been working with her talent agency, Smith and Saint, to transfer her “It” factor from the dance world to the social media world.

“I remember, like, during my first couple seasons of “Dancing with the Stars”, Instagram was around, but people weren’t making money on it,” Cusick said. “You were just posting for fun.”

It wasn’t till about a year before having her first child and taking her first steps away from her dancing career that she realized content creation was something she could create a profession in.

“I feel like naturally, from being on “Dancing with the Stars,” I gained a following. And I understood that people looked up to me, but I would say it was more in like the bubble of the dance world, meaning I knew that there were girls out there who aspired to do what I was doing,” Cusick said.

It wasn’t until she became a mother that her public image completely changed to something bigger and more relatable to a larger audience.

With over 531,000 followers, Cusick said that for people considering becoming a successful content creator, you have to know the “why” behind wanting to do it.

“Are you doing it because you want to make money or because you genuinely like sharing your life online,” Cusick explained. “Because if you’re doing it just for the money, you might not make money, it might not be successful for you. So you’ve got to be able to fall back on the fact that it’s fun, and you enjoy it and it brings you joy.”

“The other thing is even if you do end up making money, but it doesn’t make you happy sharing your life and being open, or you’re not able to cope with the criticism, then at the end of the day, the money shouldn’t matter, because you’re not happy. So I just feel like it’s really important that everybody knows that,” she added.

On top of it all, the most important advice she said she has to give is to be authentic to who you are, “Don’t try to fit a mold.”

“Don’t try to be like another creator, don’t change who you are to try to get something, because, at the end of the day, it’s not going to be authentic to you. And I just don’t think you’ll find happiness and true success doing it that way,” she said.

“So be true to yourself and make sure that you love what you’re doing. And if you have that recipe right there, then I really feel like you’ll find success in social media and influencing.”