How Teens Are Making Thousands Per Month on Social Media

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Melissa Clark first realized her 8th grade daughter was a celebrity the day they arrived at her new school in Santa Clarita, and a crowd of middle schoolers surrounded her car and begged her daughter to take a picture with them.

The next day at school, she was “literally mobbed by about 200 people,” Clark said from her home in Burbank. “An administrator had to walk her from class to class.”

Three years later, Clark’s daughter — who has a make up tutorial channel on YouTube and 1.4 million followers on Instagram — is pulling in thousands of dollars a month from paid endorsements.

Acacia Brinley Clark,known to her followers as Acacia Brinley, represents a new breed of Internet celebrity who are starting to monetize their massive online followings.

Teens that post selfies and short videos of themselves goofing around with their friends are commanding rates of a few thousand dollars to tens of thousands of dollars to endorse products and promote events.

For a generation that grew up with social media, these platforms are no longer just a way to break into established entertainment industries. They are the entertainment industry.

(Vine stars Jack and Jack have used their popularity on social media to promote their music careers)

“Every single person out there with a certain amount of followers is a media channel,” said Damien Eley, a creative director and partner at the ad agency Mistress Creative, which uses social media influencers to create and amplify their ad campaigns. “This is the new frontier.”

While television is still the dominant form of media consumption for all age groups, teenagers’ spend 60 percent more time on mobile devices and a third less time in front of the TV than 25-34 year-olds.

Advertisers are taking note of this shift in young people’s attention. Of the $187 billion that brands will spend on advertising in the U.S. this year, 30 percent will be on digital platforms.

Social media “influencers” are an attractive megaphone for advertisers because of the intimate connection between these micro-celebrities and their fans.

Influencers don’t have PR teams — at least, not initially – so their posts feel more authentic, their personalities more honest and approachable. When an influencer talks about a brand, it doesn’t feel like an advertisement. It’s more like a recommendation from a friend.

The group Us the Duo has a deal with Burt’s Bees.

This form of “native advertising” is more effective than disruptive banner ads, advertisers say, because it integrates seamlessly into the media experience.

When the media content is essentially an advertisement, viewers are also more likely to watch it.

The group also has a deal with Hewlett-Packard.

To preserve a sense of authenticity, influencers must be careful to partner with companies that are in line with their personal brand.

To help influencers create ads that don’t feel like ads, brands will typically let influencers decide the best way to insert products into their feeds.

More than 22 million people have see this Vine from Jerome Jarre promoting the film Zoolander 2

Some large corporations, which have spent decades and millions of dollars building up their brands, are hesitant to cede control of their carefully crafted messaging apparatus to teenagers that sometimes say regrettable things. But younger brands — and digitally savvy legacy brands like GE — understand that times have changed.

G.E. paid Jarre fly in a zero-gravity “vomit comet” plane and make a video about it

“As a brand these days you have permission to not have the same production quality. They don’t need everything to look slick and over-produced,” Eley said. “There has to be a level of authenticity.”

A new crop of digital advertising agencies have arisen to help brands and influencers find each other and create “authentic” campaigns.

One of those companies is theAudience, founded by tech entrepreneur Oliver Luckett, whose social media pedigree includes running Barack Obama’s Facebook page during the 2012 presidential elections and managing the official social media accounts for Disney’s animated characters.

Founded with Napster co-founder and early Facebook executive Sean Parker and talent agent Ari Emanuel, who inspired the Ari Gold character on HBO’s Entourage, theAudience was originally created to manage the social media accounts of big-time celebrities. The company later switched its focus to Internet celebrities, who were more open to the idea of schilling products for brands.

Young influencers and their digital native fans are more comfortable with the idea of brand sponsorship than the generation that grew up listening to Nirvana or the Rolling Stones, according to Luckett.

“They actually root for those brands that sponsor the artist that they like… How else are these (influencers) going to do what they do 24/7?” Luckett said.

The digital publisher boasts an arsenal of 6,000 influencers — including Acacia Brinley — that it uses to coordinate marketing campaigns for brands and ad agencies like Mistress Creative. The agency also holds regular networking events where influencers “cross promote” by tagging others in their posts and gaining their followers.

Here’s how Mistress Creative used social media influencers on a campaign for the television show “Legends”:

TNT Legends – Influencer Campaign Case Study from Mistress on Vimeo.

Acacia Brinley’s social media fluency was partly what inspired theAudience’s shift away from managing old media celebrity accounts to collaborating with social media celebrities.

Old media celebrities who didn’t grow up broadcasting their personal lives online have a hard time engaging with fans the way Acacia Brinley does, theAudience’s VP of Talent and Influencers Rami Perlman said.

“Social media is a different language,” Perlman said. “They’re digital natives, and we’re digital refugees.”

People often ask Acacia Brinley what the secret is to her success, but she doesn’t know what to tell them. Unlike some social media stars who have posting schedules and can spend hours composing a single 6-second video, Acacia Brinley doesn’t have to try very hard.

“It just kind of happened,” she said. “I guess people like me for me.”