Using Social Media, Students Aspire To Become 'Influencers'

Jan 7, 2017
Originally published on January 7, 2017 2:49 pm
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And some college professors are struggling to keep up with what their students already know. Corey Takahashi teaches multimedia storytelling at Syracuse University in New York, and he says that teaching has been as much a learning experience for him as for his students.

COREY TAKAHASHI: One of my intro courses focuses on storytelling for different fields of communication, from journalism to advertising and PR to fiction. Typically, undergrads drop by during my office hours with questions about becoming writers, broadcasters and filmmakers. Last semester, for the first time, I had a wave of first-year undergrads wanting to become influencers. Social media influencers use online platforms, like YouTube, Instagram and Snapchat, to build a personal connection with an audience. They market themselves, their expertise or ideas and often products or brands. A quarter of my class said this is what they wanted to do now or later as a career. One of the students is already successful. I know her as the punctual front-row freshman Margot De Riemer. On YouTube and other social media, she's Margot Lee.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

MARGOT DE RIEMER: What's up, you guys? It's Margot. I wanted to show you my school morning routine here at college. So if you're interested, keep watching.

TAKAHASHI: Margot posts simple, slice-of-life videos. She started my class with around 50,000 YouTube subscribers. By the end of this semester, she had 100,000. She's not the Kardashian sisters in terms of the size of her audience. Yet Margot also has attracted advertisers and brands to sponsor some of her posts on YouTube and Instagram because she seems more authentic to other teens than a pitch person on TV. It's word-of-mouth marketing from a peer to peer.

DE RIEMER: If I see a product on my Facebook feed or if I see a product linked in one of my favorite YouTuber's bios, then I'm going to click on that and potentially buy that.

TAKAHASHI: For instance, here's a video sponsored by an app.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

DE RIEMER: Also when you're in college, you'll know that getting a package is, like, the best thing ever. So I wanted to show you a way that you can shop a smart way. I downloaded the app called Wish, and it has absolutely saved me. It is...

TAKAHASHI: Margot has learned on her own to create these videos and to negotiate with companies who want to sponsor her.

DE RIEMER: I get to be a business person. I get to be an entrepreneur and I get to be a writer and a creative director and all of that.

TAKAHASHI: Which raises the question of why Margot needs college at all. I mean, with exponential changes in media and technology, it's increasingly tough for universities to keep up. Leaving school to pursue a career in social media has crossed Margot's mind.

DE RIEMER: There's definitely a desire to just move to Los Angeles and live by myself and work with different YouTubers and collaborate and travel the world. But I would never just drop my education for social media.

TAKAHASHI: Because who knows how long social media influencer will be around as a job or how long she'll last as one? Margot says she wants to learn more about storytelling, developing a point of view and critical thinking skills, skills which can be applied to any media career. That's what I'm here for. And guess how I found out Margot enjoyed the semester in my class - through one of her YouTube posts.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO)

DE RIEMER: Just finished our class of my favorite class this semester. The professors and the TA's were so good.

TAKAHASHI: I guess something's working. For NPR News, I'm Corey Takahashi in Syracuse, N.Y. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.