Internet Cultured: Was the life of the ‘influencer’ really for me?

Sydney Loew | Daily Trojan

“Oh my gosh, this is probably so awkward, but I’ve seen your videos before!”

I hear this at least once a week, but it used to be an almost daily occurrence: in class, in passing, at parties, from friends new and old. I can’t escape the life I put online, even though I did it to myself.

Influencer marketing is a new phenomenon that’s taken over social media in the past five years. An influencer is someone who’s able to make a brand out of their lifestyle and utilize social media — predominantly YouTube and Instagram — to “influence” their followers to buy into that lifestyle. Whether they’re a micro-influencer (100,00 followers generally) or large-scale influencer, these public figures also often collaborate with brands to promote products that align with their personal brands, known as “brand deals.”

For those who don’t know, I’m an ex-influencer — or, at least, an ex-sad attempt at one. I started making YouTube videos when I was nine, and created a mildly successful series of college application-themed videos during my senior year of high school. I had a business plan: College-themed videos excel on YouTube, and I built a foundation of trust with my audience with regard to college application advice by documenting every college I applied to. USC is a YouTube influencer-heavy school, and since I’d been accepted, I knew making USC-oriented content would be popular among eager prospective students like myself. So, I made a variety of demandable videos: Standardized test advice, essay advice, an orientation vlog, a dorm tour and “How I Got a Full Scholarship to USC,” my most-viewed video.

The summer before college, I continued producing videos on a weekly basis. Once I moved into my freshman dorm, however, all my feelings toward influencing changed.

About a year ago, I stopped making videos, despite originally planning to grow my channel as a college YouTuber. To this day, I still get questions about why I stopped and I’ve mostly withheld the true reason I suddenly stopped pursuing a lifestyle I had worked toward for so long. Fellow internet fanatics, here’s the tea.

Being an influencer is not a sustainable lifestyle. I say this after watching many content creators I follow crash into ailing mental health, seeing my influencer friends grow tired of constantly putting their lives online and remembering how disengaged my own life was when I lived through a camera lens. The reality is that views, likes and comments become your entire life because your life is no longer yours alone to live. Your personal life becomes a product, and the line between reality and marketable content becomes blurred.

During the first few months of my freshman year, I was still focused on producing weekly content. Consequently, I never felt that I was fully engaged in my new USC community. Planning, filming and editing videos would take a significant amount of time spent alone. Even when I wasn’t actively making videos, everything around me triggered a voice in my head: “This or that could be worthy content.”

Because so many of my videos were centered on USC, I had unintentionally created a microcosm on campus for myself. Whenever I met people, I often had to wonder if they already had some preconceived notion of me based on my videos or not. I wasn’t happy, and I wasn’t healthily adjusting to life on campus. Eventually, I came to a crossroads: Do I grow my channel in spite of my personal life, or do I abandon it completely and pursue a more fulfilling life offline?

I chose the latter and haven’t looked back since.

My experience, however, is not indicative of the entire influencer community because I recognize I existed on a very, very small scale compared to those who have made a career out of content creation. I have friends who are actively pursuing the influencer lifestyle — what I see as new-age internet entrepreneurship — and are thriving. If anything, influencer marketing has absolutely revolutionized advertising, and I fully believe influencers are the future of product marketing. I’ll root for those in front of the camera, but I’m perfectly happy staying behind the scenes on the managerial side.

Sure, maybe I could have been a successful influencer. Sure, I still get comments and messages asking me about my old videos. I don’t at all mind engaging with this past version of myself, but it’s just that: the past. I may no longer be the high school girl who made videos in her bedroom, but she will always be a part of me.

Rowan Born is a sophomore majoring in journalism and  law, history and culture. She is also the social media editor of the Daily Trojan. Her column, “Internet Cultured,” ran every other Tuesday.