Is This Why Your Teenager Will Leave You Jobless?

Chetan Reddy

This is the first post in a FoW series on Jobs That Did Not Exist 10 Years Ago. Today’s feature highlights the explosion of money-making opportunities on the social media site Instagram.

Your social following is quite literally how much Make-Money-With-Instagram-Photos-Onlineyou are worth. That is, if you inhabit the world of high-profile Instagram users who are paid in the tens of thousands of dollars for promoting content on their accounts. Your teenage son or daughter, with over 25,000 Instagram followers, probably has more social currency than you (unless you are a social media aficionado and have more, but I’ll take the odds and say you’re not).

Brian DiFeo is one of those Instagram celebrities who are, bluntly, able to take pictures, post them, and rake in money. It all started in the winter of 2012, when he took pictures of handbags and “posted like, eight photos for $100, or something,” as he puts it to Yahoo Tech. Nowadays, he would never post that easily or for that little. Instead, he’d run through some hefty calculations based primarily on the number of followers of an Instagram, along with the users’ engagement, such as liking or commenting, then come back with a price that is exponentially higher than it was in 2012.

Brian is now doing that full-time for Mobile Media Lab, a firm that connects Instagram users with brands for promotional programs. Companies break down social media users into two groups: celebrities and “social influencers,” according to Yahoo Tech. Celebrities are exactly who you traditionally think of: Derek Jeter, LeBron James, Taylor Swift, and yes, Kim Kardashian. Social influencers, on the other hand, are the “homegrown talent” who have become famous due to their content on other social media platforms such as YouTube. Their particular power comes from the intimate relationship they have with their subscribers and fans, leading to higher percentages of engagement and brand amplification.

Companies now will be looking into how they can take advantage of this social media money-making scheme through organic “free” promotion. This can be done by requiring that all employees have 2,000 followers on their social media accounts before they are even considered for a job. This ensures that the company will have an army of social media soldiers who can drive a promotional campaign on virtually anything.

Now the ethics question comes into play: Can companies require personal accounts be used to promote their corporate interests? In the future, it may be explicitly written into job descriptions that employees must tweet a minimum of three tweets, for example, that companies want them to. Currently, most companies send prewritten tweets and ask for help in promotion, but in the future, it may not be requested, but required.

By requiring employees to have a certain number of followers (organic and not paid) and to post from those accounts, companies can reach a guaranteed audience with many different niche interests. Employees post about what interests them outside the workplace, from underwater basket weaving to scaling mountains in Europe and cooking exotic foods — thereby accumulating followers who would traditionally not be targeted by the business.

Take, for instance, Coca-Cola. According to Brian DiFeo, the company would pay $750 for someone to post a picture of its bottle that has 100,000 followers and averages 2,000 likes per photo (Yahoo Tech). Instead, if even a quarter of the 10,000 employees who work at the HQ in Atlanta posted a campaign photo with 500 followers, the potential reach is 1.25MM views. That’s an insane reach for absolutely zero money spent. Viewers might be surfers in Hawaii, bakers in Malaysia, and everyone in between. With Millennials being hired at an accelerated rate and each one averaging more than 649 friends on Facebook, according to Statista, that’s a huge follower base that can be easily tapped with a follower/friend requirement.

One important caveat to the concept of hiring employees with a minimum number of followers is the engagement statistic. It is not enough to just have a large number next to your name. What’s more important is the social engagement, whether it be a like, favorite, retweet, or comment. Those are the marks of great content, great followers, and great user bases. When someone has a dedicated, interested following, their social output contains more inherent capital. People take notice and want to share that with their own followers. That’s where the snowball effect comes into play, and the real value in having someone with a large amount of followers posting a picture of your product or brand is uncovered. Anyone can pay for the hard statistic of the number, but the finicky, more valuable statistic of engagement is the real pot of gold.

Now get to work building up your social media capital, or your teenager may take your job!

Want more insight on where the workplace is headed? See The Future of Work.


About Chetan Reddy

Chetan Reddy is a Duke sophomore studying Economics. He was a corporate marketing strategy intern during the Summer 2015.