Many youth today are taking a chapter from Madison Avenue - mixing in a side order of learning from “the biebs” - and building their personal brand in the space they know best, the Internet.

 It’s a contemporary cliché that being famous can make you wealthy and being wealthy makes you famous. The terms are slightly different, but it’s safe to say that being famous in the online world is no exception. And by fame we are not talking about television, music or movie stars who built their wealth by selling a product. We are talking about young people without celebrity who build their online presence one follower at a time, all the while calculating precisely how to monetize (#$) their social media following. Everyone knows that being famous pays. Being famous online is no exception. And not surprisingly, youth are at the forefront of figuring out exactly how to monetize social media.  These are boys and girls, young men and young women, who are saying “no thanks” to privacy, opting instead for open settings that allow them to be seen by online users around the world. Their goal is to flog, sell and exploit their product – themselves -  and in turn, build their follower base to a size and scale that rivals celebrity. Not the old guard of celebrity who paid their dues and toiled in obscurity before getting the breaks that led to fame. These young boys and girls are taking their cues from the new guard of celebrity – Justin Bieber, Austin Mahone, and Tyler Oakley - celebrities who grew up with a smartphone in their hand, and earned their fame online through clicks, views, likes and follows.

The New Math

Somewhere between the Facebook ads, viral cat videos and YouTube pre-roll, a generation of youth discovered the term “monetization” and they did the math. They learned that with enough followers, they could convert their new brand of celebrity into cash. They could peddle their influence, peddle their wares and commercially exploit their merry band of followers.

While much of this activity still flies under the radar of most adults and contemporary culture, kids growing up digital are seeing this emerging celebrity culture unfold in front of their eyes. These are not top down, Disney anointed, celebrity youth. These are grass-roots celebrities who curated their brand, posting thousands of images – many of them selfies – all the while trawling for likes, follows and shout-outs.

Many young Instafamers have turned those followers into cash. They’re paid by companies to promote products to their followers, paid by record companies to promote artists, sometimes paid in cash or gifts by their followers to promote or endorse them (see “shout-out” example below)! In summary, youth with large amounts of followers are being paid by companies, social media sites and their own followers in both money and gifts. Sometimes, youth who have a massive following (million +) are picked up by talent agencies or music companies that hope to use the youth’s loyal fan base to sell records. Some are even paid an appearance fee by venues to simply show up, hoping that their followers will show up too. promote and make an appearance at an occasion.   In the calculus of online fame: followers x shout-outs = $$$

 When an Allowance just won’t do….
How Instafame kids - are monetizing their brand


Follower Shout-Outs

Popular social media users, especially those on Instagram and Twitter, with a large number of followers charge real money/items for ‘shout-outs’. This means that the popular user will ‘shout-out’ (post a link to the payer’s profile), virtually promoting them to thousands of followers. If it works, the wannabe Instafamer will gain new followers, and, they hope, improve their prospects of monetizing themselves. 

Google Ads

Once a Tumblr (or any other blogging website) gains approximately several thousand followers the user can choose to place Google ads on their page. These Google ads are random advertisements. The user can choose how many advertisements are found on their Tumblr. Also, these users rely on followers actually clicking on the advertisements. The more clicks, the more money that can be made.


Product Endorsement

Companies send products (sweaters, hats, sports equipment etc.) to popular Instagram (or Tumblr, etc.) users. These users then take photos of themselves with these items and post them on Instagram for all of their followers to see. They also positively endorse this product across social media. The company receives publicity and promotion from users who have thousands of devoted followers hoping they will influence their followers to go out and purchase the same items.  Advertising agencies, savvy to the grassroots influence of these youth, are forging brand partnerships and adding Direct Influencer Campaigns to their marketing toolbox.

Direct Influencer Campaigns can be direct and personal, reaching a significant and highly  targeted audience. The downside for the advertiser (company) is they’ve given up control outsourcing marketing to a pretty raw, user group. If the discussion goes sideways – see below – you have no influence and trollers and spammy behaviour can undermine your brand (or potentially elevate it if you subscribe to the P.T. Barnum theory that any publicity is good publicity) .



A company can also pay to have a user post an advertisement on their Instagram, Tumblr, etc. These ads would show up like photos on news feeds.


YouTube places “pre-roll” commercials at the beginning of popular videos. Once a video amasses a large amount number of views (i.e. millions), YouTube monetizes or commercializes the video. YouTube pays the user who created the video, on a per view basis. The more views a video has, the more commercial revenue the creator makes. For many youth, successful Tubers represent the pinnacle of Instafame success.

Personal Merchandise & Online Stores

The most popular teens on Instagram and YouTube are taking full advantage of their fan bases and creating online stores where they sell personal merchandise. Examples of this merchandise include iPhone cases, hats, posters and bracelets. These teens profit from every sale. Furthermore, many of them offer ‘follows’ or ‘shout outs’ to anyone who buys their merchandise. 


Public Appearances

Extremely popular youth (with massive followings online) are invited, and often paid, to show up to public events. The famous youth will advertise the event beforehand, stating that they will be there and that their followers should also go. Oftentimes, the youth will also live tweet the event, making it seem extremely fun and exciting. Furthermore, numerous online celebrities will also hold events. A group of YouTube/Instagram celebrities will get together and plan public appearances, charging for tickets at the door.