The average person makes about 35,000 decisions each day—whether or not to snooze the alarm, what to wear, what to eat for breakfast, the list goes on. And as teens try to find their independence and identity, these decisions can feel all the more crucial. Who should I be friends with? What do I watch or listen to? How do I fit in? The truth is that when it comes to many of these personal decisions, teens often go to someone other than their parents to help make them, and in today’s social-media-driven culture, Gen Z’s go-to for guidance is influencers.
What’s an influencer?
At its most basic definition, influencers are people who use their platform to influence their audience. By sharing their content, influencers can show and tell their audience what to wear, what to buy, and even what to believe or how to act. The more followers and likes they have, the more credibility they gain, the more influence they have.
You may be thinking that an ‘influencer’ just sounds like a fancy new term for a celebrity, and in some ways, you’re right! Both celebrities and influencers have a large social following and hold prominent stature in the public eye, but what separates the two is the way they build their influence. A celebrity usually gains notoriety for their talent, developing their persona through traditional mediums such as TV, film, or radio. But an influencer’s work and persona are usually self-created on non-traditional mediums like social media and YouTube, where they gain their audience by showing their expertise in a specific niche that people are interested in. Influencers are well-liked simply for who they are, not necessarily what they do.
5 of the top influencers right now1. Emma Chamberlain,18 years old
YouTube subscribers: 8M
TikTok followers: 5.9M
Instagram followers: 9.4M
Emma Chamberlain is a jack of all trades. She creates her own vlogs, hosts a podcast, and even owns her own coffee company, to name a few of her many hats. But what really brought her to stardom wasn’t her entrepreneurial businesses—those came later—it was her honest and relatable personality that stole the hearts of her fans. Her content covers everything from fashion and cooking to glimpses into her everyday life, all the while maintaining a super chill, laidback feel. For example, in this video Emma rocks a no-makeup look while casually telling stories from her life and embracing mistakes with minimal editing and funny zooming effects.
2. David Dobrik, 23 years old
YouTube subscribers: 17.4M
TikTok followers: 16.8M
Instagram followers: 12.8M
With his signature smile and laugh, David Dobrik is one of today’s most well-known internet personalities. And at 639 YouTube vlogs and counting, he has no problem documenting virtually every part of his day, which usually consists of hanging out with his friends and getting into crazy scenarios. Dobrik’s vlogs are short, high energy videos with quick transitions, making them easy to binge-watch. Along with having fun with his friends, a lot of his videos also include some form of philanthropy, giving away things like money and cars to friends, fans, and those in need.
3. Charli D’Amelio, 16 years old
YouTube subscribers: 4.15M
TikTok followers: 57.6M
Instagram followers: 18.7M
If you’ve seen your teen doing any TikTok dances, chances are they learned them from Charli D’amelio. She creates and recreates the multitude of dance trends found on TikTok (including the popular “Renegade” dance) and became the most-followed account on TikTok in just one year. While people enjoy her creativity and talent, Gen Z loves Charli mostly for her “normalness.” Many teens feel an indescribable sense of relatability and realness from her, making Charli all the more lovable. But dancing isn’t all she does, she and her sister Dixie have also used their platform to advocate against body-shaming and cyberbullying.
4. Dobre Twins, 21 years old
YouTube subscribers: 20.9M
TikTok followers: 23M
Instagram followers: 2M
Lucas and Marcus Dobre have grown up on the internet. First finding success on the now-defunct Vine app, they transitioned to YouTube and TikTok so they could keep connecting with their fans. Whether it be dancing, pulling pranks, or sharing a look into their everyday lives, they’re always doing something. On top of that, the Dobre twins also have no problem boasting the wealth they’ve amassed in over-the-top ways. Their good looks (according to their fans), laid-back personalities, and ridiculous premises of their content draw Gen Z in to keep watching. And to add to their fame, they’ve even dipped their toes into the music industry.
5. Kylie Jenner, 22 years old
YouTube subscribers: 8.28M
TikTok followers: 10.9M
Instagram followers: 177M
Kylie Jenner was practically born into fame. As a member of the Kardashian family, she’s used her status to create clothing and cosmetics lines and become a staple in fashion and beauty culture. Nowadays, she’s most known by Gen Z for her relationship with famous rapper Travis Scott and their daughter Stormi. Using TikTok and Instagram, Kylie shares about her life and her products, as well as spoofs her family’s show, Keeping Up With the Kardashians.
Why teens pay attention to influencers
Many of today’s influencers are Gen Zers, just like the fans they gain. And teens see these influencers as virtual peers who go through the same ups and downs that they do. The key is simple: relatability and authenticity. An influencer’s relatability gives teens the idea that if they do the same things an influencer does, they too will find a way to be successful, loved, and popular in the midst of living a seemingly mundane everyday life.
Much of the content influencers post is what we’d call ‘fluff’: a lot of cute videos of dances, makeup tutorials, showing off new outfits, and giving advice. On the downside, many influencers neglect to censor themselves in order to preserve their authentic image. Things like profanity, sexually explicit content, and general reckless and irresponsible behavior can be found in the content that many influencers post on a nearly daily basis. And since there’s no way to easily filter things like this, discussion with your teen is the most proactive way to ensure they know the dangers of questionable content, especially if your teen wants to emulate it online themselves.
How much influence do they really have?
According to this article, 70% of Gen Z follows at least one influencer on their social media platforms, so it’s safe to say that influencers play a big part in the lives of our teens. Gen Z goes to influencers to stay up-to-date on what’s trendy, for insight on what they should or shouldn’t buy, and to be inspired.
This report by Morning Consult revealed that 56% of Gen Zers have purchased a product after seeing an influencer they follow post about it. Whether it’s ad campaigns, video sponsorships, or even Super Bowl commercials, the status of an influencer mixed with the prevalence of social media in Gen Z culture leads to a bombardment of marketing strategies throughout the content teens love to watch. And again, the more authentic the influencer, the more likely a teen is to trust what they’re selling.
And if purchasing habits aren’t enough to convince you of the power of influencers, a whole new weird trend has taken over: TikTok “cults.” No, not the kind of cult where teens are moving out to some random field and worshipping their leader together forever. This is all online, and it’s just for fun! Tribes of Gen Zers have flocked to join charismatic, bizarre online gangs with names like “The Step-Chickens.” You may be relieved to read that these “cults” aren’t about religious fervor as much as they are about devotion to a “cult-like” figurehead. That is, they’re less about dogma and more about memes. But some bored teens have flung themselves headfirst into the identity politics of belonging to these seemingly random groups online. Even during a pandemic, it’s clear that teens are very much still hungry for places to belong.
Now, over half of Gen Zers want to be influencers
The Morning Consult report also revealed that 54% of Gen Z and Millenials are interested in being influencers themselves, citing the flexible schedules, pay, and public recognition as valuable perks. But being an influencer may not be everything it’s chalked up to be. In a recent exposé, Insider delves into the new breed of child stars that social media, especially TikTok, is creating. No matter your child’s age or interests, becoming an “influencer” of some sort is likely something they’ve thought about. And even though it’s easier than ever to make it big, the fame is harder than ever to maintain, and none of the negative side effects of being a child star have diminished. In fact, this new type of fame may exacerbate those problems since the praise and adoration come straight to their phones 24/7. So what do the psychologists in the article recommend parents do to help keep their children grounded and potentially avoid the pitfalls of fame? Only what Axis has said all along! “There has to be reasoned and careful conversations around these things,” and we add that they need to start early.
What can I do?
It’s important to talk to your teen about influencers and the potential influence they are having. However, influencers are not a “one size fits all” demographic, so there’s no way to be certain how they’re being influential without your teen telling you. Ask your teen what influencers they follow, then use these questions to get the ball rolling:
- Why do you follow them?
- How did you find out about them?
- Which do you appreciate more: their content or their personality?
- What about their content do you like?
- Would you do the same things they do in their videos if you had the chance?
- Do you choose to buy from any brands because this influencer supports them?
- Do you want to be an influencer? What interests you about their lives?