I tried, and failed, to earn a living as an influencer. Here are 5 hard lessons I learned after gaining and losing thousands of social-media followers.

A picture of BTS on the left and the post author, Brian Patrick Byrne, on the right.
Brian Patrick Byrne built a following by posting videos and tweets about BTS.

  • I gained tens of thousands of followers by creating content about K-pop group BTS.
  • My biggest mistake was trying to change my brand in order to earn a living.
  • I ultimately decided that my mental health was more important than being an influencer.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

In 2020, I lost my job and decided to spend my free time pursuing a dream I’d had since teenhood: becoming an influencer. I’d spent more than a decade idolizing YouTube stars like Tyler Oakley to the point that when I heard he was coming to Dublin, Ireland in 2012, I traveled to the city center from my home in the suburbs for the off-chance that I’d run into him.

Miraculously, I did, and our brief interaction helped encourage me to build my own internet following. I made over 70 videos. Some blatantly ripped off established influencers. Once, I filmed myself cooking while drunk in the hopes that it would attract an audience as it did for Hannah Hart. The video got fewer than 300 views and I made it private soon after. Later, I made a video where I crafted a giant serving of McDonald’s fries out of jello. And in another, I built a shirt out of sliced bread.

I tried everything to stand out, and yet I couldn’t even crack 1,000 subscribers – until 2020.

Picture shows Brian with YouTube star Tyler Oakley in Dublin, Ireland in 2012.
Brian with YouTube star Tyler Oakley in Dublin, Ireland in 2012.

At that time, I’d spent the best part of three years at NowThis, learning how to attract an audience of millions with short-form videos on Snapchat and TikTok. It felt like the perfect opportunity to try to become an influencer again. While at NowThis, I’d produced content about BTS, the biggest band in the world with a famously loyal and dedicated fanbase. One of my videos got close to 900,000 views on Twitter, and fans wrote thousands of affirmative comments praising me for reporting on the group without prejudice.

“It’s so rare to see some actual research on BTS and ARMY,” one wrote (“ARMY” is the name of the group’s fandom).

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>In just 7 years, <a href=”https://twitter.com/BTS_twt?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@BTS_twt</a> has changed the world. These are the 7 lessons the band has left us with since 2013 <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/7YearsWithBTS?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#7YearsWithBTS</a> <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/ARMY?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#ARMY</a> <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/BTS?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#BTS</a> <a href=”https://t.co/a2uON7mmoh”>pic.twitter.com/a2uON7mmoh</a></p>&mdash; NowThis (@nowthisnews) <a href=”https://twitter.com/nowthisnews/status/1271806529151184896?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>June 13, 2020</a></blockquote> <script async src=”https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js” charset=”utf-8″></script>

It helped that I genuinely enjoy BTS’s music, which promotes a message of self love. As a 30-something who has long struggled with low self-esteem, I find lyrics like, “I’m the one I should love in this world / Shining me, precious soul of mine” surprisingly therapeutic.

I started a new YouTube channel where I combined my background in journalism and building audiences with my appreciation for BTS. I interviewed fans like a 62-year-old military intelligence analyst who said the group saved her life, and the father of a late model who met the group long before they rose to prominence – and yet predicted they’d be superstars.

During my most successful month on YouTube, my channel drew 508,729 views. My channel surpassed 13,000 subscribers, and I had even greater success on Twitter, where I posted news updates and explanatory threads explaining how the US music industry was stacked against BTS, a Korean group which, at that point, had never released a fully English-language song. My tweets generated thousands of retweets apiece and within a few months my Twitter following had surpassed 35,000. To be clear, these numbers are tiny compared to bonafide internet superstars. And as I soon discovered, it would be the closest I’d get to their level of success.

Here were the hard lessons I learned.

Lesson 1: YouTube ad revenue can be inconsistent, so don’t expect to make a living from ads alone.

I loved the content I was making, but it was effectively a full-time job. I spent much of my free time producing videos and coming up with ideas for new ones. And there were expenses involved, like $326 per month for a paid subscription to Mediabase, a music industry service that gave me access to specific radio airplay numbers for BTS songs, which I shared with fellow fans. These updates became the primary driver of my follower growth on Twitter.

However, I was earning hardly any money. My tweets made me nothing, but I thought that by building a following on Twitter, I could direct followers to my YouTube channel, which was monetized. I quickly learned that earnings from YouTube ads can be highly inconsistent. The views on my videos swung wildly, from highs of hundreds of thousands to lows of a tiny fraction of that, meaning I wasn’t developing a loyal audience who tuned into every video. As such, my earnings were unpredictable. One video that took me three weeks to produce currently has 43,121 views and made $76.34; another, in which I rapped in Korean with BTS’ SUGA collaborator MAX, has just 5,737 views and earned $18.67.

A screenshot showing Brian’s YouTube ad revenue for October 2020.
Brian’s YouTube ad revenue for October 2020.

Lesson 2: Before you ask your audience to pay you directly, do your research.

These ups and downs drove swings in my mental health. The correlation between YouTube views and ad revenue meant that when my videos did well, I felt elated and dreamt about how big my earnings might become in the future. But when my videos flopped, I felt paralyzed by fears that I was a failure, and struggled to focus on producing the next one.

With no other jobs lined up, and my savings starting to dwindle, I knew I needed to earn a reliable income – fast. Ad revenue alone wouldn’t cut it, so I drew inspiration from other influencers with loyal followings and started an account on Patreon, a paid membership platform. I set up multiple tiers, offering common rewards like exclusive content to subscribers in exchange for a small monthly fee.

I advertised my Patreon on Twitter – and immediately received a backlash.

While it made sense to try to diversify my income and not rely on YouTube ad revenue alone, I made a huge mistake by not speaking with others within the community first about whether starting a Patreon was a good idea. Basically, I didn’t do my research. Instead, I shared a news update about BTS and, in a second tweet, told my followers that they could support my content on Patreon.

The backlash came almost immediately. Hundreds of accounts condemned the fact that I was asking for money from a fandom that’s known for its ethos of volunteerism. Many fans before me had built followings by posting chart positions and other updates without asking for a dime. As a result, some stated I had established influence within the fandom for the sole purpose of reaping financial rewards. Several users with large followings, including those that had supported my work in the past, unfollowed or blocked me.

Lesson 3: Be wary of changing your brand after you’ve built a following. If you do, expect a large chunk of your audience to unfollow you.

While the criticism eventually passed, as it does for many things on the internet, my anxiety about my future did not. While I was still determined to make it as an influencer, I knew now that the following I had grown would not support me financially. Sure, I did have a handful of patrons, but like my YouTube channel, I earned a pittance: $190.97 in three months. This led me to my second mistake.

During a conversation with a more established influencer in the K-pop community, I learned that they had grown a significant subscriber base on Patreon by posting reaction videos to various K-pop groups. While I never found out how much they were making, their expression of disbelief as they talked about the sheer amount was enough to convince me to try the same thing on my YouTube channel. Until this point, I’d mainly posted content about BTS, so producing reaction videos of other groups was a significant pivot. That’s because on the internet, K-pop groups are like sports teams. If you declare yourself a supporter of one, fans may not be pleased if you start stanning their rival. In my case, I’d declared myself a BTS fan, only to later post content about a competitor, BLACKPINK.

The week I published my reaction to BLACKPINK’s “DDU-DU DDU-DU,” I lost 8,000 Twitter followers. After sharing the video on Twitter, my follower count started to freefall. I tried to address the mass unfollowing by tweeting that I didn’t intend to shade other K-pop groups, including BTS. But that only made things worse.

<iframe width=”560″ height=”315″ src=”https://www.youtube.com/embed/UNFX4dn45Mk” title=”YouTube video player” frameborder=”0″ allow=”accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture” allowfullscreen></iframe>

ARMYs expressed their outrage in the comments: “This my friends, is an example of a perfect clout chaser,” one wrote. “He identified as army, hopped off on a profit gaining train from us, and now he’s onto another fandom.”

Another posted: “Why do u think he used first army and now blinks [BLACKPINK’s fandom]? I don’t understand why both fandoms or others support youtubers when they only use kpop groups for views.”

Lesson 4: If you want to be an influencer, be prepared for regular, public criticism from strangers, even if you feel it’s unwarranted.

Through these missteps, I realized what it’s actually like to be an influencer: In exchange for the dopamine boost of watching your posts rack up thousands of likes and retweets, there exists a cohort willing to tear you down the moment you make a mistake. It’s a kind of bad-faith scrutiny that assumes you only have the worst intentions when the truth is often far more complex.

It was my own fault for not explaining that because I spent so much time producing content, I either needed to earn more money from it, or quit, and find something that did earn me a livable wage. I considered posting a long-winded response, but when I asked some friends, their reaction was mixed. Some supported me trying to clear things up, while another, who has a considerable following on YouTube, said I wouldn’t be able to change the assumptions people had already made about me.

“It happens as you grow,” they wrote to me in a DM. “People create narratives & backlash is bigger. You know how the saying goes. The bigger you are, the more hate you get.”

Lesson 5: My experiences taught me that being an influencer isn’t for me. But if you can avoid the mistakes I made, you could have what it takes to succeed.

For all the upsides to becoming an influencer – the dopamine rushes and the supportive comments – my mental health means more to me. I’m happier being a nobody. For you, though, things could be different. If you can avoid letting financial insecurity rush you into poor decision-making and have skin thick enough that bad-faith comments won’t wear you down, becoming an influencer may be for you.

Just recognize that it’s a lot easier to gain new followers than it is to convince them to spend money on whatever it is you’re creating. Understand that making a living on the internet is hard, and to succeed, you’ll need the patience and persistence it takes to find a means of monetizing your content that is palatable to your audience.

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McDonald’s new BTS meal is already outpacing the hit Travis Scott meal in popularity

McDonald's BTS meal
  • McDonald’s launched the BTS meal with the Korean band at the end of May.
  • In its first week, it drove more traffic to stores than the Travis Scott meal.
  • Celebrity partnerships continue to be huge for fast food companies in 2021.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

McDonald’s BTS meal is bringing in the most customers the chain has seen all year after only a week, according to foot traffic reports from third-party researchers.

McDonald’s partnered with the famous Korean boy band BTS on a signature promotion in 49 countries that launched on May 26 in the US. Restaurant visits were up 12% over the previous week during the first seven days of the promotion, a report from Gordon Haskett Research Advisors found. These numbers are the highest of 2021 so far.

McDonald’s customers in the US can order a BTS meal: a 10-piece McNuggets, medium fries, a medium Coke, and sweet chili and Cajun sauces inspired by menu items in McDonald’s South Korea.

Read more: Shake Shack founder’s VC fund just invested in this plant-based milk brand that’s aiming to be the ‘Nestle for millenials’

“We’re excited to bring customers even closer to their beloved band in a way only McDonald’s can – through our delicious food – when we introduce the BTS signature order on our menu next month,” Morgan Flatley, the chief marketing officer of McDonald’s US, said in a statement when the promotion was announced.

McDonald’s has partnered with celebrities on signature order campaigns before to huge success. The Travis Scott meal last fall was so popular that some locations ran out of Quarter Pounder ingredients. It was also enriching for Scott personally, as he netted at least $20 million from the deal, according to Forbes. The BTS meal has the potential to be even more successful for McDonald’s – it is outpacing the gains from the first week of the Travis Scott Meal, which bumped traffic 9% in the first week it was offered.

Collaborating with young artists and creators became huge for fast-food chains in 2020, and is continuing strong in 2021. The deals helped brands connect with Gen Z customers and often ended up on social media and as TikTok trends.

Like the two other celebrity collaborations, the BTS meal is made up of existing menu items to draw in customers (though the sauces are a new addition in the US), a move that analysts have praised. With a celebrity endorsement, brands can harness the energy and excitement of a new product without actually adding menu items.

The era of fast-food and celebrity partnerships isn’t likely to end anytime soon. Brands continue to look for strategies to reach younger customers, and they’ve found something that works.

“They look to recommendations much more than any other generation has. They’re very reliant on social media. They’re very reliant on their friends,” Flatley told Business Insider.

The BTS meal isn’t yet available in every country McDonald’s has planned. By June 25, residents of all 49 included countries will be able to try it out.

Despite the meal’s success so far, it hasn’t moved the needle as much as McDonald’s chicken sandwich did. The crispy chicken sandwich launched in February bumped traffic 16% in the first week, according to Gordon Haskett. Placer.ai found that foot traffic increased more than 20% week-over-week in the days following the release, helping the chain get closer to pre-pandemic numbers.

Do you have a story to share about McDonald’s or another company? Email mmeisenzahl@businessinsider.com.

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Trading card company Topps apologizes and removes BTS card showing violent’ and ‘racist’ imagery after backlash

bts grammys 2021
BTS.

  • Trading card maker Topps has removed and apologized for its “racist” and “tone deaf” BTS trading card.
  • The card depicts BTS members getting bruised and beaten during a whack-a-mole game.
  • The card’s controversial debut happened the day of a shooting that killed six Asian women.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Trading card maker Topps has removed and apologized for its BTS sticker card after receiving a wave of backlash from Twitter users who have called the card “violent” and “racist.”

The BTS card originally debuted as a part of Topps’ “2021 Topps Garbage Pail Kids: The Shammy Awards” pack of sticker cards. The collection was unveiled shortly after the 63rd annual Grammy Awards, and featured caricatures of famous musicians, including Billie Eilish as “Buoyant Billie” and Bruno Mars as “U.F. Bruno.”

However, soon after Topps unveiled the Shammy Awards pack and its BTS card, eight people, including six Asian women, were killed in shootings across three Atlanta-area spas and massage parlors. The Atlanta Police Department is still investigating the motive behind this string of attacks, but the shootings have prompted a nationwide condemnation of hate crimes against Asian-Americans in the US, which have been on the rise since the COVID-19 pandemic first began.

Read more: Dive Studios is trying to turn K-Pop fans into podcast listeners by grabbing their attention on social media

As a result, shortly after the pack was unveiled, people took to Twitter to air their disappointment in the BTS card, which depicted the Korean boy band getting beaten and bruised by a Grammy award in a whack-a-mole game.

BTS was the first K-pop band to ever perform its own song at the award show, but the group did not end the night with any Grammy wins.

Twitter user @almostdita, who identifies as a member of the “BTS Army” – a nickname for BTS fans –, noted that the card looked obviously different from the other caricatures in the pack, and said Topps was “supporting the hate against Asians.”

Similarly, Fatima Farha, an audience editor at USA Today, tweeted that the card was “downright racist” for its depiction of violence toward Asians.

Shortly after this barrage, Topps publicly apologized and announced it would be removing the BTS card.

“We hear and understand our consumers who are upset about the portrayal of BTS in our GPK Shammy Awards product and we apologize for including it,” Topps’ apology read.

However, several Twitter users did not find this apology to be adequate. This includes Jae-Ha Kim, a writer and columnist, who tweeted that the apology was “not accepted.”

Like Kim, Candace Epps-Robertson, an assistant professor of English at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, tweeted that the apology did not “feel like an attempt to acknowledge and understand the issue at hand.”

Between March 19, 2020, and February 28, 2021, Stop AAPI Hate – an organization that monitors anti-Asian racism – logged almost 3,800 incidents of discrimination towards Asian-Americans, which includes: verbal harassment, shunning, physical or online assault, and civil rights violations.

Hate crimes against Asian-Americans in the US have hit an “alarming level” during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a report by United Nations officials. The report also placed part of the blame on former President Donald Trump, who has used racist terms like “China virus” in reference to COVID-19.

“We are further concerned by the documented increase in hate and misogynist speech, including incitement to hatred and racial discrimination in public places and online, and the contribution of the President of the United States in seemingly legitimizing these violations,” the report noted.

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