When teen influencers get it wrong


By ADAM EARNHEARDT

acearnheardt@ysu.edu

There are a myriad of problems with trying to be an 18-year-old influencer.

Number one on the list: being 18 years old.

Case in point: Ariana Renee, also known as @Arii on Instagram, is an 18-year-old influencer who raised eyebrows last week for her out-of-touch post “about” her followers.

Yes, “about” her followers. We’ll get back to that in a second.

She’s amassed 2.6 million followers on Instagram, and 7 million on the video platform TikTok (formerly known as musical.ly).

@Arii appears to be an influencer, but appearances are a tricky business on social media.

When the young influencer couldn’t sell a few shirts to launch her own clothing line, you can imagine everyone’s surprise, @Arii included.

How is it that an influencer with that much clout couldn’t sell a few shirts?

She failed. Most influencers would pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and move on to the next project. Most smart influencers (like good business owners) would try to learn something about why a product launch didn’t work.

Not @Arii. Rather than try to learn what went wrong, she went to Instagram to complain about followers who didn’t buy her shirts.

Problem number two: She was complaining about her millions of followers to her millions of followers (yes, this wreaks of entitlement; remember, she’s 18).

Replies to her post erupted. The social media mob mobilized, but not in the way she’d hoped. Although @Arii’s rant was quickly deleted, it was too late. The story of her seemingly detached complaint blew up on social and traditional media, with followers and critics blasting the teen.

Aside from the obvious problem of blaming followers for not buying “merch” (i.e., what the cool kids call “merchandise”), it would appear she might be more of an aggregator than an influencer. That is, she’s amassed a fan base, but she hasn’t really figured out how to activate them beyond clicking a heart icon.

Problem number three? She thinks her followers are her customers.

In the online world, customers will follow, but they want to be part of something bigger, part of a community. For @Arii and other influencers, it should never be about how many followers they have. It’s more about how loyal they are and how connected they feel to the community.

Good influencers are ambassadors of the online communities.

Truth be told, I didn’t know @Arii before this. I even asked my kids and they only kind of knew her. Yes, I watched her videos. She’s talented, but she has a lot to learn about business, communication and the world of social media.

She also has a lot to learn about failure.

It’s OK to fail, especially at her age.

It’s also time for @Arii to dust herself off, own it and apologize as a first step to reconnecting with her community.

Adam Earnheardt is chair of the department of communication at Youngstown State University. Follow him on Twitter at @adamearn and on his blog at www.adamearn.com.

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