On Tuesday I went to a school careers fair to talk about working in social media. Nearly all the pupils I met (aged 13 – 16) were already active on social networks like Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram; a couple had their own YouTube channels.

Some of them asked me how to become an influencer. They were keen to monetize their presence like Zoella or KSI. One of them simply wanted to know how to be famous. Most had questions about how to make the jump from using social media for personal social networking to using it for work.

Here’s the advice I gave:

1. Yes, there are YouTubers and celebrities who’ve become famous and made millions from their social media profiles. They probably make up less than 1 percent of people who earn a living through social media. Many of these (like Paris Hilton or Kylie Jenner) already had money and networks of privilege to help them. Others (like PewDiePie or Jenna Marbles) have become leading influencers through their own unique style and delivery – and sheer hard work. It’s not impossible but the odds will be stacked against you.

Jenna Marbles started posting funny but heartfelt observations about her life in 2009. She has nearly 18m subscribers on YouTube
Jenna Marbles has 17.8m subscribers on YouTube. She’s been posting funny videos regularly since 2009

2. If becoming famous is your goal then decide on what you want to be good at and stick to it. Try to be original. Do NOT be tempted to have cosmetic surgery or take your clothes off. You may get rich but it will make you unhappy and it is not sustainable (just look at Melania).

3. Most people who have a career in social media work in marketing. You don’t need an English, Media or Communications degree to do this, but you DO need to prove you’ve got aptitude for managing social media and creating content. Luckily this is something you can start doing right now in your spare time.

4. You could set up a separate social media identity to experiment with. Use a nickname that doesn’t have anything to do with your real name. Think about the kind of content you want to share, how you want to represent yourself visually and what tone of voice you want to have. If you use this ‘brand’ on other social media platforms, be consistent.

Jamal Edwards launched SB.TV in 2006 when he was just 15
Jamal Edwards launched SB.TV in 2006 when he was just 15

5. Be your own creator-producer. Think about how you can turn a hobby or passion into great content. Look at Sam Sparrow (travel); Tavi (fashion); Lauren Luke (make up), Jamal Edwards (music); Kian Toterrelo-Allen (trans politics) or Jules Spector (feminism). Find your own role models and ask yourself what you like about them. See how they engage with their followers and how they manage their identity across different social networks.

6. You don’t have to be in front of the camera to build a social media presence. If you are, be aware of the pitfalls. People can say very cruel things on social media – are you prepared? The Internet is open to the very worst as well as the very best of human behavior. You need to be confident and strong to withstand abuse. Childline has some good advice on bullying, abuse and online safety.

Childline's page on cyber-bullying
Childline’s page on cyberbullying

7. Whether you choose to use your real name or a nickname, be aware of the digital profile you are building and the fact that potential future employers can see everything you’ve published. If the content you’re posting isn’t something you’d like your gran to see, then maybe it’s not suitable for future employers either.

8. Good social media marketing isn’t about likes and fans. It’s about the quality of each connection and the value you get from those relationships. You’re better off having a conversation about something that really matters with 10 people who care than a superficial link with tens of thousands (many of whom could be bots). Don’t worry. This is a hard one for adults to grasp too!

9. Social media platforms track your behaviour and make money by selling your data to advertisers. They are designed to be addictive so make sure you limit your time on them. Try to switch off your devices at least an hour before bedtime. Get in the habit of charging your phone or tablet overnight in the kitchen rather than taking it to your bedroom.

10. Whatever you’re doing on social media, talk to a grown-up you trust about your plans. Enjoy yourself – and good luck!

I’ve written this post for 13-16 year olds who are thinking about a career in social media. If you’ve found it useful, let me know. If you have any questions, please add them in the comments, or send them to me directly @JemimaG on Twitter or Instagram. Thanks 🙂

Photo: Anthony DELANOIX (via Unsplash)