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Gen Z feels pressured to establish an online brand early in life


There are teenagers out there today who’ve grown up alongside their audience of millions.

Take Amanda Steele, 19, who built up 2.7 million YouTube subscribers through her beauty-vlogging career. She said she couldn’t have imagined her life would follow such a path when she launched the channel in 2010.

“I loved watching YouTube videos and loved making them myself; I was going to do it whether people cared or not,” Steele told Business Insider. “The beauty community at the time knew of certain products and trends I loved learning about, unlike anyone in my personal life. Success, for me, was having an audience that just cared about the things I did. YouTube was just a home and escape for me. Somewhere I could truly be myself.”

But establishing a distinctive voice online wasn’t always easy.

Steele spoke about how, early in her career, negative comments would cause her to second-guess herself. In some cases, she faced criticism for changing her style as her sensibilities continued to evolve before the eyes of her followers.

“I was particularly stressed out during the times I was really trying to figure out who I was as a person, what my style was, and what I wanted from life while my audience needed me to have it all figured out,” she said.

Read more: THE STATE OF GEN Z: America’s teenagers reveal what they think about everything

Some members of her audience didn’t seem to take into account that she was growing up and fully entitled to experiment and change her mind. For many, any changes to Steele’s “brand” posed a problem.

“They knew me as a certain way and style, so if I tried new things, they thought I wasn’t being genuine,” she said. “I realized what came first was for me to learn who I was, and then I could be that person for people to look up to.”

But problems associated with online branding don’t just affect YouTube stars. The median member of Gen Z was just two years old when Facebook launched in 2004. Social media has always been an important part of their lives.

But young people often have a complicated relationship with online platforms. They’re not just seeking connections or battling smartphone addiction. They feel pressure to build personal brands, whether those brands center on fashion, selfies, travel pics, or posts about their various accomplishments.

In Business Insider’s survey of 1,884 young Americans, 53.75% of respondents said they used social media to look at what other people are doing. And this pursuit of a picture-perfect image can trigger anxiety and stress at a young age.

Yutong Yuan/Business Insider

“It’s sometimes silly that people go above and beyond for just an Instagram post, even though they’re not influencers,” 20-year-old Aynour Elkasaby told Business Insider. “There’s too much effort being put into stuff like this that could be put into stuff that could be more productive.”

Elkasaby said that she herself has previously “overthought” her own posts on social media.

“People need to be more confident in who they are and do things because they want to and not because they think they have to,” she said.


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