Universities are starting TikTok classes for “influencers”

Bloomberg — Thirty Duke University students gather for one of their last classes of the school year on a Tuesday afternoon in April. But instead of preparing for final exams, they are shooting videos on TikTok.

Welcome to the university of Generation Z.

The new generation of social media stars is younger than ever and turning their success into lucrative careers before they even graduate, earning thousands of dollars a month. Universities are taking notice and launching classes to help students grow their brands online. The objective? Offer courses that help universities stay relevant at a time when a popular TikTok account is more valuable to some than a degree.

Natalia Hauser Photographer: Cornell Watson/Bloombergdfd

The Duke course, officially called “Building Global Audiences” (“Building Global Audiences”), but better known as “the TikTok class”, teaches students on the Durham, North Carolina, campus how to optimize their presence on social media. Over the course of the semester, students in Professor Aaron Dinin’s class have amassed 145,000 followers and 80 million views of the videos they’ve produced.

Natalia Hauser, a sophomore in the class, has about 227,000 followers, of which about 12,000 have been gained during the semester.. His TikTok account (@natisstyle) helps him generate between $1,000 and $7,000 a month through partnerships with brands like Barnes & Noble (BNED), Macy’s (M), Canon (CAJ), and Pepsi (PEP). Sometimes you can earn up to $5,000 for a single post.

Hauser's TikTok account has 227,700 followers.  Photographer: Cornell Watson/BloombergDFD

Hauser, whose videos focus primarily on her beauty and fashion routine as well as her family in Miami, said the class taught her how to negotiate with brands and figure out how much she could charge for her work.

“I think people don’t understand how much money there is in this industry,” Hauser said. “It involves a lot of negotiation and business.”

Teaching TikTok

Social media-centric classes are not a new concept in US colleges. As platforms like Twitter (TWTR), YouTube (GOOGL), and Instagram (FB) have taken on a central role in the culture of influencers (influencers), marketing and digital communication courses became an essential part of college education for anyone interested in pursuing that path.

Dinin, who has a Ph.D. in English and experience as a tech entrepreneur, had been teaching social marketing for the Innovation & Entrepreneurship Institute at Duke when he noticed how many students were doing some kind of business creation. content, and decided to create a class around it.

In addition to the Duke course, the Annenberg School at the University of Southern California and the University of Virginia offer similar programs. The skills to make money with an Internet presence are even more in demand now that the National Collegiate Athletic Association allows athletes to profit from their name, image and likeness.

Aaron Dinin teaches a class on “Building Global Audiences” at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, United States, on Tuesday, April 19, 2022. Photographer: Cornell Watson/Bloombergdfd

It wasn’t easy for Dinin to convince the Duke administration to offer these kinds of classes. To some at school, social media seemed like a fleeting phenomenon for young people. But Dinin sees it as a new form of communication and art.

“There’s a sense from older generations that being an influencer is a shallow, Gen Z-type thing,” Dinin said. “But the reality is that these media platforms are just the way the world is. There are a lot of business opportunities and a lot of scope.”

Content Creation

In the Duke class, the students, who collectively have some 600,000 followers across all platforms, compare their account analytics and goals, and discuss why certain posts perform well or not. Assignments consist of using a current TikTok trend as inspiration for a related video, then sharing the final product with classmates. They can shoot their own videos during class time, or spend time branding.

Bloomberg Wealth (@wealth): Welcome to the university of Generation Z

One of the most successful videos made this semester featured Hauser and his Venezuelan cousins ​​at a family reunion. It has three million views and 649,000 likes.

Students sometimes take advantage of their presence on the Internet to get jobs. Student Ben Chipman (@benchipman5), who makes videos about his style and his college life, landed an internship at LinkedIn in New York this summer, in part thanks to his experience building a personal brand.

Benjamin Chipman Photographer: Cornell Watson/Bloombergdfd

“I need a social media presence to get a job in places and positions that interest me,” he said. “There is an expectation that he has something to show for it.”

While pursuing content creation full-time can be a risky path, Athan Wright (@athanwrightt), a freshman who documents his life on a YouTube channel, plans to turn his newfound social media stardom into a career..

This Charlotte, North Carolina native posts videos about rites of passage like opening college acceptance letters and moving day, along with pranks that often involve students from rival University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Athan Wright Photographer: Cornell Watson/Bloombergdfd

On a sunny spring day at Duke, when high school seniors who had recently been admitted to the university visited en masse, several recognized Wright and approached him, saying they had watched his videos to prepare for University.

However, not everyone is so enthralled by his newfound fame.

“My mother is very worried about me,” he says.

drop out of college

The question of whether a college degree is really necessary for a content creator is one that many aspiring social media stars are grappling with, especially given the all-time high tuition fees. Meanwhile, revenue from custom posts on TikTok can range from $2,500 to $20,000, depending on followers and account engagement, according to Bullish Studios, a talent agency for influencers.

Data from research firm Statista shows that the global influencer economy has more than doubled since 2019 and was worth a record $13.8 billion in 2021. Of courseMost TikTok users earn nothing at all from their posts, and those looking to partner with brands often struggle to earn more than a couple hundred bucks here and there..

For some, the math is obvious. Mark Setlock (@financeunfolded) graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in finance and accounting, and had plans to work as an investment banker on Wall Street.

Mark Setlock Photographer: Emily Elconin/Bloombergdfd

He launched Finance Unfolded on TikTok in January 2021, and Setlock says he gained 60,000 followers in the first month. He received his first paid offer to make a 30-second video for $300 in March. By December, he was earning $40,000 a month, and he decided to drop out of college after just three semesters to pursue being a influencer full time. Now the 19-year-old says he’s signing six-figure endorsement deals.

“It made me think about all the possibilities and how legit this race can be,” says Setlock. “Not only would I make a lot more than I would out of college working on Wall Street, but I feel like I’m really making an impact on the world.”


Brianna Seaberg (@briseaberg) started at the University of Southern California with the intention of looking for a job in the business side of the entertainment industry. But after joining USC Reach, a student club for aspiring influencers, she sees her future in full-time content creation.

In recent years, the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism has modified its curriculum to train students on how to succeed in an increasingly digital world, including as influencers. Seaberg began taking some of the classes that help students build their personal brand. A course she took on the power of persuasion helped her negotiate a $1,000 sponsorship with Papa John’s. (PZA).

The college senior says she has earned more than $20,000 in about eight months, landing up to $5,000 in endorsement deals with major companies like H&M (HM-B), CoverGirl and Amazon. (AMZN). He has used the money for travel and activities, but has also contributed some of his income to a Roth IRA and invested in stocks through the popular Robinhood brokerage app. (HOD).

“I started to see that a lot of people in the club were making money from deals with brands and doing sponsored content, that opened my eyes,” he said. “Creating content for brands has not only given me financial freedom, but freedom in my life to be able to do more things.”

This article was translated by Andrea González

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