Followers Aren’t Everything: The Truth Behind Becoming A Social Media Star

Ever since social media fame became a thing, I debated whether the Internet was cultivating a mass amount of low-quality content that needed to stop or if it was actually pretty damn legit.

Eventually, I decided to morph my differing points into one: a very small percentage of people actually take their social media fame and turn it into a substantial career that goes beyond the Internet and into highly creative and quality projects.The rest are left to enjoy 15 minutes of fame only to scramble when they’re in their early thirties and life hits them hard.

If you’re thinking, “you’re just bitching because you don’t have a lot of followers,” that’s cool. I have back up.

Recently, Joey Gatto, a YouTuber with over 200,000 subscribers, more than 8 million video views, over 60 million Vine loops, and numerous successful tours, made a video saying why he went back to school and decided to no longer be a full-time YouTuber.

I got a chance to chat with Joey and ask him some questions about his new outlook on life and his future; believe me, you’re going to want to know what he has to say.

What finally clicked and made you realize YouTube isn’t forever?

Joey: “There were definitely multiple factors that lead me to my epiphany. The main thing was my relationship. I was dating this incredibly intelligent and ambitious girl. She was taking a full load of classes and doing internships while I sat at home and talked to a camera once a week. We would talk about marriage and I could see the concern for our financial future in her eyes. Even though at the time I was making very good money I came to realize why she worked so hard. She wanted her future protected… these were things I never even thought of. What was my worth if YouTube went away? I began to feel extremely unsafe and vulnerable. Entertainment is so wildly unsustainable because it’s so dependent on your looks and connections. Talking to a camera does not mean you can act. Selling records does not mean you can sing. Editing a challenge video does not qualify you to be an editor. What was I really adding to my resume? Twitter followers? I mean that’s cool and all but I’d rather not depend on that for work when I have two kids and a mortgage to pay.

At a certain point did you feel as if you had to quit school to become a successful YouTuber or was it more of a “I’m over school I want an easier life” type of thing?

Joey: “It was definitely an “I’m over school I want an easier life” type of thing. To be even more blunt, it was a “I really want to be famous thing.” That being said, it was foolish. Anyone who says they can’t post a video once a week while they’re in college is kidding themselves. Unless they’re working a very time-consuming part-time job (like I am now). Those two years I was out of school I had a disgusting amount of free time. It makes me sick looking back on how much time I lost. The only real benefit was never feeling restricted when it came to traveling to events. That’s not really valid though since Josh Sobo never dropped out of school and he rarely missed an event. I should say that I don’t regret my past decisions. I am happy with where I am right now and have my past to thank. I just don’t think it’s what I would tell my children to do. I got very lucky.

What was your life-like at your peak YouTuber days compared to now that you’re a student again?

Joey: “Ironically I was much happier then. That’s only because I was much more stupid. Ignorance is bliss right? I was getting paid thousands of dollars to talk about companies in my videos for 30 seconds. I was getting paid to travel across the country with my best friends. Everything was cool. Now? I’m taking 13 credits, working 24-36 hours a week at this one job, interning 3-6 hours a week at another and I just got hired today as an economics tutor! I’m stressed and sad and have no life. But, at least I can sleep at night knowing I’m trying my hardest. I could never live that life I was living before. I could never fall asleep now knowing that all I had was YouTube. My grades have actually slipped since I stopped posting videos because I have had to get a normal job and pay bills. I have lost so much studying time (ironic right?). That’s a big reason why I’ll be posting a lot more this year. I can’t afford not to. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy doing it. I’ve been making videos my whole life. I just don’t want my life to depend on it anymore.

Was there a certain pressure you felt in producing challenge videos that held no quality opposed to videos that teach or inspire because of audience demand?

Joey: “There is definitely pressure to maintain a certain view count because 1) It’s your reputation and 2) that’s where the money ultimately comes from. Challenge videos are an easy way to keep views high so I guess there was pressure to make them. I never made that many but I definitely would base videos around pop culture topics for those same reasons. It’s hard to make a video I consider educational or inspirational because that’s not why people ever followed me! There has to be a balance. I try to be the same Joey on YouTube while talking about things I’m passionate about on other social media platforms. You don’t want to sound like an annoying preacher… you want to be someone who others can relate to or enjoy watching and then they find out who you really are. Leading by example is really the best way to change someone’s mind… not shoving your beliefs down their throat.”

What did it feel like when you realized a large following is completely irrelevant to a happy life? Saddened or freed?

Joey: In my deepest moments of sorrow I would look at my social media followers and just think about how fake it all felt. I got followers because of people I knew helping me out and me hopping on trends… never for anything I was truly passionate about. Everyone wants to be famous but nobody cares about how they get it. That’s so sad to me. Look, if my music blows up, I’ll be so hyped because I work so hard on it and I am actually proud of it. Gaining subscribers off a collab with a YouTuber you don’t even like is just not fulfilling.

To think you gained something so many people covet without ever really valuing the craft is just sad. An even bigger issue is, most YouTubers contribute nothing to society. Making little girls smile is not a fucking accomplishment. Nobody will remember your viral challenge video. Shoutout to Tyler Oakley and Grace Helbig for being so vocal about the things they believe in. I really look up to them and hope more people follow in their footsteps.

These kids really look up to these YouTubers. We all have a responsibility. Bo Burnham said something along the lines of, ‘Taylor Swift telling you to follow your dreams is like a lottery winner telling you to liquidize your assets and buy Powerball tickets.’ It’s true. We may have talent but it’s more so that we all are very lucky. With this blessing of influence comes responsibility. I’m sure that I sound like I am knocking entertainment and doing what you love but that is not my intention. I just want people to be realistic.

Joe Santagato is a great example. He dropped out of school (and school is not for everyone) but he had a great job at Elite Daily. He didn’t leave to do entertainment until he was extremely secure with career in comedy. He had double the followers I did when I would ask him why he works a full-time job. He would always tell me to ‘never put all my eggs in one basket’. That’s all I mean. Do what you love, but don’t be a dumbass.

See? A shit ton of followers don’t mean nearly as much as people think.

Take Joey’s advice, do what you love, but don’t be a dumbass, then combine it with Joe’s “never put all of [your] eggs in one basket.” If you want to post content online, seriously, go for it, but have a backup because you won’t have your entire life ahead of you forever; eventually it will be in front of you and you will have to face it.

Feature Image via Joey Gatto.

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