YouTubers are quitting their day jobs to influence full time. Their followers aren't always impressed.
Screenshots of Barbu and Miccio's "quitting" videos. Image: natalie barbu and brooke miccio By Anna Iovine2020-01-26 11:00:00 UTC “Today I am filming the most nerve-wracking video I’d have to film in quite a while,” said 23-year-old Natalie...
“Today I am filming the most nerve-wracking video I’d have to film in quite a while,” said 23-year-old Natalie Barbu. As she avoided looking into the camera she continued, “I feel like I can’t even make eye contact.”
Barbu, who in addition to having over 250,000 YouTube subscribers, hosts her own podcast called and owns a . Like her peers, she garnered a following during her college days when she documented her life as a student. She then transitioned to post-grad life, and she's now one of many YouTubers whose channel is mostly made up of vlogs about everyday living.
These vloggers made their following with “relatable” college and subsequently workplace content. Their viewership includes many people who are just like them: Young women (perhaps themselves post-grad or almost post-grad) who have a skincare routine, a busy schedule, and a lot of #goals.
But what happens when what made these people gain their following — their day-to-day, “relatable” lives — are ushered out and instead we see their increasingly not relatable influencer lifestyle?
A different breed of influencer
There are many influencers with larger-than-life personas out there already. There’s Jeffree Star, who just of his ; David Dobrik, who ; and James Charles, who , just to name a few. They've long ago surpassed relatability and have actually parlayed their online fame and lavish lifestyles into bankable success.
But the influencers we're talking about here are a different breed. They are not at the helm of a makeup company like Star or the leader of the Vlog Squad like Dobrik. They built their following doing day-to-day “normal” activities: going to school, doing homework, discovering themselves, and growing into adulthood. When they did not post vlogs they posted Q&As about their life, or informative videos about topics their audience cares about like how to study well and about hookup culture.
The path between influencer and viewer was parallel from school to that first post-grad job — the leap into the “real world” that the younger millennials and Gen Zers had been dreading. But as these influencers juggled full-time jobs with their online personas, many of them leveraging platforms with hundreds of thousands of followers, the balancing act became too much. Their lives were no longer similar to their non-famous viewers.
Vlogs about vlogging: the influencer’s ouroboros.
Given that they were making enough money to sustain themselves on YouTube, these “9-to-5” influencers — those who make content specifically in this "relatable," vlog-my-life space — have been quitting their day jobs, seemingly one after another. And as they do, their content shifts almost overnight from being before/after work vlogs to vlogs about them working from home and maintaining their online personas.
Vlogs about vlogging: the influencer’s ouroboros.
“I was impressed that they even went to get a full time job in the first place,” said Tiffany Ferguson. A YouTuber herself, Ferguson is famed for her “Internet Analysis” series. There she dissects different areas of influencer culture, including relatability and the drama community. She recently surpassed 500,000 subscribers and told me that after she graduates college, she plans on doing YouTube full-time herself.
Ferguson identified that pressures — from parents, friends, society at large — could have lead these influencers to go the “traditional” route in terms of finding a job. From my outsider's perspective, it also seems like it would be enticing to have at least two reliable income sources.
It should also be noted that while many YouTubers like Barbu have recently taken the leap into full-time influencing, there are plenty who are still balancing their online platforms and a day job.
, a YouTuber boasting 130,00 subscribers with a tech sales job in Silicon Valley, said she worries about the uncertainty of the influencer marketing industry. This worry meant she never even considered YouTubing full-time as an option.
“This sort of influencer marketing landscape could collapse at some point,” she said, “just seeing how much marketers would pay influencers, despite sort of a lack of transparency on ROI [return on investment] there.”
The backlash to quitting
Many of the comments on Barbu’s "so i quit my job" video were quite positive — calling her aspirational, a “girl boss” — but others were not. One commenter said she was disappointed precisely because not a lot of YouTubers have 9-to-5 jobs. Some people said they saw it coming, in a tone that made it seem like they were rolling their eyes as they typed.
Like Barbu, YouTuber Brooke Miccio took a full-time job only to quit months later. Shortly after graduating University of Georgia, Miccio moved to Boston to work a sales job all while vlogging her experience to over 200,000 subscribers, as well as co-hosting a podcast, , with her friend Danielle Carolan.
While Miccio had her job, it was clear from her vlogs that she was unhappy — and she said when she quit her viewers were not surprised. “I’m very open on my channel,” Miccio told me. Some videos showed her crying, her frustration with her schedule, and how she did not enjoy the day-to-day of sales. “I think people were like, ‘Wow, this girl's like really going through it right now,’” she said of that time before she quit.
Miccio was at her sales job for six months before she left, which she announced in her video “.” Miccio estimated that “97 percent” of commenters were positive when she posted her video. She hesitated to call the remaining three percent “haters” during our phone call because “to a certain extent,” she told me, “I totally understand where they're coming from.”
Gabrielle, a 27-year-old pediatric respiratory therapist, is in that three percent of Miccio’s viewers. “I feel like recently it has almost become a trend or ‘the cool thing’ for youtubers to leave their job to go to ‘full-time influencing,’” she said in an email. “When Brooke Miccio quit her 9-5 at Oracle she was constantly making jokes out of it and even made merch stickers saying ‘Big Quitter Energy.’ It was like she was encouraging her followers to quit their jobs.”
Gabrielle said Miccio’s reaction to the criticism gave her a bad taste in her mouth. But Miccio defended herself, saying that people may take what she says too seriously.
“Things get misconstrued online,” Miccio said. “I don’t take myself too seriously… I totally rationalize how that could upset someone, but in my head, I like to see it differently.”
Miccio also said she believes that the negative commenters are envious of her and other full-time YouTubers’ lifestyles. “It's more out of envy, at least that’s how I look at it,” she said.
Ferguson agrees that envy could factor into these criticisms. “I think a lot of people are like, ‘Shit, would I like to sustain myself and live this luxury life by doing sponsored Instagram posts and filming my day? Yeah, that would probably be great,’” she said.
Berry said she doesn't see jealousy as a factor, but instead thinks there's a misunderstanding about what exactly being a content creator entails. When viewers only see the glamorous part of being an influencer, like vlogs of a sponsored trip, they’re not seeing what goes on off-camera. They aren't privy to all the work that goes into filming, editing, posting, so they may think of YouTubers quitting as the “easy way out.”
But, as Berry noted, no one — employed or self-employed — likes their job 100 percent of the time. She said, “They're seeing [quitting] as an escape into fantasy versus it's really just a different career path that's probably similar a lot of ways but 'unrelatable' to most millennials.”
Ferguson pointed out that some of the criticism likely comes simply from viewers wanting something more substantial — especially the Gen Z cohort, many of whom were born in a post-9/11 world and came of age in the time of fat student loan payments, xenophobia at the hands of the Trump administration, and dangers to Roe v. Wade.
“I think the audience definitely is right to want a deeper discussion,” she said. They want to know about privilege and familial wealth and the inside scoop on how they are making their full-time YouTuber life work.
In addition to class privilege, many of these YouTubers benefit from white privilege. Influencers of color are treated differently by brands, from sponsored trips to how much they're paid. As long as they are not paid equally to their white counterparts, there will continue to be a gap between who can be a full-time influencer and who cannot. Miccio was the only person I spoke to who mentioned privilege during the conversation.
What happens to the content when making content is your job?
Since becoming a full-time influencer, Miccio has made subtle changes in her content. “I have to figure out a new way to like reposition myself and really get into the niches of what people want to see,” she said. Her viewers have given her feedback that now that her job is no longer “relatable,” she can still show her post-grad life — like her friends and her love life.
And indeed, Miccio’s content has shifted to include those aspects of her life; one of her latest vlogs included her getting ready for a date.
To her viewer Gabrielle, Miccio’s videos have changed in an unfavorable way: There's been an increase in sponsored deals. “I've noticed that her content has become mostly sponsored ads that seem far fetch. [sic] Like products she has never heard of and is just pushing all of these products on her followers in sponsored instagram posts to make more money.”
Michael Boyle, a college student and host of a podcast called , echoed Gabrielle’s criticisms more generally. “I think YTers who leaving their traditional 9-5 jobs is fine, as long as they dedicate their time to putting our genuine, thought out content,” he said.
Ferguson noted that being self-employed does not make for the most interesting content. “Once you make one video of you working from home, it's not going to be entertaining to do on a weekly or monthly basis because most of us are just sitting on our computers on our couch,” she said. “You have to find something else to cover in your life.” For the viewer, she explained, it could be off-putting to watch full-time YouTubers showing their social lives all the time while they have to sit in their offices.
Furthermore, it may be their 9-to-5 that helped create content in the first place. Berry, for instance, sees employment as a tool to help her channel grow, not a deterrent. “My job has helped the channel because it's very clear exactly what I do. And it's also something that not everyone talks about so much on YouTube,” she said.
Berry said that she makes videos about her career to educate her audience. She said her job has fueled her channel, and she has no plans to quit.
"Relatable" or nah?
At the heart of all of this is the ever-elusive “relatability” factor and whether there's enough to maintain a connection to their audience.
Miccio, for her part, denied adding content to her videos with the sole agenda of appearing relatable. “I think it's partially intentional and partially — I mean, at the end of the day, my channel is a true reflection of my life and it just so happens that that's the point of my life that I'm at right now,” she said.
“It affects their ‘relatability’ immensely and a lot of times it ends up hurting their growth as an influencer. A lot of them who pride themselves as being ‘on the go’ change very fast,” Boyle said — perhaps as a dig at Miccio, whose podcast is called "Gals on The Go." He further explained, “Watching them wake up at 9Am and stroll into their daily soul cycle class in an expensive workout fit after grabbing a $6 coffee from the coffee shop just isnt [sic] interesting.”
'I think the quality of the content is what matters to me most.'
To Gabrielle, it’s not being “relatable” that makes her subscribe and stay a fan — it’s being interesting. “If they are just vlogging their everyday nail appointments, target and whole foods run then no. If they show like the behind the scenes of what it's like being a full time influencer, what goes into making a vlog and editing, etc I think that is interesting.” She continued, “I follow a ton of creators who I do not relate to as well. I love watching tiny home living vlogs, travel vloggers, etc. I think the quality of the content is what matters to me most.”
Barbu said, however, that relatability is the point in the cohort of YouTubers she’s in. Jeffree Star is popular because he is not relatable, because he flaunts his expert makeup talents and wealth. That is what his viewers come for. Barbu and YouTubers like her hit a different nerve. “The lifestyle community that I'm in… It's meant for being relatable, and that's what people find interesting,” she said.
Berry also said that relatability is essential for her channel. While she is impressed at other YouTubers who decide to become self-employed, she believes that if she made the same move it would negatively impact her channel. She mused that if she quit her job, “I can imagine that I would get a lot of people unsubscribing or just being completely confused why I would contradict myself after so many videos of supporting the working world.”
Miccio herself is totally over the term. “I hate that concept of ‘relatable,’” Miccio said. “I think there’s a spectrum of relatability.” She said viewers can relate if they are post-grads or living in a new city. She does not necessarily have to be the same as viewers in all aspects in order to be “relatable.”
Relatable or not, it’s likely — at least until the “influencer bubble” bursts — that more people will go the route of Miccio, Barbu, and others. And it's just as likely that their viewers will not fully be on board.
Berry sees the negativity over YouTubers quitting as a sign that people do not know the downsides of full-time influencing. Not only can they be isolated from others and end up working seven days a week, but their livelihoods (or at least part of it) is totally dependent on an algorithm that can change whenever, pulling the rug out from under them.
Maybe the difficulties of influencing can be documented just like the agonies of a full-time job have been. It can be something else the vloggers can vlog about.