Anyone can be an influencer now — luck of the algorithm be damned.
A first-of-its-kind college major will now teach spotlight hopefuls the art of influencing and content creation in just three years.
The catch? The uniquely Gen Z program is only available at South East Technological University in Carlow, Ireland.
The college already offered “Digital Hustle,” a summer crash course taught by viral TikTokers and field experts, for the last two years, but it couldn’t adequately cover the many facets of the industry like an undergraduate degree could.
“We knew there was a space and need for this, we just needed to develop the course into a bachelor’s degree and get it ratified,” Irene McCormick, a senior lecturer at the university, told the Washington Post.
The bachelor of the arts degree promises prospective students the chance to turn their screen time hobby into a career by becoming experts in social media theory and use while learning how to connect with target demographics online.
The major will take 40 tech-savvy students in its cohort next year, although McCormick is expecting many more to be turned away after the popularity of the university’s summer course.
The Post has reached out to the program director, Dr. Eleanor O’Leary, for further comment.
Schools such as USC, Cornell, Duke and Chapman have offered one-off courses in influencer strategy, business and communications, but SETU has become a pioneer as the first to dedicate an entire major to the job.
“One thing that’s really great about teaching college classes is that I’m teaching digital natives — they live and breathe this stuff,” Tom Hafen, a brand management in the digital age professor at Columbia University, told The Post.
Rather than explaining execution — like how to post on Instagram or piece together a TikTok — he can focus on the theories behind influencer advertising.
Schools such as USC, Cornell, Duke and Chapman have offered one-off courses in influencer strategy, business and communications, but SETU is evolving as a pioneer, dedicating an entire major to the job.Getty Images
The influencer marketing industry is valued at more than $21 billion, and, coupled with the rise of influencer culture, more chronically online youngsters see the entrepreneurial job title as an attainable prospect.
In fact, more than half of Gen Zers believe they could easily make a lucrative career out of content creation and digital product pushing.
“You might get lucky, but you won’t understand why you’re going viral,” which can make virality difficult to replicate, Hafen explained.
Instructors, then, must focus on the strategies behind content creation, rather than the specific platforms themselves.
“Influencer marketing is the best thing that we have, in order to get people to think someone like me uses this product, the product is good for someone like me,” said Hafen, who noted that social media is a primary way of sharing information.
And, in recent years, there has been increased demand from employers for content creation and social media savvy from Gen Z.
“So it’s absolutely critical, particularly for entrepreneurs, but big companies are using it more and more,” he noted to The Post.
SETU appears to be the first college to offer an entire major dedicated to content creation and social media.Getty Images
Cornell University communications professor Brooke Erin Duffy mused that preferences for remote work and maintaining “control over their lives” may be spurring the social media gold rush.
“Now, more than ever, everyone wants to maintain a semblance of control over their lives,” she told the Washington Post. “And an influencer career promises an independent entrepreneurial career.”
But the race to internet superstardom may not be more than a pipe dream.
Duffy cautioned that the prospects of success are no more than a mirage marketed by platforms despite an online environment of “uncertainty and precarity,” making “specific platform-based training outdated almost immediately.”
In other words, the rapid evolution of social media and trend cycles could make the entire degree worthless before ever receiving the diploma.
“Any program that tries to bill itself as a space to learn about the industry is really going to have to focus on higher-level concepts,” Duffy argued.
“We knew there was a space and need for this, we just needed to develop the course into a bachelor’s degree and get it ratified,” said McCormick.Getty Images/iStockphoto
But influencing or content creation is much more than staying on top of trends and knowing how to utilize platforms.
Dylan Huey, CEO of Reach, an on-campus organization for student creators, said it’s more than “just making TikToks” — it’s akin to managing your own business with finances and taxes.
“I think that we’re still so, so early in terms of the amount of classes that should be taught for influencers, and for social media, and that landscape,” he told ABC News.
“But it’s very cool just to see universities are starting to understand the value of the creative economy and its impact in the entertainment industry as a whole.”
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