Rachel Aaron, 24, who works in public relations in New York, recently dressed up for a work event at Bloomingdale’s. In the age of TikTok “ready with me” videos, this is a golden opportunity to create content.
Ms. Aaron, who has just 3,300 followers on TikTok, snapped herself chatting to the camera while opting for a black Skims dress, blazer and belt. Her posts garnered hundreds of views and some likes, like “Slay mamas.”
Ms Aaron is neither a big social media star nor a celebrity. At least not yet. But she belongs to a generation that is increasingly posting on social media in the manner of a professional influencer: sharing daily routines, promoting or unboxing products, modeling clothing and advertising personal Amazon storefronts. These videos are often viewed as cool and entrepreneurial by peers (and sometimes confused parents). They can also bring in free stuff and extra cash.
Ms. Aaron listed an email on her TikTok profile for brand inquiries, as well as a link to her page on Linktree, which aggregates her business relationships in one place to show her Influence as a fashion leader. Among those links is her Poshmark page, where she resells her clothes.
“People my age are more generally accepting of talking to the camera and offering product recommendations and things like that,” Ms. Aaron said.
She added that Generation Z — defined as a group of people born between 1997 and 2012 — are particularly adept at these kinds of conversations and are used to regular people peddling their wares on YouTube and Instagram. “For my peers and a lot of the Gen Z creators I know, it’s probably less daunting that we’re talking on camera like we’re FaceTimeing a friend,” she said.
Since people like Ms. Aaron spend their time on TikTok and other social media sites, it’s no big deal for them to act like advertisers who don’t feel bad about going door-to-door or offering multi-level marketing pitches. Awkward.
The driving idea is that anyone can be a creator and bring money and free product from companies eager to work with the young and savvy on TikTok, where brands struggle to break into the market. More than 70 percent of women ages 18 to 29 follow an influencer or content creator on social media, and half of them follow an influencer’s post, according to a Pew Research Center survey last year. Then buy something.
“You might have 12 followers, and you’re selling swag,” says Vickie Segar, founder of influencer agency Village Marketing. “The macro movement of everyone becoming a creator, and the idea that creators should monetize themselves in every avenue they possibly can, is creeping down into the common man.”
Ngozi Oka, a 21-year-old junior at the University of Buffalo, said she was inspired to venture into TikTok influence after speaking to the black student union on her campus about people of color and women in makeup.
“I was like, if I can create PowerPoint, I think I can create TikToks,” said Ms. Gang, who about There are 5,100 fans on the platform, who make videos about hair and wigs.
Ms. Oka said she created a new email account for business inquiries on her TikTok profile, along with links to her Linktree, which lists recommended wigs, and her Amazon storefront. She earns a small commission when people buy her picks on Amazon. Despite the low profile, Ms. Oka said several brands have approached her to endorse their products, earning her hundreds of dollars.
The mere presence of Linktree and an Amazon storefront helps show that you’re “very focused on the whole content creation and impact space,” she says.
“If you go to someone’s page and see it, it’s very compelling,” Ms Oka added. “It’s kind of like LinkedIn.”
Since most social media sites only allow users to promote a link in their profile, millions of people insert a Linktree link into the space, directing visitors to a page listing their Any number of website lists you want to share. While several companies offer similar services, Linktree has attracted performers and social media personalities, from pop star Katy Perry to TikTok icon Dixie D’Amelio. Even the White House recently joined the service. (People also use Linktree for e-commerce, listing personal websites, Spotify pages, etc.)
“What Gmail is to email, Linktree is to ‘links in bio,'” says Benoit Vatere, chief executive of Mammoth Media, a marketing firm that connects TikTok creators with brands. “It’s a Gen Z identity.”
One of the top links to include is a link to an Amazon storefront where people can recommend clothing, makeup, body lotion, and more.
According to Linktree, its data shows that the majority of users who link to Amazon storefronts are not influencers, but people who act like influencers. 77% of the Amazon links created on Linktree in the last year came from users whose profiles had fewer than 1,000 visits.
Still, many young people spend a lot of time carefully curating their Amazon storefronts as part of their TikTok personas. Usually, this is the only link in their TikTok bios, or the first link on their Linktree page.
Chloe Van Berkel, a 19-year-old freshman at James Madison University, has 47 items listed on her Amazon storefront in categories including “skincare” and “summer essentials.” Ms. Van Berkel, who owns approx. 6,800 Douyin Followers say she earns a negligible commission from her storefront, about $10 a month. But, she added, there was always the possibility that the video would go viral and drive a lot of traffic to her website.
“It’s just a side hustle to help make more money, and obviously being able to promote something you like and tell your friends to buy it is pretty cool,” Ms Van Berkel said.
Ms. Van Berkel also receives free swimsuits and workout gear in exchange for their social media approval, where she estimates one in seven friends promote products on TikTok or Instagram in their spare time.
“All the time, people are making videos saying do this, buy this, this is what you need in your dorm room,” she said. “It’s definitely not something you look at and think it’s weird.”
The norm is different for many millennials and older generations, who may be even more upset to see social media friends suddenly pitching products to their phone cameras.
Ms Aaron said millennials often hesitate for a moment before speaking to the camera, what she and her friends jokingly refer to as the “millennial pause”.
College students are inspired by other undergraduates who have become famous on TikTok over the past few years. Several women pointed to the meteoric rise of Alix Earle, a senior at the University of Miami who has more than 5 million followers and prominently promotes her Amazon picks, while also collaborating with Nars and Cooperate with brands such as American Eagle.
Ms. Gun, who said she admired Monet McMichael, a TikTok star with more than 3 million followers who graduated from nursing school last year, said she thought it was an ideal balance.
But fame and a large following need not be the main goal.
“You don’t need to have thousands of followers, and that’s a big misconception a lot of people have,” Ms Gunn said. “Once you have that email on your resume and demonstrate that you’re impacting, and you want to do more impacting, I think you’ll grab the attention of the people you’re trying to find.”