It's an influencer's world right now. Just about everyone with a computer is spending more and more time on social media platforms, obsessing over the behavior of celebrities, and that has led to the rise of the influencers — people with a huge social media following whose opinion has been deemed worthy of attention by the masses.
Baby Ariel is 18 now, and she's been posting videos since she was 14, mainly on the site now called TikTok (originally called Musical.ly). At the time of writing, she has approximately 29.3 million followers on that app, plus over 3 million YouTube subscribers, 9.4 million Instagram followers and over a million Twitter followers.
That's an incredible amount of people to be hanging on the every word of a teenager. And yet there's still a fairly large number of people who don't really know what an influencer is, never mind what they do.
"The cool thing about right now is anyone can go on social media," says Ariel, real name Ariel Rebecca Martin. "An influencer does not feel like a celebrity or a person who is so far away, or out of touch. It's like somebody of influence who is a lot closer to the audience than normal. We're able to interact with our fans and supporters, make videos and talk to them in comments about certain videos. Tweet at them 24/7. Instagram 24/7. They can see what we're doing all the time, and they really are like any other 'celebrity' or person of that space, because we each have our own thing that we like to do. The same way that you'd watch TV, you can watch the Food Network, there is a food YouTuber who is doing the same thing, showing recipes, but they're able to interact closer to their audience."
That close connection with the audience is key — the ability, and work ethic, to consistently and constantly post content while consistently and constantly talking about it.
"For me, I put out my music and I put out everything on YouTube and Apple Music, but that's not the end of it," Ariel says. "I'm able to go on Instagram and Twitter and Snapchat, and am able to discuss with my fans what they feel about the music and how the music makes them feel. So I think it's a closer relationship that we have."
The term "influencer" implies (pretty strongly) that they have influence over their audience — that their suggestions, reviews, ideas and lifestyle choices are taken seriously.
"A lot of the people who follow me are 10- to 17-year-old girls," Ariel says. "That's my main demographic. My goal has always been to be a big sister to them and to be as close to them as possible. I want to share nothing but honesty and truth with them, and what I want to do is go online and share my real story. My terrible times, my difficult times, the moments when I've had my heart broken, but also share my happiest moments as well. It's what I truly want to do."
So how does a budding and keen social media dweller get started on the road to influencer-hood? Ariel says that literally anybody can do it.
"There are so many platforms and so many ways to start on social media," she says. "You can start on Instagram. Whatever your passion is, you can record it, videotape it, talk about it on Twitter, post your daily life on Snapchat. You need a phone or video camera, a computer. But still, whatever you want to do — whether it's you shooting basketballs, or cooking your favorite recipes, or making music — and post it to any platform. You'll attract the right audience, because you'll attract people who are interested in the same thing as you are. Over time, you'll keep growing and meeting new people online. Consistency as well. Be open to posting anything, and be consistent with it. Create a schedule for yourself."
That makes it sound very easy, but the pool is incredibly crowded. Standing out is the challenge, when hundreds of thousands of people are making YouTube videos of themselves opening toys, lip-syncing to pop hits or performing ludicrous stunts and pranks, hoping to make a fortune.
"It is difficult," Ariel says. "I was lucky that I started in Musical.ly when that was very new, so we grew together. I was able to figure myself out as they were figuring their platform out. But no matter what, what I've learned is that at the end of the day you need to do something different if you want to, but follow your heart and trust your instincts. Try new things. Think outside of the box. Be quirky — don't be afraid to be a little weird because everybody's a little weird and they're watching and it's OK."
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Baby Ariel has launched her own music career, with the "Gucci on My Body" single released last summer and the "I Heart You" follow-up dropping last month. Initially, she wanted to keep her own music and her role as an influencer separate, but now they're overlapping by design.
"I had to slowly introduce music into the mix, or else it would have been too sudden," she says. "So it's not like, 'She's a social media influencer who also does music,' it's more like, 'She's an artist.' If you go to my Instagram, it's all about music now. YouTube is all about music. So I've really tried to make that cross as organic as possible. I hope they're all one and the same now."
Baby Ariel knows exactly what she's doing. She splits her time between L.A., Miami and New York City, and she travels elsewhere as often as possible, because her audience likes to see her in their hometown or country. And her #ArielMovement campaign endeavors to combat bullying, cyber and otherwise.
"I was getting a ton of hate online, just for being me and posting videos that I wanted to post," she says. "I was super confused, and I made this YouTube video addressing the problem. This should not be happening — we need to all just be ourselves, learn to love each other and avoid the hate. After that video, I got a really positive response and a lot of my fans contacted me and started sharing their stories with me. How they were bullied online, in school or wherever. I wanted to create a community where we could all go under this hashtag and talk together about our stories."