How Much Would It Cost To Live Like A Social Media Celebrity?

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Rob Teitelman Contributor
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Everyone’s familiar with the old Andy Warhol quote, “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes”. These days, it feels like prophecy, as social media sites slowly democratize celebrity status, and new, young influencers emerge from the woodwork with increasing regularity.

Less well known is this quote, from comedian and actor Steve Martin: “A celebrity is any well-known TV or movie star who looks like he spends more than two hours working on his hair.” While the beginning bit about TV and movies has changed recently, the last part still rings true. In most cases, it takes immense time and effort to be a celebrity – and it can also be quite expensive.

It isn’t uncommon to see an Instagram star gallivanting around the South of France, nor is it uncommon to find YouTube celebrities filming themselves at an Onsen spa in a remote corner of Japan. These people have seemingly endless stores of time and wealth. How much, one has to wonder, does all this cost?

Well, let’s take the example of Michelle Lewin, one of the largest social media influencers who wasn’t previously a celebrity (the Kardashians, for example, while enormously popular on social media, had prior notoriety to work with). A body builder and fitness expert, Lewin has gained attention, to the tune of around 13 million Instagram followers, by posting selfies in the gym and around the world.

Recently, she’s taken selfies in Egypt, Italy, Miami, India, Mexico and a number of other places, all within the last year. Assuming she’s staying in fancier hotels, eating fancier meals and flying direct, each of those trips has to cost thousands, if not tens of thousands of dollars – where most people would need to win the lottery to afford such trips, Lewin appears to afford it all handily, with money to spare on designer clothing. And for what, you might ask. For the opportunity to gather a few likes?

As it turns out, social media influencers can stand to make a lot of money, not only from their own personal merchandise (Lewin sells diet supplements, books and clothing through her website), but through partnership deals as well. It’s estimated that Lewin makes as much as $10,000 per Instagram post through partnership deals – suddenly, seeing her pop up in a new exotic locale every week starts to make a little more sense.

Other platforms have different methods of monetization. YouTube for example, despite recently tightening its rules around monetization, offers on average about three dollars per thousand views, which means that if your video hits a million views, you’ll be getting a payout of about 3,000 dollars. That number, of course, fluctuates widely depending on viewers’ engagement with ads, but it gives you a rough idea of YouTube’s basic monetization. From there, prominent YouTubers can make extra cash by the same partnerships and sponsorships as their Instagram counterparts.

Binging With Babish, the popular YouTube cooking channel, makes additional money with various sponsorships, some of which are food companies and others (like the anime distributor Crunchyroll) one could call “food adjacent”. The channel, which features the titular Babish – real name Andrew Rea – sees its host recreating dishes from shows and movies, and its content was high quality right out of the gates. Chalk that up to Rea’s prior experience in the filmmaking industry, but that, coupled with his presence on other platforms like Reddit, was the key to his early success. And it’s the reason that so many social media stars fail.

While being a social media celebrity is lucrative, becoming one can be expensive and time-consuming. Viewers often expect high production value, far-flung places and a near-constant stream of updated content – have all that and maybe you can turn your relevance into profit. But good cameras, editing equipment, plane tickets, hotel rooms, nice clothes and the myriad of other small things it takes to make it as a social media celebrity don’t come cheap, and unless you have rich parents or some seriously solid connections, the club can feel awfully exclusive.

That’s not to say there isn’t hope. While it often costs a lot to be a social media celebrity, you can circumvent those costs with enough wit, ingenuity and self-marketing. No one says you have to be a fitness guru like Lewin, or a film savant like Rea in order to get your 15 minutes of fame – but it certainly helps.

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Rob Teitelman