How social media influencers in the 6-12 age group are dealing with the pitfalls of internet fame
Like the actor, Anantya is a star, too. Over the last five years, the Noida-based kid has drawn 4.5 million subscribers to her slice-of-life-video channel MyMissAnand on YouTube. One of the latest videos on the channel is about how “normal” kids behave during the weeklong Navratri festival. The video, which subtly takes a dig at “rich” kids’ antics during this period, has over 5 million views. A video on cheating in exams showcases why the practice will get you in trouble. Another one, on fake versus real friendships, has over 11 million views and counting.
Anantya belongs to a new breed of content creators — the kids’ influencers. They are six-to-12-year-olds featuring in videos across genres — including singing, dancing, slime-making, sketches, challenges and reviews of toys, games and movies. “They have a novelty factor attached to their content and a cuteness quotient,” says Lakshmi Balasubramanian, founder of digital marketing agency Greenroom. “And they are extremely talented kids. Ergo, a lot of brands in toys, games, food and clothing for kids, are keen to collaborate with them.”
In the past year, Anantya has worked on sponsored videos with channels Disney and Nickelodeon, toymaker Mattel, and fast-food company McDonald’s, her mother says. But Anand is reluctant to talk about revenue. However, digital marketing agencies count Anantya among the most premium influencers in the category and say she can charge up to Rs 2-3 lakh per video.
While Instagram is the mainstay of online influencers, YouTube is where the little creators are most active. “Kids are more into watching DIY videos and cartoons, a space better served by YouTube at the moment,” says Arjun Sahu, Anantya’s uncle who manages the business for her channel.
Their towering presence across social media platforms gives them an edge companies look for — influence on followers. Marketing agencies peg the influencer marketing space to be worth Rs 1,200 crore in India. The kids’ influencers market is only a fraction of the whole pie right now, though the market size is not available. “In a few years, it could be one-tenth of the most revenue-generating segment in that industry — the tech influencers, who are known to charge up to Rs 25 lakh per video,” says Balasubramanian. “Yet,” she adds, “many of these kids are paid on a par with fashion and beauty bloggers — second in the influencer hierarchy after tech bloggers — because of increasing demand and limited supply of content creators.”
Relevant brands that ET Magazine reached out to said it was early days to comment on their influencer campaigns. Balasubramanian says: “The category is small but rising. With more kids entering the space, more brands will show interest.”
They have every reason to. According to the Indian Kids Digital Insights 2019 — a study conducted by Totally Awesome, an international children’s digital media company — 73% of kids consuming digital content ask their parents to buy something because a child influencer had it or used it. 81% of parents buy things their kids want because they were advertised by a child influencer, the study adds.
Besides Anantya, there are at least 7 prominent kids’ influencers in India at present. One of them is a pair of siblings from Kota in Rajasthan whose YouTube channel Aayu and Pihu Show has over 3.9 million subscribers. Featuring Ayush (Aayu) Kalra, 6, and his elder sister Prakruti (Pihu) Kalra, 12, the show consists of comedy sketches and challenge videos that end with a moral.
Ayush Kalra (6) and Prakruti Kalra (12) are the stars of the Kota Channel. Aayu and Pihu Show Comedy sketches and challenge videos ending with a moral.
Down south, Nihal Raj, 9, has a cookery channel called KichaTube. The pinned video on this channel, with close to 37,000 subscribers, is a clip from The Ellen DeGeneres Show that little chef Kicha, as he is popularly known, was invited to three years ago. Dressed in a chef’s uniform, Raj seems stoked about teaching the eponymous show’s popular host and actor how to make puttu, a steamed rice-cake dish, in a puttu kutty, a vessel used for making the popular breakfast item of Kerala.
These channels are run by parents who spearhead content writing and production — with a few inputs from the kids — in addition to engaging with brands. Advertising regulatory bodies in India and abroad discourage brands from featuring kids below eight in their ads without adult supervision. Showing children in an ad directly talking to kids is also avoided. Therefore, most brands prefer featuring influencer kids’ parents in these videos, too.
These guidelines notwithstanding, child influencers are all the rage right now in many parts of the world. One in every five British children wants to be a social media influencer, says a 2019 study by Awin, a global affiliate marketing network. Over the last couple of years, the UK has also seen institutions like Firetech Camp offer courses for aspiring child YouTubers at $1,000 a week. Stories of big earnings have added to the buzz.
In South Korea, a 6-year-old YouTuber Boram made news for buying a house worth $8 million from her influencer income. Last year, Forbes said an 8-year-old Los Angeles-based YouTuber, Ryan Kaji, was the highest-earning YouTuber of 2018, across all age groups and genres. His annual earning was $22 million.
However, the good in social media is often followed by the ugly. Kids’ influencers deal with the anxiety of subscriber count, likes and dislikes, and nasty comments. What makes this a problem is that they are at an impressionable age, often not able to grapple with the harsh realities of internet fame. There isn’t a single kids’ influencer who hasn’t had their fair share already. Anantya, who urges viewers to help her achieve a certain target of likes per video, is often criticised by her schoolmates for her videos. “People also tend to remark how we are earning off her,” Anand adds.
Most parents of these influencers avoid talking money with their wards. Anantya’s family, however, has kept nothing in hiding, says Anand. “We wanted her to know from us that money is coming in through these videos, before someone else told her.”
In the US, especially in states like California, the law dictates that 15% of earnings from a child’s labour of any kind must be kept in a trust fund called “Coogan account” till they turn 18. In India, and many other countries, there are no such guidelines.
Child therapist Sascha Kirpalani says parents play a vital role in helping these influencer kids deal with the ramifications of social media fame. “Children in the 6-12 age group value parents’ opinions. In their teens, peer influence tends to take over,” she says.
Anand often tells her daughter not to take criticism to heart. Anantya, though, doesn’t want to let go of her viewership. “Earlier, if someone said they didn’t like my video, I felt I did something wrong. Now, I ask them what exactly they didn’t like so I can work on it,” she says.
Instant stardom doesn’t seem to have hit her hard as almost everyone in her family is a YouTube star in their own right — her mother and her aunt run popular channels in the food, fashion and beauty segments.
But that is not the case with everyone.
In the case of the Kalra siblings, parents Piyush and Ruchi avoid discussing any numbers — likes, shares, subscribes, sponsored content — around the kids. While Piyush works on content and production, Ruchi handles comments and also features in the videos. Every weekend, fans, mostly children, come in droves to their home to meet the children. “We worry that fame shouldn’t go to their heads. We address their followers as ‘friends’ instead of ‘fans’ in front of them,” says Piyush. Pihu, the elder of the two kids, is often told her brother acts better than her. “I don’t take it to heart even if it is intended that way,” she says. “He is my brother. I am happy if he is doing well.” Aayu is not all that modest. “I like it when people say they like my acting. I like it, even more, when they say I act better than my sister,” he quips.
Comments, sadly, are not limited to sparking a harmless sibling rivalry. In the case of 8-year-old You-Tuber Kyra Kanojia, it has gotten a tad ugly. In the comments section on her channel Kyrascope Toy Reviews — where she reviews toys, games and movies for kids — some people started mocking her English pronunciation. “Some even made racist comments saying an Indian child is reviewing expensive toys and games,” says Manish Kanojia, her father.
Kyra seems to have taken the criticism well. “She is more conscious of her enunciation and questions whether something is even worth reviewing as she feels a sense of responsibility,” says Noida-based Kanojia, 43.
Platforms do have some protection for minors. In September, YouTube issued a revised policy guideline for all kids’ content. One of them was disabling comments from all videos under children’s channels right away. Both Instagram and Facebook require a user to be at least 13 years old before she can create an account. “We allow parents or representatives to have an account representing someone who is under 13 as long as it is clear in the bio that the account is run by the parent or representative,” a Facebook spokesperson says.
No matter what platforms do, parents have their task cut out. “They should try to help children identify the difference between a social media presence and their actual identity, and help them realise their worth is not determined by the number of likes or followers,” says Kirpalani, the therapist from Mumbai.
However, it is not the criticism but the addiction to fame that is worrisome. A year away from teenage, Pihu from Kota says she always wanted to be famous. “Now that I am famous, I want to keep working hard to stay famous.”
Ask Anantya what are the three most important things in her life and she promptly rattles off: “My parents, my grandma, and my videos,” only to quickly bump her “friends” over “videos”. “If I have the videos and no friends, then what is the point,” she adds.