(This post originally appeared on Entrepreneur)
Perhaps you’ve heard of Charli D’Amelio? If you haven’t you should. Particularly if you’re looking to build a brand on social media. D’Amelio is just 16 years old, and yet she’s managed to pull off something no one else has done so far. She’s accumulated more than 100 million followers on TikTok, the popular video-sharing social networking service.
“100 million people supporting me,” D’Amelio tweeted. “I truly cannot believe that this is real.” For the record, it’s not just TikTok where D’Amelio is popular. She also has 4.9 million followers on Twitter and almost 34 million on Instagram, a number that far surpasses some of the biggest brands in the world.
Of course, D’Amelio is not the only one with eye-popping numbers. Other young social media influencers like Addison Rae, Zach King and Loren Gray also have enormous followings on TikTok and Instagram. These entrepreneurs have received major sponsorship revenues from large corporations looking to have them endorse their products. And make no mistake about it, D’Amelio is shilling products and reportedly earning millions doing so. Good for her.
D’Amelio, at least for now, rules the roost, and the big question is: How? How does a teenage TikToker from Connecticut create a fan base bigger than the populations of most European countries while companies big and small spend millions to get themselves and their products noticed with much less success?
Many people believe that that it has to do with her authenticity, and there’s a lot of truth to that. In her many posts, D’Amelio comes across as, well, decent. She doesn’t appear fake. She doesn’t seem desperate to be liked. She’s a normal, relatable, teenager from a suburban American town that other teenagers can see themselves being friends with. She laughs a lot. She dances. She has her friends and family — and even fans — join her. She shows us her room, she shows us her home. She includes us (sometimes with disastrous consequences) in her family meals.
But it’s not just the authenticity of D’Amelio, and the many other young social influencers, that has created her success. There’s another, simple but darker reason. It’s bravery.
D’Amelio, and her many counterparts, have been the target of countless cruel, hurtful and nasty comments and attacks from thousands of haters, trolls and nutcases that seem to consider attacking a teenager with spiteful and malicious remarks to be nothing more than a fun sport to play.
“She’s chased around L.A. by camera-wielding men three times her age who shout invasive questions about her romantic life,” writes CNET’s Katie Collins. She’s been labeled “entitled,” “disrespectful” and “rude.” There’s also been a “massive influx” of commenters goading her to kill herself, according to Collins. “An inexcusable thing to say to someone for any reason, never mind to a child for something so innocuous.”
Could you or your company withstand such a thing? Probably not. But that’s just showbiz when you’re an online influencer. To succeed in that world you need to grow a thick skin and brave the negativity. Of course, D’Amelio loves the attention and the celebrity. But then again, who wouldn’t? What, you wouldn’t want your company to have 100 million followers online promoting your products? Of course you would. D’Amelio does this, and she profits.
Most business owners and corporate brands I know would wither at such attacks. They’re afraid of being hated. They don’t want to stick their necks out. They prefer not to stand out from the crowd. They avoid controversy. They want to be liked by everyone. They can’t stand the abuse that comes automatically when you do almost anything online nowadays. And by doing so, they give something up: a bigger audience for their products.
If you’re afraid of your company being attacked like D’Amelio online, then you’ll never amass 100 million followers for your products. But if you can get over that issue and you’re brave, like D’Amelio, there are rewards to be reaped.