Teen YouTuber Hannah Meloche seems to have everything. Millions of people hang on her every word, and she’s handsomely rewarded for her work. But the vlogger began feeling the pressure in October 2019 after she was slammed over some off-color commentary in one of her videos. Her reaction to the criticism, though, came as something of a surprise.
Meloche has been on YouTube since 2013 when at the age of 13 she started creating content on the platform. Throughout her teenage years, the schoolgirl – from Grand Rapids, Michigan – rose to become a significant influencer on the site. As of May 2020 her videos had clocked up over 136 million views.
Judging from the content on her YouTube channel, it appears Meloche has similar interests and hobbies to other teenagers her age. For instance, some of her videos have been on topics such as family, friends, vacations, school, dating and shopping. As a result, they seemed to provide a glimpse into her everyday experiences as a young girl.
Describing her YouTube channel, Meloche writes, “I’m Hannah Meloche welcome to ma life (sic)… Doing what I love! Travel, Lifestyle, Fashion, and whatever I feel like… Documenting my life with vlogs. Hopefully, you stick along on my crazy adventure. We’re gonna figure life out together.”
It’s fair to say then that through vlogging Meloche allowed her fans to follow her journey growing up. Over the years, the influencer has given her followers insights into her time at high school, graduation and getting her first apartment. And most recently she’s been posting about the gap year she took between high school and college.
However, while Meloche seemed open about sharing her life with the community she’d created online, it appears she was facing hidden pressures. And given that the concept of being an “influencer” is relatively new, her subscribers were no doubt unaware that there was a dark side of finding fame online.
While many will be aware of influencers and what they do, some of us will still be unclear about their actual definition. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, an influencer is simply, “someone who affects or changes the way that other people behave.” However, in recent years it’s acquired a secondary meaning. That is, “a person who is paid by a company to show and describe its products and services on social media, encouraging other people to buy them.”
Put simply, an “influencer” is someone with the ability to affect the actions or buying habits of others through their posts on social media. This usually takes the form of original content and is often sponsored by the brands it promotes. However, it’s important that such promotions are viewed as portraying the creator’s true feelings.
You see, influencers are now prevalent across most social media channels. These include YouTube, Instagram and Snapchat. And often their content takes the form of blog posts, video reviews or Instagram stories. The success of such posts relies on a relationship between the influencer and their audience that is more akin to receiving a recommendation from a trusted friend than a pushy endorser.
Perhaps what makes influencers seem more relatable to audiences is their path to fame. Yes, rather than being catapulted into the spotlight through traditional media, like TV and Film, these social media stars have often built up their fan bases slowly. As a result, they are able to build trust among their fanbase more gradually, adding to their credibility.
Where influencers differ from more traditional celebrities, like actors or musicians, is that their brand image usually revolves solely around their activities online. Furthermore, their audience perceives them mostly as a kind of tastemaker. As a result, it seems natural for them to use this status for monetary gain.
And while influencers might seem like a modern phenomenon, they actually have their roots in the formative years of the world wide web of the early 1990s. The new technology enabled people to connect and form relationships with others they’d never met in person. Furthermore, it also allowed people to access content from non-mainstream sources.
Indeed, the forums of the early web saw the emergence of the first kind of influencers. They existed on chat rooms built around a certain niche and became trusted authorities or sources of recommendations on their topic of expertise. And as internet users of all interests signed up to online communities, brands began to realize the potential these forums held in helping them better understand or reach their customers.
As forums took off online, retailers began covertly placing their products or clients in relevant chat rooms. Media firms later targeted influential moderators on message boards or MySpace users to promote their products. Soon, this practice became more prevalent. But it wasn’t until the rise of personal blogging that influencers, as we know them today, began to emerge.
Yes, it was through blogs that the modus operandi of influencers was established. You see, companies would send out free products to prominent bloggers with the aim of gaining a promotion or a review. However, as influencers have grown into powerful marketing machines, some brands now will pay thousands of dollars for exposure on their social media platforms.
According to an article published by the technology publication Wired in 2019, influencers with one million followers on Instagram can earn upwards of $10,000 for a single promotional post. But YouTube can prove even more lucrative. According to the magazine, a video by a vlogger with three million subscribers will cost a brand a minimum of $40,000.
Given the amount of money and power up for grabs as an influencer, the gig has become a desirable career path. And it’s hardly surprising that people would seek out such a lifestyle when they see people enjoying endless travel, freebies and opportunities online. But it seems that life in the social media spotlight isn’t all what it seems.
You see, in recent years some influencers have opened up about the hidden struggles they deal with on account of their status. For a start, it would seem that maintaining a meaningful social media presence involves more hard work than it would perhaps seem. And the perception that influencers have “perfect lives” appears wishful thinking, too.
For instance, Huda Kattan is the beauty influencer behind the billion-dollar make-up brand, Huda Beauty. And in a 2018 interview with USA Today, she claimed keeping up appearances was a 24/7 job. Kattan explained, “You are always going to be this person – especially if you are an influencer-founded brand. You never get to leave that life.”
What’s more, influencers have to deal with a lot of negative feelings over their lifestyle. In a 2017 interview with news company Man Repeller, influencer Lainy Hedaya explained, “A lot of people think I just frolic around the world wearing cool clothes, take selfies and my work is simple. But there’s a lot behind the scenes that goes into a single Instagram post.”
Also, some influencers have reported that their jobs come with an expectation to be “perfect” at all times. As a result, they often shy away from sharing more negative aspects of their experiences. Hedaya told Man Repeller, “People think what they see on my Instagram is really my life. To some extent, it might be, but I’m not going to post a picture of me on a Sunday morning with food poisoning. Relatable, sure, but not so inspiring.”
Given that an influencer’s worth is measured by the size of their following, it’s important that they listen to what their audience wants. And the most obvious way followers can show their approval of posts is through using “likes.” However, this popularity test can put an emotional toll on influencers.
You see, a 2018 study from Bournemouth University in the United Kingdom looked at micro-influencers, the name given to social media users with followings of less than 10,000. And it found that they often experienced anxiety and insecurity on account of their experiences online. Furthermore, it seemed that the number of likes their posts received was a constant source of worry.
One of the 12 micro-influencers that took part in the study revealed, “On Instagram I started comparing myself to others and wondering why my pictures weren’t getting as many likes or why it didn’t look a certain way.” Moreover, it was reported that these feelings of insecurity were having an effect offline. Indeed, they could affect an influencer’s mental health, even altering the way they perceived themselves.
Another micro-influencer told researchers at Bournemouth University, “I do feel … when I post something and it doesn’t get many likes I do think about it, get frustrated and run around to get ideas. I check other influencers’ content and then think-rethink what if my followers will not like it or think I am not funny.”
And it seems that after around five years of vlogging on YouTube, Meloche had come to develop similar anxieties about the way she was perceived. In 2019 she posted a video to her channel entitled, “i don’t know anymore.” And in it the teen broke down as she revealed the pressure she felt to be liked online.
At the beginning of the near seven-minute-long video, Meloche revealed she was filming at her new apartment. Then, some text pops up on the screen, that reads, “So I really thought this was gonna be a normal video, but I had a breakdown.” As a result, it seemed she used the opportunity to reveal the turmoil she was facing because of her profile on YouTube.
When Meloche returns to the camera she tells her viewers, “I just wanna talk to you guys about how I’ve been feeling lately… I’m going crazy, I feel like I’m disclaiming everything. I feel like I can’t make the content that I actually want to make because people don’t like me and people won’t want to watch my videos.”
At this point in the video Meloche breaks down in tears. She explains, “I just feel stupid… I just don’t want to care… but I care so badly about what people think about me… It sucks.” Between sobs, she adds, “I’m not doing this for pity I just want to be honest with you guys. I want to, like, show you how I really feel.”
After this, Meloche expresses her feelings in a meandering monologue. She tells her fans, “I’ve just been feeling so crappy about my videos lately… I know not everyone’s going to like me and no one actually knows-knows me. I can only try my best to come across how I actually am in real life in these videos.”
But while Meloche knew it wasn’t realistic to expect everyone to like her, it seemed that the negativity she’d received had taken its toll. She said, “I’m not going to lie, I really don’t know what I’m doing with my life, and part of me wants to take a break so bad and then the other part of me just doesn’t want to quit at all.”
Meloche added, “I don’t even know what the point of ranting to you guys is. I guess if there’s any point it’s just me being real. It’s just me showing that I’m not a robot… If you’re looking at someone’s life and you think that they know exactly what they’re doing or they’ve got it all figured out they don’t.”
After Meloche posted her emotionally raw admission to YouTube, she received an outpouring of support from her fans. And some of them begged the influencer to take some time away from YouTube and focus on her life offline. One commenter told Meloche, “Go get a therapist, apply for college, travel… There’s more to life than YouTube and social media.”
Then, two weeks after her video went live, Meloche spoke to BuzzFeed News. And in the 2019 interview she revealed why she’d posted the clip in the first place. She said of her tearful exchange, “I broke down on camera which was not the plan. But I decided to upload it because that is the real me.”
Having had some time to reflect, Meloche explained the strain she felt as a result of her social media presence. She said, “Being an influencer as people like to call us… it’s all up to us how people see us. We can put out content that best portrays us in real life and put it out online for people to enjoy.”
But Meloche admitted that while influencers had the ability to portray themselves however they liked to their audiences, such power had its downsides. She explained, “The downside of all of this is the pressure: the pressure to not mess up or say anything that’s going to offend anyone… Or the pressure to stay happy and stay posting content and even staying relevant.”
Now you see, in the months prior to her emotional video Meloche had gotten into trouble when she and fellow YouTuber Summer Mckeen were recorded mocking a fan. Meloche apologized for the video and admitted that her actions had been “mean.” However, her attempt to atone didn’t stop the deluge of hateful comments aimed at her.
Meloche later told BuzzFeed News, “People just want [to] hate on you for being nothing but yourself and trying your best to live life… It gets overwhelming and I think people forget that YouTubers are real people too.” That said, after admitting that she was struggling with certain aspects of social media, the teen did find some support offline.
Yes, following her self-described “breakdown,” Meloche started seeing a therapist. She subsequently told BuzzFeed News, “I do need advice from someone from the outside.” To add to that, Meloche committed to spending more time away from her phone or any other device on which she could access social media.
And after opening-up in her blog, Meloche found that she wasn’t alone in feeling the way she did as an influencer. She revealed that other YouTubers had reached out to her to say, “That it is exactly how they’ve been feeling.” As a result, she said she was “hopeful for a more positive online community” one day.