Make money online the hard way

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On a typical morning, Chrissy Chlapecka leaves the dog outside, spends an hour on professional makeup and hair, and carefully chooses an outfit. Then Chlapecka, a 21-year-old Chicagoan, starts working as an Internet creator.

Chlapecka posts at least one short video a day on Instagram and TikTok, where she has a total of 4.5 million followers. Nothing dramatic happens in the videos. But Chlapecka is the one you could imagine if Lady Gaga was your favorite barista handing out advice and tricks. (In fact, Chlapecka used to be a barista.)

In a few seconds of video recorded at home or in a mall, she seems comfortable. Chlapecka invites viewers – especially gays and women – to feel comfortable with an online personality that Chlapecka described as “an encouraging big sister type.” (Readers, please note that Chlapecca’s videos are not necessarily family friendly.)

But this is also work. In addition to daily posts, Chlapecka records gross clips of videos to save for the days when the creative juices may not be flowing. In line at the grocery store, she jots down concept ideas. Chlapecka weighs in on promotional video pitches to incorporate certain products or song clips that companies hope will take off. She also told me about hosting a concert at a comedy club and about creating strategies to build a larger fanbase on YouTube and sell merchandise to fans.

For many people like Chlapecka, who try to make a living by entertaining or sharing information online, their job is partly Hollywood producer, partly owner of small businesses and all the hustle and bustle.

“Some people really underestimate the work that creators do,” Chlapecka told me. “I wish they would understand more that this is a real career – and it’s a serious career – and a form of entertainment.”

Chlapecka knows some people think she’s just kidding around on the internet. But it takes skill and perseverance to come up with fresh ideas day after day, connect with online followers and stay on top of the ever-changing algorithms and tastes of Internet users.

This week, On Tech has focused on the economics of the internet creation economy. No person is representative of the millions who try to earn a living on their online creations. But Chlapecka provides an insight into what this work is like and how creators make money. This job may not look like yours or mine, but it can be gratifying and scary, like most work.

As with many online personalities, the bulk of Chlapecca’s income comes from companies that pay to have their products or songs shown in videos. Brands typically provide a great image concept and leave it to Chlapecka to do the rest.

Chlapecka has also made money from Cameo, a service for people to pay for personal videos from celebrities and sports stars. She has been experimenting with selling subscriptions to followers on Twitter and the digital creative service Fanhouse. Chlapecka also raises money from TikTok’s video producer fund, which she described as “not enough to pay rent, but it’s nice.”

Chlapecka would not say how much money she makes. But until about a year ago, she worked at Starbucks and a vintage store, making TikTok videos next door. Now online work is a full time job.

She said she felt fulfilled by “the power that social media has given me and the fans who love me – and I love them back.” Chlapecka also enjoys FaceTime conversations with other online creators who exchange tips and sympathy for difficult days. It’s their version of drinks with colleagues moaning over a bad boss.

Like many other creators, Chlapecka is being harassed and threatened online, she said. Stars on social media succeed in creating intimacy with followers, but Chlapecka said hecklers behave as if the person they see through a smartphone screen has no emotions.

“People behind the camera are people and we deserve to have boundaries and respect,” she said.

Chlapecka said she understood how the laughter of being constantly online burned many people out. She hopes the work of creators can be sustainable, but she also imagines that online fandom can open doors for activities in television and music.

This is the life of creators, an integral part of the digital economy. They fill the apps that occupy our leisure time. It is a career desire for young people that did not exist a generation ago. It can be all-consuming, invasive and insecure – and also fun.

More from On Tech on the internet creation economy:


Tip of the week

Your smartphone may be permanently connected to you as a digital baby. But your phone number does not have to be, says Brian X. Chen, columnist for consumer technology for The New York Times.

Your phone number is an incredibly sensitive piece of data. It’s a unique set of digits attached to other highly personal information found in public records, including your full name, home address, the names of your relatives, and even your criminal record (if you have one).

A phone number will probably also stay attached to you for many years because it is so cumbersome to get a new one and share it with all your contacts. (First, I’ve had the same cell phone number for more than 15 years.)

Therefore, everyone can benefit from having a burner phone number that you share with people and devices you do not fully trust. The simplest free option is to sign up for a Google Voice account. There you select an area code and select from a list of phone numbers. You can even set it to forward calls and text messages to your real phone number.

I have recently had a number of situations where a burner phone number was handy:

The beauty of a burner is that if someone abuses it, you can get rid of it and create a new set of digits. Who would not want one?

  • Rockpioner Vs. podcasts: Musician Neil Young urged Spotify to choose between hosting his songs or Joe Rogan, the popular podcast host who has been accused of spreading misinformation about coronavirus and vaccines. Spotify took Rogan’s side, reports my colleague Ben Sisario.

  • How does the screaming ace sound? The Australian Open is testing sound technology that translates the journey of balls and other tennis action into soundscapes for fans who are blind or have limited vision, explains my colleague Amanda Morris.

  • Says No to Elon Musk: Jack Sweeney, a 19-year-old college student, programmed software that scans complex data on private jet flights and tweets the details of Elon Musk, Tesla’s CEO and other prominent figures. Sweeney told the Protocol that Musk offered him $ 5,000 to stop the tweets tracking his jetture, but Sweeney declined.

This dog is very excited to meet a new friend. Stick to the moment when the older dog shares his toy.


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