Do Influencers Need Their Own School?

Golubovy/Shutterstock Whalar /Facebook Remix by Caterina Cox

This week, Whalar – the “influencer marketing and management” company behind a number of initiatives designed to assist professional creators – introduced a new concept that they’re calling “The Lighthouse.” 

It sounds a bit like a creator college, combined with WeWork for the perpetually online. For an annual fee of $5,750, members get access to digital media-focused workspaces, production studios, relevant lectures and courses, dining areas, and private office space, along with career development programs, special events, and more. To make it feel even more university-esque, applicants sign up for a four-year admission cycle, and there are scholarship programs available for members of underrepresented groups.

Whalar plans to open the first two Lighthouse locations in the spring and summer 2024, including an outpost in Venice, California and another in Brooklyn. A London location will hopefully follow in 2025. They’re also working on getting brands involved, potentially supplying gear and equipment in exchange for increased visibility among a key demographic.

Why Creators Need a “House”

Making videos professionally is extremely time-consuming, and depending on a creator’s outlet and format, it can also prove extremely isolating. The idea of bringing a diverse collective of full-time creators together at a central location, allowing for easy collaboration and giving them a chance to feed off one another’s creativity, has been around since the first folks decided to give up their day jobs and make videos full-time.

In an earlier era, YouTubers, Vine stars, and other popular online influencers once gathered themselves into companies known as multi-channel networks (MCNs), which would help manage the careers of popular personalities – taking a chunk of their earnings as compensation – while bringing them together for large-scale collaborative projects. While the largest MCNs were eventually absorbed by larger companies (as when Maker Studios sold to Disney in 2014), the model ultimately proved difficult to sustain. Profitability demanded amassing such a large collection of digital media stars and influencers, fairly representing all of their interests quickly became unmanageable. The concept still exists in a mutated, more limited form today, with many production companies and networks starting their own small-scale “incubators” to nurture like-minded up-and-coming talent.

In some ways, Lighthouse also recalls the “Content Houses,” “Vine Houses,” and “TikTok Houses” of old, where breakout social media stars would move in together to pool their resources, unify their audiences, and generate record levels of Los Angeles residential neighborhood noise complaints. But unlike the raucous, infamously hard partying, even unsafe atmosphere that grew up around the Houses at their peak, Lighthouse is a professional operation, a “real” business. Theoretically, at least, this means it could provide many of the viewership and community benefits of a collab house, while providing a more appealing and welcoming environment for a wider cross-section of young creators.

A Space to Learn

There are also some notable parallels between the Lighthouse concept and YouTube Spaces, Google’s in-person creator-focused venues that launched in a number of world cities in 2012 and shuttered during the pandemic in 2021. These facilities also included large-scale production spaces and equipment rentals, which were made available to any YouTubers who had built up a significant following on the platform.

But while YouTube Spaces was focused on the WeWork side of the equation – providing some baseline essentials that amateur creators need to up their game and increase the professionalism of their videos – Google wasn’t as focused on also serving a dual role as a “creator university.” The company did make some courses and training programs available to hand-selected creators via YouTube Spaces, but the Spaces were more of a plug-and-play concept. Show up with your audience and your biggest ideas and we’ll help you bring them to life. 

According to co-chair and creator-in-residence Samir Chaudry, this is where the education part of the Lighthouse concept comes in. The company is focused on using the facilities to not just provide technical support but also spur individual creator development. As he explained to Fast Company: “There are a lot of people who desire to do this career, [but] there’s not a lot of clarity on what that means. There are also times when it can be isolating. That isolation can actually get amplified through the lack of education, lack of information, a lack of understanding what the opportunities are, a lack of understanding of how this can be a sustainable career.”

A Matter of Degrees

There’s an undeniable logic around creating educational programs that prepare young people to work professionally as influencers or in social media. In a Morning Consult survey from earlier this year, 57% of young adults responded that their number one career choice would be “social media influencer.” While a majority of Gen Z respondents said they considered influencer to be a “respectable career.” A new take on trade schools that prepare young people for these kinds of jobs would likely be preferable to having their kids simply drop out of the educational system entirely, and turn to social media influencing full-time without prep, training, or support.

In September, South East Technological University (SETU) in Carlow, Ireland, introduced what’s quite possibly the world’s first bachelor of arts degree in influencing. Coursework includes a lot of the same material that would likely be covered by marketing students – crisis management, public relations, mass communication, social psychology – along with film production courses geared around capturing quality audio and video editing. 

Just as it’s possible to become a career journalist without J-School or an entrepreneur without business school, no “influencer academy” is mandatory before jumping into an online platform and finding an audience. YouTube, TikTok, and other platforms already host all of the instructional videos and tutorials anyone could need before embarking on a career as an influencer. In short, this isn’t like becoming a scientist. MrBeast’s runaway popularity was informed by years of trial and error, and scrutinizing YouTube best practices, but he was entirely self-taught. (When invited earlier this year to lecture students at Harvard Business School, Jimmy Donaldson noted specifically that he was a college drop-out.)

Nonetheless, education might be the key to finally unlocking the full potential of collaborative influencer programs. While it’s undeniably helpful to give stressed, often lonely digital creators a space to meet up and socialize, providing an opportunity to level up their actual video-making skills might be just the incentive required to get them out of their homes in the first place.

Content for Creators.

News, tips, and tricks delivered to your inbox twice a week.

Newsletter Signup

Top Stories