Not long ago, the height of ambition for many children was to be a children's television presenter. Then there was a brief period when everyone wanted to be an X Factor star. We may mourn the days when children dreamed of becoming firemen and astronauts, but all of this sounds quaint now we are living in the age of Generation Influencer.

Today's children are not even interested in waiting for the chance to appear on TV once they've left school. A new survey of 2000 British parents of 11- to 16-year-olds shows 17 per cent want to be a social media influencer and 14 per cent want to be a YouTuber.

Only doctors (18 per cent) score higher than influencers in the study by marketing company Awin.

According to research late last year by Smartphone maker OPPO, nine out of 10 New Zealanders aged between 18 and 24 named becoming an Instagram influencer as their dream job.

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Now, in what is thought to be the first job of its kind in New Zealand, OPPO has hired Auckland student Lucy Clarke (8900 followers) for a three-month influencer job, aka, an "ultimate intern". The company was inundated with applicants.

She is being flown around New Zealand and Australia to the most "Instagrammable locations" for the sole purpose of capturing and sharing content on both her own and OPPO's social media profiles.

"It's literally the dream job," she told the Herald on Sunday.

"Being put on a plane and flown to these beautiful places ... you can't help thinking 'wow, I'm getting paid to do this'."

Clarke, 22, is being mentored by the company's other staffers and ambassadors, including New Zealand lifestyle influencer Libby Kay.

Lucy Clarke, 22, who has been hired by smartphone maker OPPO for a three-month influencer job. Photo / Instagram
Lucy Clarke, 22, who has been hired by smartphone maker OPPO for a three-month influencer job. Photo / Instagram

She's in her fifth year of a law and arts degree at the University of Auckland but is weighing up life as a paid influencer and a career in law.

"I do love my law degree and do want to practise law at some point. I guess it's about working out how it might all fit together."

Influencers can notch up millions of followers by posting about their passions and lives across social media, principally Instagram and YouTube. The hysteria they generate among their followers is like that once reserved only for pop stars — exemplified last week by American beauty YouTuber James Charles, who brought Birmingham city centre to a standstill after 8000 fans flocked to see him at the Bullring.

The honour for most-followed Kiwi YouTubers goes to Shaaanxo (1.5 million followers on Instagram, 546,000 on YouTube) and Jamie's World (1.3m on YouTube, 404,100 on Instagram).

And, like the pop industry, the influencer industry is big business — digital marketing experts ClickZ says it will be worth $14 billion by 2020.

So big is the industry that the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) last year updated its guidelines with a section dedicated to influencers, outlining transparency for social media advertising.

The OPPO research found almost half (47 per cent) of those surveyed had made a purchase or travel decision based on an influencer's social media endorsement. Often, brands offer free clothes and holidays, payments per post or longer-term sponsorship and brand ambassadorships in return.

The most popular influencers are hired to promote launch events and to speak at conferences, such as Vid Con events, held around the world, including Australia, London and the United States.

Such is the want for followers, Auckland influencer Samuel Levi, who has 54,600 on Instagram, decided to front-foot any criticism that he was seeking fame when he joined the second season of Married at First Sight last year.

"I'll tell you this, my social media is a business I have cultivated over years," he told Spy.

"I had to weigh up when I jumped in this bubble who would cringe and who would support me, and I can tell you many of the followers I already have would cringe at me doing a reality show. That being said, I have always been a fan of the show and the idea that the experts could find something for me I have not found myself. I am definitely in this looking for love."

But the career choice is at odds with what parent for their children — the Awin research showed the most popular jobs chosen by parents were lawyer (29 per cent), doctor (28 per cent) and teacher (24 per cent).

And questioned on their knowledge of influencer marketing, it was found almost half (45 per cent) of parents didn't understand what a social media influencer did — and 58 per cent were unaware you could make money as one.

Many parents are now confused about whether the ambition to make a career out of influencing is to be encouraged.

It may sound like a lucrative option.

Sarah Jane Thoms, who is an account executive at PR company Fourth Day, says hundreds or thousands could be paid for a product mention depending on follower count — but the job itself is still in its infancy in New Zealand. Only time will tell if influencing will have an impact on our, law, teaching and medical schools.

Auckland influencer and Married at First Sight's Samuel Levi. Photo / Norrie Montgomery
Auckland influencer and Married at First Sight's Samuel Levi. Photo / Norrie Montgomery

What happens if in 10 years' time influencing as a career path falls into a void? Uneducated and unqualified, what will your child do?

Or, what if influencing turns into even more of a beast and the next wave of bright young things takes their place?

Aspiring influencers often don't take into account the mental health problems associated with social media use, psychotherapist Samantha Carbon says.

"As social media is evolving, there is a risk young influencers may experience feelings of inadequacy and feeling challenged as they get older, which can be detrimental to their emotional wellbeing."

Some users can become obsessed with checking how their posts are performing online, which has all sorts of implications, including alienating friends and family.

The stress from such a job has its own name: creator burnout.

Brit Elle Mills (1.2m followers on YouTube) whose coming-of-age videos went viral and whose video, in which she came out as bisexual in November 2017, pushed her over the million-subscriber mark, shocked her subscribers when she uploaded a video last May which showed her mid-breakdown.

"My life just changed so fast," she says. "My anxiety and depression keeps getting worse and worse. I'm literally just waiting for me to hit my breaking point."

Ruben "El Rubius" Gundersen, (30m, YouTube) a Spanish-Norwegian YouTube personality known for his gaming vlogs, used his platform to explain he feared burning out and was taking a break from vlogging for his mental health. What started as lighthearted entertainment became a huge source of stress.

And then there is the online bullying.

One mother tells how when her daughter was 11, obsessed with influencers, she launched a YouTube channel playing around with makeup. "It was pretty cringe-worthy," admits the mum. "Then some boys in her class heard about it and started leaving nasty remarks in the comments section, saying how spotty she was and so on." After the teasing became unrelenting, she quickly retreated.

Influencing can be a full-time job, thanks to the audience's bottomless appetite for content.

Teens are often not aware of the hard work that can go behind a single photo.

Even after a company expresses interest in working with someone, there is the tricky task of negotiating the terms of the deal, chasing businesses that sometimes don't pay on time, and chasing those which use images in ways that violate terms of the deal.

The biggest stars can afford to outsource the admin to an agency — there are now support services directed specifically at influencers.

But, as Bloomberg reports, agencies can take a cut of influencers' earnings — often up to 50 per cent — making it only financially tenable for only those with a significant enough following.

Brit Misha Grimes (followers: 135,000 YouTube, 62,000 Instagram), who has been vlogging about fashion for two years, admits that "just like any other self-employed career this has its drawbacks, from 3am bedtimes, late payments, lack of financial security and being an easy target for hate".

And influencing might not be as simple as taking a photo on your smartphone and posting it online — some influencers hire professional photographers, who are well versed in the right lighting and airbrushing techniques to make a person look good, so their feed is curated with quality images.

Teenagers also need to know their digital footprint stays with them for life.

As history tells us, society will have moved on so much that what they post online at 15 won't still be relevant when they are 35. And they're often not likely to have the same views.

We only have to look at the recent slew of old celebrity tweets, uncovering views they are now so ashamed of.

The current climate's audience don't want to hear jokes at the LGBTQ+ community's or a minority group's expense.

Comedian Amy Schumer has said her jokes earlier in her career were "privileged and racist": "there are things that I would have joked about even a year ago that I wouldn't now, just with the times changing ... You know, with the #MeToo movement happening ... I don't wanna risk hurting their feelings."

Last year, actor Kevin Hart stepped down from hosting the Academy Awards, a gig he once described as a dream, after tweets from 2009 to 2011 surfaced containing homophobic language.

Homophobic and transphobic tweets from 2010 and 2011 also came back to haunt New Girl's Damon Wayans Jr.

Netsafe offers general advice for parents when it comes to their child's social media use and this week released a parents guide to Instagram, which includes tips on managing their privacy, interactions and time spent on the app.

At its best, influencing can be a gateway to the world.

Clarke is being paid hourly for her internship, "well above minimum wage", according to a OPPO spokeswoman, and her travel expenses are covered.

She is currently travelling around Australia and so far has been flown to Cairns and Tasmania.

"We went out and did some exploring in the rainforest and that kind of thing — we captured some really cool content," she says.

"The thing with Cairns and Tasmania, I wouldn't have known to go there."

She plans on travelling to London at the beginning of next year, and using that as a base to explore Europe.

Clarke has also been given OPPO's new flagship smartphone, the R17 Pro and has been shooting some of the photos for her feed on her new gadget.

A professional photographer for the company added to this collection with photos of her and Australian intern Alex Bradley.

So given the pace of change, can being an influencer really be a viable career option?

Grimes is confident she is on a path to something — even if she doesn't know what yet.

"I will forever post to YouTube and whether people will watch me in 10-plus years I don't know, but right now I can't see myself doing anything else."

When I grow up, I want to be a ...

11-16-year-olds career aspirations

• Doctor – 18%
• Social Media Influencer – 17%
• YouTuber– 14%
• Veterinarian – 13%
• Teacher – 9%

SOURCE: Survey by British marketing company Awin of 2000 British parents.
- Daily Telegraph, Herald staff reporter