In a suburban Toronto Starbucks, three teenage girls huddle around a table, fingers flying over their mobile screens as they break down the daily work of promoting their brands. Between sips of iced green-tea lemonades and java-chip frappuccinos, they tell me how they run new content through vetting teams before releasing it to the world. They describe how that content is distributed and tailored according to platform, and how it’s carefully calibrated to suit different audiences. They show me analytics tools that tell them, in real time, how their messages are being received, and what impact they’re having on their brands, in terms of both reach and loyalty.
If it sounds like a full-time job, that’s because it pretty much is — a gig they’ve aged into by virtue of becoming teenagers in the era of the smartphone. As the three friends laugh and chat with one another, their eyes are nearly always cast downward, glued to the devices held between their manicured fingers. The brands they are managing are their own. They post carefully curated updates and stylized pictures of themselves on various apps and platforms. They swipe left and right, opening and closing apps, gasping about the daily drama playing out on the glowing screen, and planning their next moves. They don’t consider it work — it’s more of a necessary pastime that’s become so routine, “it’s like breathing,” says Elina, who is 17. Often, they won’t even let sleep get in the way.