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College & Careers

Lots of young people dream of being an influencer. He’s really doing it.

Since joining TikTok in 2020, this Emerson College grad has amassed over 2 million followers. His social media presence helps him pay bills while he pursues a stage career.

Anania Williams just finished his bachelor’s degree at Emerson College, and is planning to move to New York City to look for work on the stage. But he’s already making a decent living as a social media influencer.From Anania Williams

Anania Williams just finished his bachelor’s degree in musical theater at Emerson College, and is planning to move to New York City to look for work on the stage. He figures it will likely take awhile for him to break in, but that’s OK with the 22-year-old. He’s already making a decent living as a social media influencer.

Since joining TikTok in the summer of 2020 as @anania00, Williams has amassed 2.1 million followers. He creates short comedy videos (such as one titled “Gen Z at the Boston Tea Party”), commentary relating to social justice, and makeup tutorials.

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Williams prefers not to say how much he makes as an influencer, but most of his income comes from partnering with brands, which pay him to create content that pitches their message to his followers. Williams has already worked with travel-booking app Hopper, shaving company Manscaped, and vaccination nonprofit Made to Save, among others.

For many people, Williams is living a dream. According to a frequently cited survey from 2019 by the decision intelligence company Morning Consult, 86 percent of young people aspire to be social media influencers. Few, though, can actually pull it off. CerconeBrownCompany, a Natick-based marketing agency, helps brands build influencer campaigns on Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube. When choosing which influencer to work with, Robin Mack, the firm’s vice president, says her team focuses not on number of followers but on engagement with that audience; they want to see 3 percent to 5 percent of followers interacting in some way, such as posting a comment. The agency also judges what values the influencers represent and what messages they are putting out. Mack says her firm works with fewer than 10 percent of the influencers they evaluate.

In late 2020, Williams signed with New York City-based management company Palette MGMT, which helps keep him on a consistent TikTok posting schedule, get paid work from brands, and maintain those business relationships. He also makes money directly from TikTok, though perhaps less than some might think. Its Creator Fund, which only works with people who have at least 10,000 followers and received at least 100,000 video views in the past 30 days, makes payments to creators, factoring in data such as number of views and user interaction. Williams says he might make 2 to 4 cents per thousand views, requiring a million views to earn $40 at most, though he’s used the income to pay for school, rent, and other bills.

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One challenge of his job, Williams says, is that influencers can experience creative fatigue. “I’m going to make a video today, and I just don’t have the bandwidth right now to do every single tip and trick that I know works,” he says. “So right now, it’s basically just like keeping up the following and making videos that I know.”

But overall, he’s grateful for his success. Early in his college career, as he worked two jobs to pay his way, an $89 price tag for tap shoes broke his food budget. But then came TikTok stardom. “I remember crying when I paid for school,” he says, “and I had enough money to pay for rent, too.”

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Will Percarpio is pursuing his degree in publishing at Emerson College. This story was produced in collaboration with an Emerson writing and publishing course. Send comments to magazine@globe.com.