I admit that I did not have a high opinion of Jake Paul when I paid $54 to watch his education video series on how to become a social media star. I found his brand of comedy childish and only appealing to the 11-year-olds that make up his YouTube audience and wait in lines screaming outside his live appearances. I assumed that he had managed to win the hearts and minds of millions of teens and tweens purely by being cute and doing pratfalls. I knew the rough outline of Jake Paul: YouTube enfant terrible, bad rapper, bad neighbor.
But after watching his 74-video course called “Edfluence” on how to become a social media star, I have come away with a very different opinion. Jake Paul is a genius. An evil genius who should not be celebrated or rewarded, but feared. To underestimate Paul as a dope who lucked into stardom by looks and charm is a grave, grave mistake. I, for one, am afraid.
In brief, Jake Paul is a YouTube star who is also the younger brother of fellow YouTuber Logan Paul. Logan was a breakout Vine star, and Jake followed in his footsteps and assembled a crew of fellow YouTubers to all live in a house with him that he calls “Team 10.”
The brothers have had their share of controversies. Jake made headlines last year when the neighbors of the Team 10 house complained about him terrorizing the neighborhood with stunts like lighting his pool on fire. The scandal cost Jake his role in the Disney Channel show Bizaardvark. On January 1 this year, Logan Paul kneecapped his career by videotaping the dead body of an apparent suicide victim, losing lucrative deals after a massive public backlash.
After Logan’s controversy, a leaked video showed Jake using the n-word while singing along to a rap song. Offensive older tweets from both brothers resurfaced. Then, Jake posted a video with a thumbnail of his girlfriend straddling him on a bed in lingerie titled, “I lost my virginity” (the video was about a ski trip, not having sex), and people were outraged. January has not been a good month for the Paul boys.
In the midst of all this, Jake Paul launched Edfluence.com on Jan. 8. I needed to find out what secrets lurked inside.
There’s an introductory video you can watch for free where Paul tells you how social media stardom is within your reach. You take a quiz to find out what genre of influencer you should be (prankster, comedian, vlogger, beauty guru, fitness guru, entrepreneur, videographer, photographer, fashionista, singer, dancer, or model. Jake considers himself a combo vlogger-comedian-bro). Then you get to a page that asks you to pay $7 to join “Team 1000.” I eagerly plunked down my corporate credit card. According to other people’s accounts of trying this, your $7 also gives you access to another, longer video, although I didn’t see this because I was already jumping ahead to fork over another $57 it asked for on the next page to fully join the program (strangely, the checkout page only asked for $47).
Over the course of 12 chapters, each chapter containing four to eight videos, Paul puts aside his pro wrestler–style barking at the camera and comes across as thoughtful and competent, with deep insight about social media and an astonishing bird’s eye view of the landscape he occupies.
The Edfluence video series starts with Paul sitting on his balcony overlooking Los Angeles in ripped jeans and ripped T-shirt, describing the history of social media, starting with MySpace. His version is slightly skewed to his own experience. He describes the rise of Vine, “I relate it to like, almost like the whole United States was on Vine and watched it.”
In Paul's overview of the rise and fall of social platforms, the high school dropout reverse-engineers Harvard Business School professor Clay Christensen’s theory of jobs to be done. “We started to see that different platforms were there for different reasons,” he says. “And that’s really important for us as influencers, and me as Jake Paul, to understand is why there’s different platforms and how to create content for different platforms.”
Right now, social platforms are at a strange crossroads: Facebook just announced a big change with its feed shifting away from news, Instagram is inserting the Explore tab into users' regular feed, Twitter’s arm has finally been twisted into banning Nazis, and YouTube, after being pummeled over its exploitative kids’ content and, well, Logan Paul, has announced drastic changes in its rules for monetizing accounts and is adding thousands of new moderators.
The intricacies of how the algorithms on these platforms work feels like a bewildering mystery to most of their users. But not to Jake Paul, especially on his most lucrative platform, YouTube.
Paul has all sorts of tips on how to make the smallest tweaks in video editing, profile, search engine optimization (“YouTube is, at the end of the day, a search engine…that’s why Google bought it,” he says), and what time of day to post (after school west coast time during the week, as early as possible on weekends), to game the algorithm.
He advises viewers that YouTube’s algorithm rewards long watch times (how long a viewer stayed on the video). This favors the vlog format, and he says even a vlog should tell a story to hook viewers in for as long as possible. The example he gives is of one of his most popular videos, in which he pretends to buy his brother Logan a Lamborghini, then reveals it was only a prank, but then, after tears, the brothers decide to go buy their own Lamborghinis together.
“It was always a story, it has a beginning, middle and end,” he explains. “The beginning was, its my brother’s birthday, I’m going to prank him. The middle was me doing it. The end was us going to buy Lamborghinis. So it truly followed that model, the watch time went up like crazy, YouTube put it in front of everyone using its algorithm.”
Paul said he is able to draw these conclusions about watch time and posting time from the analytics YouTube gives back to him in its dashboard. He also uses third-party programs like SocialBlade and is obsessed with studying his numbers. At one point, to prove how well he knows his stats, he asks the producer off camera to look up his current weekly views — his guess is very close.
The series includes chapters devoted to specific platforms: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Musical.ly, Snapchat, and YouTube. The videos on Facebook and Twitter will horrify anyone born before 1995. He straight up says that Twitter is useful as a “great way to capture an older demographic.”
Describing why it’s important for influencers to make a Facebook page, he said, “You’re probably like, ‘Jake, why Facebook. I don’t know about Facebook, my parents use Facebook.’” “This is why Facebook is still really really relevant,” he explains. “A lot of the bigger companies are run by older people who still use Facebook and will want to monetize on there.”
Seven hours of Jake Paul educational videos have aged me from a sprightly thirtysomething into a dusty crone, trembling in fear of the Musical.ly youths. To be fair, even Paul admits that he thinks Musical.ly is cheesy and for little kids, but he uses it because it’s a good way to cross-platform promote his other social media.
Paul reveals himself to be a savage mercenary in terms of his quest for followers. One of the tactics he advises for gaining followers on almost all platforms is the scummy move of following thousands of people in hopes they’ll follow back, then quickly unfollowing them.
Other advice to gain followers:
- Run a contest where you say you’ll privately DM one of the next 500 people who follow you.
- Suck up to people with bigger followings in hopes they’ll follow you back or promote you.
- Make witty comments on celebrities’ Instagrams, since the algorithm surfaces top comments, and people will see your profile and follow you back.
- Say in an Instagram Story (not a post, that’s gauche) that you’ll follow people back.
- Abuse the Live feature in Instagram, because Live videos give everyone a notification and that means they’re way more likely to watch it than just a regular Story.
Snapchat, which is notoriously unfriendly to influencers, presents a large hurdle for wannabe social media stars since it doesn’t have much of a discovery mechanism. The best way to grow a following is to plaster your Snapchat handle on all other social platforms and frequently encourage people to follow you there. Here, Paul gets downright devious: He suggests you create a Tinder account with your Snapchat handle in the bio to expose it to thousands of people in your area who might swipe by it. Even if you’re not single, hey, you might get some followers.
Another sneaky trick Paul uses on Snapchat is to make his account look verified (even though it isn’t) by making his username have a ton of spaces after it and then an emoji. On Snapchat, only verified accounts have emojis associated with them that appear in the right-hand column of your friends list. By using the space bar and an emoji, you can trick people into thinking you’re verified, and this makes you stand out in their friends list so they’re more likely to tap into your stories.
On YouTube, there already are several people who have posted “reviews” of Edfluenced or talked about how they got scammed by it. One of these videos, with 25,000 views — ”I GOT SCAMMED BY JAKE PAUL || EDFLUENCE” complains that after paying the $7, you don’t get the full experience. It seems to be the common complaint about the school of Jake Paul: an unclear pricing structure, where most people who are out $7 are shocked to have to shell out more for the full tutorial.
There are some unpolished elements to the series. There are sloppy editing mistakes — a few times, Paul points to a graphic that’s supposed to show up on screen and doesn’t appear, or simple HTML issues where the video title fonts don’t parse. But the biggest problem is that Paul frequently references a community forum where you can talk with your fellow Team 1000 influencers to collaborate on videos or promote each other’s social media. This forum doesn’t exist.
He also says that he will be watching his viewers' videos to encourage us along, and will occasionally pick someone to appear in a video with, or promote our videos on his own social platform.
But there is no mechanism where Jake Paul would ever know what videos or social media posts I’m making; there’s no community section or way to reach out to him. A customer service rep for Edfluence said that the community feature wasn’t included in the January soft launch, but will be integrated into the site at some point in the future. An email and text to Paul were not returned by publishing time.
But is the content of the course a scam? No. The stuff Jake Paul is telling you is probably something that someone who has a few years of experience working in social media marketing would probably also be able to tell you.
I have come away from this course knowing the scary reality that Jake Paul is terrifyingly good at pumping out Jake Paul to as many young eyeballs as possible, and hooking them in for their money (merchandise sales) and pimping out his following to brands who pay him for “brand activations” or the Google Adsense preroll ads that appear on his videos. It is not just blind luck or that he backflipped his way into this. He has an innate understanding of the large tech platforms that shape our lives that is probably better than many reporters'. But instead of using it to hold the powerful people who run those platforms accountable, or to shape our understanding of how to navigate those platforms, he is using it to, idk, buy a Lamborghini for himself or another dirt bike. He’s Jake Paul — could we have really expected something more?
Katie Notopoulos is a senior editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. Notopoulos writes about tech and internet culture is cohost of the Internet Explorer podcast.
Contact Katie Notopoulos at email@example.com.
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