Make It

Social media pays off more than college for these men

Aaron Martinez (left) and David Rhodes take selfies with their phones.
Rhiannon Teeter | CNBC
Aaron Martinez (left) and David Rhodes take selfies with their phones.

David Rhodes is standing inside the Mad Money studios at the CNBC worldwide headquarters in Engelwood Cliffs, New Jersey. He points his phone camera at his friend Aaron Martinez, who is sitting behind Jim Cramer's desk, and hits record. After a few takes, they switch positions. Satisfied with their clips, they get ready to post it on Snapchat stories, their public profile of snaps.

"With Snapchat, it's a bit more raw, a bit more real," explained Rhodes, who goes by @Rhodes411. "You can create really cool content without having to second guess what you're doing. At the end, content is king: The more you put out, the better it is for you."

It's all in day's work for Rhodes — and it has nothing really to do with what he studied in college. The 30-year-old said he lives a comfortable life in Toronto, pulling six figures a year from social media sponsorship deals and ads.

"You never want to tell someone not to go to school," Rhodes said. "At the same time, we're in a different world now where you can create your own job. I've been doing this for a living, making money off it for the last four or five years, working for myself, which is something I would never want to take back. You're able to create your own schedule, do your own thing, be anywhere, be able to make money and do your job."

The 30-year-old graduated from college with a degree in public relations and media studies. A friend hooked him up with a TV production job right out of school. On the side, he started building Twitter accounts, and then opened it up to brand sponsors.

"Within a couple weeks, I was making twice what I was making at my job," Rhodes said. 'I was like, 'Well this is an easy decision.' I quit the job and never looked back."

Today, his main source of income comes from Twitter, where he runs his @Rhodes411 account as well as a number of comedy, trivia, travel and parody accounts with large followings including @WOWFactsOfLife, @WOWPicsOfLife and @SexFactsOfLife. In total, he's got about 8 million Twitter followers.

Brands looking to reach millennials on social media ask him to post their products, and he finds the right account to seed the information. Rhodes has worked with the United Nations to tweet about World AIDS Day and 20th Century Fox to promote some of their movies. He said he tweeted about the Red Bull Global Rally Cross, helping to get the event to the the number 1 spot on U.S. Twitter at that time

"Things like that are really cool because you have enough power in one spot to get people talking," said Rhodes.

He's also diversified into Instagram and Vine. Now, he's trying to tackle Snapchat, which he thinks is the next big lucrative branded opportunity.

"Snapchat can die tomorrow — it's not going to obviously — and YouTube could explode — it's not going to," Rhodes said. "At the same time, you want to leverage what you have now and expand across as many platforms as you can and get that audience across anything. You don't want to be relying on one thing."

"We're in a different world now where you can create your own job." -David Rhodes

The opportunity to create large social media clout and then cash in is what compelled Martinez —online name AaronFPS – to drop out of college and pursue social media. The 22-year-old first started using social media five years ago when he was still in high school. An avid player of first-person shooter (FPS) video games, he began a YouTube channel called AaronFPS where he would narrate gameplay. Soon after, he got a deal with a local voice acting agency and did gigs like becoming an eSports commentator Call of Duty matches.

The opportunities were lucrative enough that Martinez decided to drop out of college during the second semester of his sophomore year and pursue more online opportunities. Right now, Martinez nets about $20,000 a year through his social media work. He's shot a Snapchat promotion story for NowThisNews, and has an upcoming Snapchat project with Zillow in the works. To supplement his income, he works full- time as a waiter.

"I'm also at the point where I can make the social media stuff a full-time job," Martinez said. "If I had stayed in school, it would have been a half-time thing, instead of putting all my time into social media."

But, even Martinez began to notice that YouTube was becoming over-saturated with gamers. That's when a friend put him onto Snapchat. He had tried it out previously, but it confused him so he deleted the app. His friend encouraged him to re-download it and watch his Snapchat story.

"Snapchat, I feel like it has so much more room to grow," Martinez said. "We now see the bigger companies that are jumping on it, hiring these influencers… At the same time with Snapchat, if for some reason everyone decided to leave Snapchat, I feel like I would have the community either on Twitter that I've gained from (people that followed me from Snapchat) and even on YouTube. For some of the people and some of the influencers that are strictly on Snapchat, they may have a little problem."

Being a social media influencer may seem more fun and flexible, but both men insist its hard work. The CNBC Mad Money snaps, for instance, are mere seconds long. But it is the culmination at least 30 minutes of standing in the studio, walking around and figuring out what the best shot is, planning out what to say, and making sure what is being uploaded is cohesive with what had previously been posted on their accounts. That's doesn't take into account the rest of the time they spent at CNBC creating other snaps.

In total, the video last less than a minute for viewers. However, the two spent hours at the office creating the content.

"A lot of people don't understand the space in the sense that they'll tell me 'Oh you tweet for a living. That's not work,'" Rhodes said. "People don't understand it's a 24-7, 365 job. I would never trade it for anything because being able to work anywhere, do anything is amazin, but I haven't had a day off in five years. If I'm on vacation, I'm not on vacation. I'm making content constantly. You're always thinking about it, doing it."

Martinez agrees.

"I'm a server at a restaurant, and when I'm not there I'm recording a video, planning a video, emailing companies, responding, doing podcasts, interviews, all that kind of stuff," he said. "I'm always doing that. I'm never not working."

They don't regret their pursuing social media careers, however. Rhodes pointed out that while platforms and what is popular is evolving, he believes social media is here to stay.

"This is a long-term sustainable business," Rhodes said. "Social media isn't going anywhere. Any platform has its exponential growth period. Twitter was a while back. Instagram was a while back. Snapchat is in that exponential growth period now.... You want to take advantage of the now because you want to build for the future."

DISCLOSURE: NBCUniversal, CNBC's parent company, is an investor in NowThisNews.