Blue-Collar Employees Are the Latest Social Media Celebrities


Another bustling day unfolded for the crew of the Rest-Ashoar, a lobster fishing vessel that operates off the rugged coastline of Winter Harbor, Maine. The captain, Jacob Knowles, rose at 3 a.m. on a chilly October morning and navigated his boat 10 miles into the ocean. Utilizing a hydraulic hauler, buoys, and ropes, Mr. Knowles, Keith Potter (the stern man), and Coty White (the third man) lifted 400 wire traps over the next 10 hours. From each baited cage, they retrieved legal-size lobsters—minimum of 3.25 inches but not exceeding 5 inches, measured from the eye to the back of the shell—and returned the smaller ones back to the water. As the boat rocked in the rolling waves, they tossed the empty traps back overboard. Amidst the arduous work of commercial fishermen, the crew simultaneously filmed a video.

Over the past couple of years, Mr. Knowles, 30, has gained a substantial following on social media by sharing snippets of his workday with his 2.5 million followers on TikTok and almost 400,000 followers on Instagram. Clad in an orange Grundens rubber fishing bib and matching jacket, he stands on the deck and, in a Down East accent, provides tutorials about lobster reproduction or how to remove barnacles from crab shells.

In September, the Rest-Ashoar welcomed a new member to the crew: Griffin Buckwalter, 20, a videographer. During fishing trips, he often sits in the cabin, editing footage on a laptop.

Mr. Knowles is just one of many individuals in blue-collar occupations who utilize social media platforms to offer glimpses into their lives. Their videos are a far cry from the typical makeup tutorials found on TikTok. Instead, they resemble a social media version of the long-running Discovery Channel show “Dirty Jobs.” In some cases, these hard-working influencers have even secured sponsorship deals, providing them with additional sources of income.

One popular online figure who works outdoors is Adam Perry, a tree trimmer in England. Through his Instagram account, he has amassed 245,000 followers by sharing videos of himself climbing trees with a chainsaw and tying knots with names like double Portuguese bowline and clove hitch. Another example is Hannah Jackson, who shepherds sheep in the rolling hills of Cumbria, England. On TikTok, she goes by the username theredshepherdess and has 100,000 followers. One of her recent posts featured her new herding dog, Mick.

Ms. Jackson, 31, mentioned that her content appeals to “people who are in more urban settings.” She explained, “Probably because I explain farming in a very straightforward manner. People feel comfortable asking questions without feeling foolish.”

With her red hair and cheeky sense of humor, Ms. Jackson is a unique presence. She has leveraged her online success into a bestselling memoir in England and has made appearances on the BBC show “Countryfile.” She also has sponsorship agreements with brands like Can-Am, a manufacturer of off-road vehicles, as well as other companies. “The revenue I earn from posting really helps support the farm,” she remarked.

The audience for these creators includes individuals who work desk jobs. Michael Williams, the founder of A Continuous Lean, a men’s style site turned newsletter, revealed that he follows the social media accounts of a mechanic, an electrician, and a long-haul truck driver.

One influencer that Mr. Williams particularly enjoys following is Robert Allen, a pilot with nearly 400,000 TikTok followers. Mr. Allen’s videos shed light on a niche aspect of the aviation industry. He is the founder of Nomadic Aviation, a company that transports planes around the world for various reasons, such as when they are sold, require maintenance, or are converted from commercial airliners into cargo jets. “He’s in all these obscure places worldwide, performing a cargo conversion,” Mr. Williams remarked. “If you’re interested in that kind of thing, it’s incredibly captivating.”

The lobsterman, the shepherd, and the pilot share little in common with the young fashion and lifestyle influencers who rose to fame over a decade ago. The initial wave of online influencers built their followings by showcasing their personal style or providing beauty, interior design, or parenting advice. The most savvy among them transformed their online fame into financial opportunities through brand collaborations.

Alice Marwick, an associate professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who specializes in social media research, explained, “When we think of influencers, we imagine a blonde woman wearing a two-piece outfit, clutching a designer handbag, and posing on a hotel balcony.” This perception largely arose because Instagram, initially launched as a photo-sharing app in 2010, was well-suited for promoting aspirational lifestyle content. “The platform possesses an aesthetic quality that lends itself to beauty, lifestyle, travel, and food—these highly curated, visually appealing areas,” Professor Marwick added.

Another strain of social media fame centered around male YouTubers like Jake Paul and MrBeast, who garnered large followings, especially among young men, by relying on spectacle, fast-paced editing, and a brash persona.

When TikTok emerged, its short-form videos were rawer, less filtered, and individuals could achieve viral status simply by saying something intriguing to the camera or leading an unconventional life. Professor Marwick noted, “That’s where we find these blue-collar influencers. Although we know these jobs exist, we don’t really know what goes on behind the scenes.”

Ms. Jackson recounted that when she was growing up, she didn’t realize farming could be a viable career option unless one was born into it. She lacked female role models. She frequently receives messages from women from diverse backgrounds expressing gratitude for showcasing her day-to-day life. “I think it’s women, in general, being a little braver and trying things that society might discourage,” Ms. Jackson remarked.

Authenticity appears to be another key factor attracting audiences to these blue-collar creators. They don’t reside in content houses in Los Angeles, their feeds aren’t (yet) cluttered with sponsored posts, and they don’t appear to be using social media solely as a springboard to internet stardom. They have dedicated years to honing their respective trades.

Mr. Allen’s videos often feature a package of peanut M&Ms somewhere in the pilot’s cabin. He considers the candy his good luck charm and ensures he keeps a supply before embarking on international flights. When asked if he was being paid by Mars, the candy manufacturer, Mr. Allen chuckled and replied, “M&M’s should be paying me. I don’t think they’re aware of it.”

Mr. Allen’s path to TikTok fame was unexpected. He was an investor in a company that produces insect repellents, including a bedbug killer that was launched around the time the pandemic hit and hotels shuttered. In order to boost sales, he immersed himself in social media marketing and joined TikTok.

Mr. Allen reminisced, “Nobody cared about these bedbug products, but people started asking me, ‘Where are you flying?’ ‘What do you do?’ ‘Show us more of the airplane.'” He was surprised by the number of people who found aviation fascinating. Many of his followers are individuals who, for various reasons, are unable to travel and see the world. They perceive Mr. Allen as an ordinary guy. “I’m eating terribly,” Mr. Allen confessed. “I’m not getting proper rest. I’m grabbing food from convenience stores. There are truckers who can relate to that.”

His TikTok account has also proven to be an inspiration for aspiring young aviators, especially since pilots and crew members working for commercial airlines are prohibited by their employers from sharing revealing content like Mr. Allen’s.

During a recent plane delivery to Sanford, Florida, Mr. Allen was welcomed like a celebrity by 21-year-old Drew Cripe, a pilot on his way to obtaining an airline transportation license. Mr. Cripe remarked, “When you’re like me, trying to accumulate flight hours to qualify for the airlines, you’re aware of the pay and the daily routine of flying from Point A to Point B. However, you never get to witness what goes on behind the scenes. Bob is well-known around my flight school because he provides such unique insight into the world of commercial aviation.”

Mr. Allen’s charisma, smooth drawl, and genuine love for aviation shine through in his videos. He hails from Kentucky and possesses a natural on-camera presence.

Joe Seppi, the long-haul trucker whom Mr. Williams follows, has also achieved social media fame. He captivates his fans with a curmudgeonly personality and dry sense of humor.

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