The Social-Media Stars Who Move Markets

A few years ago, Kevin Paffrath, a 29-year-old real-estate broker and father of two who lives in Ventura, Calif., earned most of his income from commissions on home sales, and kept up a side gig recording online videos about home buying.

Today, he’s MeetKevin, a YouTube influencer with 1.7 million subscribers. Most days, he live-streams on the platform for several hours, talking about the stock market and doling out investing advice in a rapid-fire, self-deprecating manner. He banters with commenters, hams it up with silly British accents and sips coffee in front of a wall in his home studio hung with brightly colored cartoon posters and a turquoise electric guitar. In addition to the live streams, he’s made hundreds of videos on a range of investment-advice topics.

“I used to spend three or four hours with one client talking to them about real estate they could buy for below market value, and if I was lucky, maybe after 90 days, that one person would turn into $10,000 dollars in revenue,” Mr. Paffrath said. “Today, $10,000 in revenue is a bad day for me. Influencing has crowded everything else out.”

Mr. Paffrath says he earned $5 million in the first three months of this year, as page views and demand for his guidance have skyrocketed during the pandemic. Receipts he provided to The Wall Street Journal showing YouTube revenue payments confirm that he earns several million dollars a year in ad revenue alone.

As the U.S. retreated amid the pandemic to its couches, millions of would-be stock pickers—some flush with stimulus cash—fired up social-media and messaging apps and dove headlong into the world of retail investing.

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