If you’ve opened up TikTok recently, you’ve more than likely seen a post from a “Building Global Audiences” student on your For You Page. In this course, aspiring influencers at Duke discover how to build their own platforms while learning about social media with an academic lens.
Aaron Dinin, lecturing fellow in Innovation and Entrepreneurship, designed the course as a collaborative experience where content creators can connect with their audiences. The class focuses on the marketing and business components of social media, with ample class time devoted to analytics, growth strategy and reflection.
Dinin’s interests in content creation are both academic and personal. In addition to teaching Building Global Audiences, the professor regularly publishes articles on Medium and LinkedIn, hosts a podcast called “Web Masters” and most recently, runs a TikTok account.
Discussions from the course have influenced his own content creation. In some ways, instructing the course feels more like learning alongside peers than a traditional student-teacher relationship, he said.
“It's been really rewarding to just work with this group of students who were just so incredibly into the work of the class, that it doesn't feel like a class. It feels like a community that just happens to get credit,” Dinin said.
Building Global Audiences has two separate pathways: the “Team Track” and the “Creator Track.” In the Team Track, groups of students collaborate on a partner project in order to develop content to help grow a company’s audience. In the “Creator Track,” individual creators focus on building their personal brands and audiences on social media.
In a world that is increasingly digital, Dinin hopes his class will inspire students to leverage the power of social media for good.
“I think the biggest responsibility, the biggest challenge of the class, is helping my students and other people in the community understand that this is an incredibly powerful medium,” he said. “They need to be using it to spread positive messages and to promote good things in the world.”
The Chronicle interviewed five aspiring influencers on the Creator Track, whose platforms range from fashion to soccer.
Natalia Hauser, @natisstyle on Tiktok/Instagram
If you’re looking for outfit inspiration, look no further.
Sophomore Natalia Hauser began her social media platform as a simple outlet to share her love for style with close friends. After first building a following on Instagram, she expanded to TikTok, where she currently has more than 9.6 million likes and 215,000 followers.
“It may have started with fashion at first, but then as soon as I started getting legitimate questions about my life and my passions, I realized I loved forming a community with individuals,” Hauser said.
A proud Venezuelan-American, Hauser posts content in both Spanish and English, which enables her to connect with a Spanish-speaking audience.
“What I do on these platforms is just create lifestyle content about parts of my life, including Duke; where I’m from, which is Miami; and some beauty and fashion,” she said.
Before enrolling in the course, Hauser struggled to get advice for her content from friends and family who had limited experience in content creation. This semester, she has benefitted from the feedback and creativity of her classmates.
“I can just discuss ideas with them and get their feedback and improve my content overall. I think having that support, that backbone of individuals, has really helped me,” she said.
Athan Wright, Athan Wright on YouTube
Many students recall watching college day-in-the-life vlogs during college searches, seeking a glimpse into university life that would make the decision process easier. First-year Athan Wright, who posted his first YouTube video just nine months ago, has steadily built a subscriber base of over 800 from his college vlogs. Some of his most watched videos include “What I Love About Duke University,” “Dorm Tour of EVERY Freshman Dorm at Duke University” and “College Move-in Day.”
“I focus on showing other people college life at Duke in a fun way that gives people, you know, a small break from their day to day lives,” Wright said.
Many of his vlogs feature interviews and comments from students on campus, and he has collaborated with other content creators as well.
What has surprised Wright most about the class is the diversity of content creators.
“I'm so focused on vlogs and the college life, but there's people here doing slime, fashion fanpage videos, it's crazy. There's just so much going on,” he said.
Wright also appreciates being able to draw on the knowledge of his peers in this one-of-a-kind environment. When one of his videos hadn’t been as successful as he had hoped, his classmates provided constructive feedback.
“I left the class so reinvigorated with a sense of purpose. Because of all the feedback I was getting on my video … I was able to kind of see what I was doing wrong with my video and find a new direction to go in,” he said.
As Class of 2026 decisions come out this admissions season, future Blue Devils will undoubtedly find a helpful resource in Athan’s channel.
Jacob Whatley, @jacobcwhatley on Instagram
First-year Jacob Whatley has leveraged social media to share his work in film and photography with a wider audience.
One scroll through his Instagram page reveals stunning images of nature, scenery and portraiture. His feed reflects his desire to transition to a well-rounded travel style gallery. In addition to his own artwork, Whatley works with the University to produce social media content, such as “Students on What I Love About Duke.”
“Working with my peers is eye-opening,” he wrote in an email to The Chronicle. “When I am stumped, someone in the class might have a way to help me. I know how to work a camera with at least some proficiency, yet I have no idea about audio. But Max Hof, a singer and songwriter in the pop duo W4VE, talked me through exactly what I needed.”
Whatley emphasized that collaboration is one of the most important parts of creating media. He also expressed his gratitude for learning alongside peers who shared his goals and understand the day-to-day challenges of original content creation.
“Most people have no idea how much time goes into a single post and working alongside others that understand that is very motivating,” he wrote.
Ruben Mesalles, @rubenmesalles on TikTok
First-year Ruben Mesalles successfully juggled academics, an athletic career and a growing social media platform while at Duke.
Mesalles, a midfielder on the men’s soccer team, has built a five-figure following on his TikTok account. His content is largely centered around his life as a student-athlete and has featured collaboration with other creators at Duke.
Mesalles’ journey with content creation began as a quarantine pastime. Inspired by two of his friends, he started uploading soccer videos regularly to TikTok in spring of 2020. Now, he has over 10,000 followers on the app.
“I started up my TikTok again because of [Building Global Audiences] and it's been doing really good lately. I'm getting a lot of engagement and a good amount of followers … I'm pretty excited for how it's going,” Mesalles said.
Building Global Audiences has made the value of authenticity clear to Mesalles. The most important takeaway from the course so far, according to Mesalles, has been “just to be yourself and do the content that you want to do.”
One of two musicians in Building Global Audiences, first-year Barbara Cardenas—known as Barbara Teresa across streaming platforms—has used this course to expand her platform past purely music and build a connection with her audience.
Cardenas’s music, which she classifies as indie-pop, has already attracted nearly 1,500 monthly listeners on Spotify. Her most popular song, “saturday night,” has been played over 43,000 times. It’s a track that truly lets her artistic talents shine: her light, airy vocals are contrasted by melancholy lyrics that resonate with anyone who’s experienced heartbreak.
The singer-songwriter draws inspiration from performers such as Gracie Abrams, Lizzy McAlpine and Maude Latour. She admires the authentic images of themselves that they portray online.
“They're artists, but they're also very authentic on social media platforms, and I think that that's something that's very important. They're super candid,” Cardenas said.
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Sevana Wenn is a Trinity sophomore and features managing editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.