VidCon is taking place this week in Anaheim. What started out as a convention for teenage fans of YouTube stars has turned into one of the premier events of the entertainment industry, with 21,000 attendees, and sponsors like Kia, Taco Bell, Best Buy, Panasonic, and Canon. Media executives that ignore this conference do so at their own peril.
As VidCon sponsors and attendees are figuring out, interruptive advertising is not the best way to reach Gen Z and Late Millennials. Rather, they are turning to more social-based outreach like #CreatedWith content done in conjunction with Social Video Influencers, such as the stars of YouTube, Vine, and other social video platforms.
But just how popular are these Influencers, and is their reach limited to only a small pocket of young teens enamored with them?
The answer is a resounding “no.” A study done by Variety last year showed that, among teens 13-to-18, YouTube stars like Smosh and PewDiePie are more popular and recognizable than mainstream stars like Jennifer Lawrence and Katie Perry.
Take a look at Variety’s Influencer chart, Famechangers. How many of those names do you recognize? Millennial and Gen Z audiences know them all. Importantly, this community of Influencers is growing, and not just through YouTube. Sites like Vimeo and Vessel are proving to be fertile ground for Influencers –- video stars who’ve launched their own series, often with millions of followers across a widening variety of social platforms.
Take Cameron Dallas, a 20-year old Vine star that has millions of followers across all major social platforms. His first mainstream production, a feature film called Expelled, knocked Guardians of the Galaxy off the top spot on iTunes within 12 hours of its release. That’s real star power and something that brands and content producers alike need to keep in mind.
Brands, studios, and networks must also understand how these fans go about interacting with Influencers; why they feel bonded to them in ways they don’t with Hollywood stars, who seem distant and removed by comparison. With Social Video Influencers, there’s a sense of intimacy and accessibility created by their use of social media. Fans feel they know these people, many of whom started their careers doing homemade videos, cultivating and growing their fan base by making themselves accessible. This strong, deeply-rooted connection is why fans feel so strongly about them. And, as illustrated by Cameron Dallas, this sort of loyalty can be incredibly valuable.
Another insight from VidCon: as social video goes mainstream, so too does the reach of these Influencers. It is thus imperative that content producers determine how best to use them; incorporating them into mainstream movies and TV shows to leverage the power of their audiences. To do so requires a deep familiarity with these Influencers — understanding who their audiences are, with which MCNs they’re affiliated, and what their goals and ambitions are.
Keep in mind that I’m not suggesting in any way that Influencers will supplant the current TV ecosystem, only that they will definitely become an important part of it. The lessons they’ve learned regarding how to build a brand from scratch — from attracting audiences based solely on the strength of their content and word-of-mouth, to learning how to navigate a system where fans demand 24/7 access –- will prove valuable to anyone creating programming in this day and age. The ease with which some (but not all) Influencers can slip into the mainstream is also worth noting: networks should view them as a ‘farm team’ of sorts, a proving ground for future talent.
It will be interesting to see how Hollywood adapts to the, well, influence of influencers and how this, in turn, changes the way we think about fame.