Last weekend, Summer in the City, the largest independent UK YouTube event took place at Alexandra Palace in north London. The event attracted more than 8,000 attendees from across the world in a celebration of all things YouTube. It featured live performances and appearances from some of YouTube’s most well-known personalities including Zoella and Michael Stevens of Vsauce.
During the three-day event I sat on a panel with Tyler Oakley, an American YouTube sensation, to discuss the process of social media stars working with brands. The next day his YouTube channel passed five million subscribers. Just 24 hours later he had won the Choice Web Star at Fox’s Teen Choice Awards, a mainstream event previously the domain of celebrities from more film, TV and music media. #TeamInternet and #TylerOakley also began trending globally on Twitter.
These individual landmarks and accolades highlight a growing trend of young people across the world preferring social media stars over the biggest celebrities in film, TV and music. Recent research commissioned by Variety found that the five most influential figures among Americans aged 13-18 were all YouTube stars. Within the society in which we now live, the line between traditional and social stardom is clearly growing ever more blurred. It is clear that brands, marketers and advertisers alike need to take note, alter their ingrained media thinking, and ensure they are connecting with their audiences through the right channels and with the right content.
And it’s not just YouTube stars stepping into the limelight. In a very short space of time Vine has become incredibly popular with the younger generation, and its stars are increasingly being paid to promote products to their younger followers. The most followed person currently on Vine is 16-year-old Nash Grier, a North Carolina schoolboy who has more than nine million followers watching his videos of pillow fights, throwing water on a sleeping friend and cute interactions with his baby sister. Grier is now on tours visiting fans globally and earlier this year MTV paid him to produce a Vine in fancy dress in order to advertise its show, Teen Wolf.
Similarly Matt Cutshall used to be in a boy band, but that fizzled out. He then spent two years waiting tables in West Hollywood. Now he has a new job: starring in Instagrams and Vines, with US TV networks like Showtime paying for his time. Furthermore two months ago he appeared on Instagram wearing clothes from Gap, which is using him as part of its styld.by campaign.
Online stars are essentially created by their audiences’ ‘likes’ and follows. Those fans often therefore feel a sense of ownership over their stars. Brands therefore must understand and respect the power of digital influencers, and the loyal fanbase that they command. These recent examples and the sheer fact that YouTubers were mobbed at last weekend’s Summer in the City is only the start. If the event highlighted anything, it is the phenomenal reach and power of online video, and its ability to access mass audiences in a compelling way.
Damian Collier, founder and chief executive of Viral Spiral, now part of Rightster