If reality TV has redefined the concept of celebrity, social media has taken it to a whole new level. A recent survey found that 8 out of the 10 celebrities that matter most to teens are YouTube personalities – the other two were Taylor Swift and Bruno Mars. Many of these “celebrities” don’t even have a discernable talent, such as singing or dancing, and (like the Kardashians) they are famous for being themselves. But tweens and teens are responding to their genuineness and the ability to potentially connect with them via social media channels.
Many of these social sensations look like the kid bagging your groceries. In fact, if that kid bagging your groceries is Alex From Target then he is “famous” and you can talk to his agent about a product endorsement fee. Variety calls them Famechangers: “Teens’ emotional attachment to YouTube stars is as much as seven times greater than that toward a traditional celebrity; and YouTube stars are perceived as 17 times more engaging, and 11 times more extraordinary, than mainstream stars.”
I witnessed this firsthand at DigiFest in New York City where about 1,000 screaming fans paid to see these personalities in real life. I talked to 17-year-old Nash Grier who has more than 31M followers aggregated across different social channels. Grier explained the dynamic, “It feels like a family – every single one of my followers, we kind of have a relationship. I always try to find some time in the day to tweet some people back to see their support and love.” I guess the definition of the word relationship is different when you are talking about 31M followers, but both the fans and personalities appear to earnestly believe this.
Grier prefers to call himself a “content creator” and notes that only adults distinguish between media and social media. He was very polite, and smiled and posed for multiple photos with all the young girls that tentatively, and sometimes tearfully, approached him. My colleague, Angel Hakim, wrote also wrote about this topic, Influencers vs. Creators: How the Landscape is Changing.
What constitutes authenticity?
These social media celebs call themselves brands and, very astutely, understand the value of their audience to potential sponsors. However, they don’t perceive themselves as spokespeople or advertisers. “I’m really mad at commercials because they are so whack,” said Grier. “I feel like kids are just fed all this stuff and they are supposed to buy it. There should be some content behind it. There should be an incentive to make them want something.”
The idea of native advertising and using content – or celebrities – to sell products isn’t new or unique to this age strata. However, I find the constant reference to authenticity among this group ironic. “One old piece of slang that has not survived is ‘selling out.’ …Frontline asked a group of teenagers what the phrase meant to them. Nothing, they replied. Yesterday’s sellouts, mocked for their contracts, are today’s brand ambassadors, admired for their hustle,” wrote Amanda Hess in The New York Times.
It will be interesting to see how this evolves as today’s tweens/teens and YouTube personalities grow up. What do you think?