Jul 15, 2019

There’s lots to learn from the newest generation of influencers.

The biggest takeaway from VidCon is that VidCon is for the fans. After a decade in operation and the influx of corporate sponsors, as well as a new owner in Viacom, the festival’s underpinning still befits curious and young creators best.

In several panels this year, when polled by the moderators, the majority of the audiences said it was their first VidCon. It makes sense; the crowds milling around the expo floor and halls of the Anaheim Convention Center were mostly teenage-esque and enthusiastic (and accompanied by chaperones who appeared less so). There was a lot of pastel-colored hair and more than few a fake-fur microphone covers decorated with large, plastic googly eyes. This is all anecdotal evidence that points to the overwhelming youth of VidCon attendees, and more so the continual newness of the festival.

Newness, of course, is intrinsic to internet culture. By the time a platform or meme is mainstream, it’s old. Which, as has been said before, old is how anyone over the age of 25 feels at VidCon. That's what's great about it. Like other marketing and media conferences, there’s plenty to glean from panelists and moderators when it comes to trends and insights. But the real action is with the masses of young attendees who seem preternaturally skilled at recognizing and creating content that’s simply entertaining. They're the arbiters of the future.

"The creators that come here every year are the most innovative. They are pushing the boundaries of what's happening in the media landscape."

Vanessa Pappas

General Manager, TikTok

As Vanessa Pappas, the general manager of TikTok, said during a panel, “the creators that come here every year are the most innovative. They are pushing the boundaries of what's happening in the media landscape.”

This was the tenth VidCon. In the last decade, it’s gone from a 1,400-person gathering in the basement of a Hyatt to a 75,000-person event where massive corporate brand activations generated as much interest as Nala the Cat (the Instagram feline wonder with more than 4 million followers). Attendees could skateboard with Sam and Colby (whose YouTube channel has 3.2 million followers) at Nike’s “Sport Court,” create Kool-Aid-branded edible slime with Karina Garcia of Craft City (who has 9 million YouTube followers and a line of slime kits available at Target and Wal-Mart), or pose for a photo opp on a throne of Snickers.

Here are a few takeaways from the panels, programming, and influencer meet-and-greets of VidCon 2019:

1) This was the year of TikTok.

TikTok is the fastest-growing social media platform. Last year, it was downloaded more than a billion times and surpassed the monthly install rate of giants like Facebook, Snapchat, and YouTube. All of which is more impressive when considering that it’s been fewer than two years since the app launched internationally, and less than a year since it merged with musical.ly.

Pappas summed up its appeal saying, “TikTok frees you from the constraints of your social network.” In other words, you don't need to be social to use it. Users get a never-ending parade of short-form videos without having to follow or friend anyone, and creators have access to a (potentially) enormous audience. “You can get discovered because every video is given a chance to be seen,” said Pappas.

While it was TikTok’s first time on the VidCon stages, its party presence was the most in-demand. As Taylor Lorenz reported, the line outside its Wednesday night bash turned into something of a “mob scene” with TikTok influencers vying to get in.

2) Platforms > Publishers

Again, VidCon is primarily a conference for online video influencers and their fans, who all sort of collate together as creators. Yet, panels featuring leaders from platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube drew the largest crowds. Industry professionals and creators alike were eager to hear any tidbits from executives on how to develop an audience and monetize their content. 

This shows that even at a conference designed to honor fans, the platforms are still the player with the most power.

3) The road to monetization is paved in swag.

The list of ways to make money if you have a large audience is growing. But, selling swag—that classic way of leveraging fandom—is still going strong. With exclusive t-shirts and hoodies, hats, stickers, stuffed animals, water bottles, and nail polish for sale, fans had countless ways to exert their consumer power. 

4) Cross-platform is key.

From streaming on Twitch, to growth hacking YouTube, to leveraging video on LinkedIn—nearly every platform was on the agenda. Brands and individual creators alike were focused on how to leverage each platform's capabilities and audience.

Even within platforms, there’s nuance. As Victor Marcus noted in a panel devoted to Instagram, he categorizes up his Instagram content as “stories is your diary, feed is your highlights reel, live is a meet up, and IGTV is a show.” When pressed about his struggles with creating content across and within platforms, he said he’s still “figuring out if I want to go vertical or horizontal.” Even in online video, there’s no single standard.

5) The future of content is participatory.

The rise of social media and mobile technology democratized the process of creating and publishing videos—and birthed the generation of fans who bought tickets to VidCon. They are more than just passionate fans of content, of course, they're fervent creators. As every viral TikTok challenge proves, fans increasingly want to exercise their creativity and abilities. The world of online video is largely a collective experience, and they want to be part of it.

As the power of user-generated platforms continues to rise and consumer technology becomes more sophisticated, online video is only going to get more interactive. In a presentation on the future of mixed reality, Paramount Pictures’ Futurist-in-Residence Ted Schilowitz pointed out that as technology shifts, so does its utility. “Someday, you won’t use your iPad or laptop, you’ll wear it,” he quipped.

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