Friday, August 4, 2017

Steps To Becoming A Social Media Star?

It’s a beautiful day, and I’m standing in a courtyard of a private university east of L.A. surrounded by 40 teenagers, most of them desiring to become the next Internet sensation..

The youngest are here for SocialStar Creator Camp, which is designed to turn them into social media superstars able to produce content that will attract adoring followers and corporate sponsors willing to pay top dollar for Internet “influencers” to promote their products. And then there’s me, the analog guy who has yet to post a YouTube video.

My fellow campers are from all over. There’s a 13-year-old singer from San Francisco and a 13-year-old boy from Sonora, Mexico, here to learn about vlogging (video-blogging), a 17-year-old South African who needs help with video editing, and a Puerto Rican, back for a second summer, who believes Internet fame will help him become a DJ and party planner.

In the shade of a dormitory breezeway, two teens from Idaho are flirting with a 12-year-old from Sweden who likes shoes and plans to start a YouTube channel that reviews footwear. They soon are joined by a young comedian, who hopes the skits she posts on YouTube will lead one day to a job on Saturday Night Live, and a fashion-conscious 14-year-old whose goal is to make time-lapse videos that show her designing and making casual clothes.

Most parents, it seems fair to generalize, would rather their kids spend less time, not more, on social media.

They obsess over how much “screen time” to allow their children each day. And many no doubt see summer as a prime opportunity to wean their adolescents from the all-consuming devices that seem increasingly to rule their lives. They remember when summer meant riding horses, canoeing, and learning to tie knots (save for the humbling sheepshank) at a camp named after some dispossessed Indian tribe. The more zealous among them would probably recoil in horror from a camp that doubles down on social media. It would strike them as going over to the dark side.

But then most parents also look for small shoots of ambition among their offspring that they can encourage and nurture. And that’s decidedly the case with the campers I’m meeting here. Kids like 12-year-old Ryan Hildebrand, an A-student from Seattle. “Ryan has an entrepreneurial spark and social media is his passion,” says his mother Kelli. “We just wanted to help him express himself more creatively.” Oregon mother Stephanie Rosenaur, who grew up in Michigan and loves to go camping, says her A-student daughter Aria, 14, lives in a social media world where teenage girls don’t even talk on the phone anymore. “They just text,” she sighs. “She works so hard we can’t complain, and her whole generation is trending this way.”

Camp officially begins in a nearby auditorium named after film star Mary Pickford with inspirational remarks by social media personality Michael Buckley, author of Help! My Kid Wants to Become a YouTuber.

“How old were all of you when YouTube started in 2005?” he shouts. “Four,” respond several young actors here to learn how to better promote themselves. “Well, now is the time to start growing your following on YouTube,” says Buckley, not missing a beat. “You’re an entrepreneur by nature. Learn skills here that will help shape your brand.”

Buckley, 42, strongly believes post-millennial kids belonging to the Generation Z cohort no longer grow up wanting to be doctors or firemen. They want to be YouTubers, he insists, before turning to the assembled campers and exhorting them to follow their dreams. “You’ll face doubters,” he cautions, “but they are like those people drinking champagne on the top deck of the Titanic. You are the iceberg.”

Facebook is still the largest social network, with 2 billion monthly users, 1.32 billion of whom log in every day and spend 20 minutes online. But YouTube’s 1.5 billion users make it a formidable runner-up.

Roughly a billion hours of its content is being watched daily around the world. YouTube’s video format is especially popular with advertisers because the level of engagement of its users (38 percent female, 62 percent male) can be easily quantified.

Imagination and a smartphone are the only things necessary to make a good YouTube video, which is why 300 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute.

Social media is more than a duopoly, of course. Snapchat (approaching 200 million users) and Instagram both publish photos, captions, brief videos, and conversations sparked by all of the above, though Instagram with 700 million users appears to be winning the race. About 328 million people around the world regularly use Twitter in 35 languages. (LinkedIn also qualifies as social media, though most of its 500 million members use the site only as a repository for their digital résumés.)

In addition to serving as an exchange for photos, videos, and messages, social media’s affordability makes it an advertising favorite. “Companies are constantly looking for social media influencers who can engage a large following so that subscribers to the channel will promote the product through word-of-mouth marketing,” explains Barika Croom, 32, a co-founder of B3 Media Solutions in Los Angeles. Croom manages social media for Hyundai and Toyota.

“Analytics are so precise that we know how many people see an influencer video, how long they watch, who they tell, and whether the video changes the public conversation.”

After lunch, Croom lectures campers as young as 10 on how to monetize content on different social media platforms. She then gives them 30 minutes to create a product and shoot and edit a three-minute commercial on their phones. The winning entry, about a cell phone that can be charged by holding it next to a tree, is conceived by a 12-year-old Little Leaguer from Seattle.

When former Los Angeles social worker Nichelle Rodriguez began planning the SocialStar Creator Camp two years ago, it primarily was geared toward teenage actors who believed a social media presence might help them land roles. Before long, parents of younger kids already on YouTube and Instagram began asking for classes that would help their children create better content.

“Huge amounts of money breed intense competition in social media,” says Rodriguez. “Technical and business skills taught here provide the extra push toward success.”

Pundits spent most of 2016 insisting that America’s youth strongly support Bernie Sanders.

This may be the case when it comes to reducing poverty and making college affordable. But not when it comes to the socialism part: The kids at social media camp are committed entrepreneurs fully invested in Western capitalism. Their goal is business success, not Hollywood stardom.

Workshops at the camp ranged from set lighting and video editing to web series production and Internet security. By the end of the third day, campers had learned how to shoot a music video and build an in-house recording studio.

These courses may seem more appropriate for the USC and NYU film schools. In fact, most campers have logged more time behind and in front of a camera than any incoming film student of decades past. Certainly they have the money to pay university tuition.

Sophia Montero, a 13-year-old singer from Miami who is known online as “Angelic,” has a YouTube channel with more than 900,000 subscribers. At age 9 she covered an Ariana Grande song called “Problem” in an upload that has since attracted 32 million views. Her music videos have been viewed more than 150 million times. While she was at camp, her immigrant parents from Venezuela were house hunting in the San Fernando Valley.

“I’m just a normal kid who rides bikes ’n’ stuff,” she smiles. “I don’t care about money. I just want Mom to have everything and for us to lead a full life.”

Spend time browsing social media and it becomes clear why so many consumers are cutting the cable cord. Most YouTube videos may not have the structure or production values of commercial television, but many of the channels are weirdly addictive. “Bad Lip Reading” spoofs film, TV, and political news clips by overdubbing hilariously incongruous vocals that match the lip movements. Grant Thompson’s “The King of Random” confronts weekend projects and humorous experiments in videos that meld MacGyver and MythBusters with Watch Mr. Wizard.

YouTube’s two richest content creators are radically different. One is a foul-mouthed Swede named Felix Arvid Ulf Kjellberg who goes by the online pseudonym PewDiePie. PewDiePie is a gamer whose irreverent clips—most giving the viewer a look over his shoulder as he plays video games and comments on them—have earned him around $90 million and attracted more than 56 million followers he calls the “Bro Army.”

YouTube’s biggest star was profiled on the front page of the Wall Street Journal earlier this year under the headline “Every 20-Something Knows This Woman; Do You?”

Her name is Lilly Singh and her 610 video riffs on social foibles have been viewed over two trillion times. Singh, 28, earned $7.5 million last year, according to Forbes, thanks to hilarious videos like “If White Walkers Were Teenage Girls” and “5 Things Guys Do That Girls Love.”

Singh credits her seven years on YouTube with helping her get two film roles, fund a touring variety show, and publish a book. Says Singh: “When I walk into an audition, the casting agent knows that I bring a very large online audience with me and that my audience is ready to support me in my future projects.”

It’s exactly that sort of synergy that prompted Alyssa Lebarron, an aspiring 15-year-old actress from Denver, to attend social media camp. “I was in one Subway commercial, but I’ve missed other roles because I lacked a social media presence,” she confides. “Casting directors always are looking for web stars because they are easier to promote.”

The road to stardom used to start with a lucky break.

After getting into a bar fight, a noticeably bruised Mel Gibson agreed to drive a friend to an audition the next morning where he was spotted by a director who thought he might fit into a dystopian movie called Mad Max. Charlize Theron was approached by a casting director in a bank after she got into an argument with a teller who was reluctant to withdraw money from her South African account. The pathway to fame now begins at YouTube.

Exhibit A: The HBO comedy series Insecure, starring Issa Rae, which began its second season last month, was born six years ago on YouTube under the title The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl.

The entrepreneurial spirit of the campers is reciprocated by corporate America, which is embracing social media as a way to reach a younger generation that communicates in ways their baby boomer parents find utterly foreign. Recent studies by Georgetown linguistics professor Deborah Tannen show that today’s students prefer to transact all business online, are reluctant to seek information on the phone, and, perhaps most surprising, text each other even more once they become roommates.

For all the benefits it offers to marketers, though, social media remains a two-edged sword.

“Unlike traditional advertising, which is a one-way communication, social media allows a dialogue with the customer,” says Larry Light, CEO of Arcature, a marketing consulting firm, and author of Six Rules for Brand Revitalization. “You have to remember that your dialogue is not private. The whole world is listening and your good intentions can be misinterpreted.”

That’s what happened last March when after the Boston Marathon Adidas emailed to race participants, “Congrats, you survived the Boston Marathon.” Within minutes the Twitterverse exploded, criticizing Adidas for its insensitivity just four years after the 2013 marathon bombing.

Adidas rebounded from its gaffe with a quick apology. United Airlines is still suffering from its muddled response to a video of its forcible removal of a passenger. Southwest Airlines hopes to eliminate misunderstandings before they happen by keeping a Listening Center at its Dallas Love Field headquarters staffed around the clock with employees who monitor social media looking for complaints they can respond to in real time. “Social listening to live tweets is an early-warning system that lets our ground staff know there may be a situation,” says social business team manager Ashley Mainz.

Back in Los Angeles at the SocialStar Creator Camp social media’s next generation has less weighty concerns.

Brazilian Sophia Fuchs, 15, from the suburbs of São Paulo is excited about what life has to offer.

Her videos about teenage life have been viewed over 1.5 million times during the past three years, and now she’s starting to do commercials about school supplies.

“I get invited to beach resorts and people stop me on the street to take pictures,” she smiles brightly. With a combined 450,000 followers on YouTube and Instagram, does she want to be a social media superstar, I ask? “I don’t know,” she says. “I like math and science a lot.”

Guest Authored By David DeVoss. David is is editor of the East-West News Service in Los Angeles.

In addition to serving as an exchange for photos, videos, and messages, social media’s affordability makes it an advertising favorite.

“Companies are constantly looking for social media influencers who can engage a large following so that subscribers to the channel will promote the product through word-of-mouth marketing,” explains Barika Croom, 32, a co-founder of B3 Media Solutions in Los Angeles.."

    • Authored by:
      Fred Hansen Pied Piper of Social Media Marketing at & CEO of Millennium 7 Publishing Co. in Loveland, Colorado. I work deep in the trenches of social media strategy, community management and trends.  My interests include; online business educator, social media marketing, new marketing technology, skiing, hunting, fishing and The Rolling Stones..-Not necessarily in that order ;)
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