Last week I attended VidCon the online video conference for creators, fans and brands. I was most amazed by the throngs of screaming fans – nearly 20,000 of them – throughout the Anaheim Convention Center. Everywhere I went there were fans, primarily young adults, waiting for a glimpse of their mini screen idols identifiable by me only because they were at the center of the action. And those newly minted stars did not disappoint – stopping generously for selfies, autographs and hugs. It was like the Beatles in the 60’s but with hugs. Not side hugs or pat-pat on the back hugs but genuine “I am so glad you are here” hugs.

The second most surprising thing was the relatively low number of brands and agencies participating and interacting with the creators. What a missed opportunity! We are in the infancy of a new way of communicating one that is changing rapidly, creating a new league of celebrities (some of whom have subscriber bases of 10M+)  and engaging an amazingly vibrant fan base. I have sat in countless meetings bemoaning the fact that these younger audiences are more fragmented and harder to reach than ever. And yet, given the opportunity to interact and learn, we sit at the sidelines.

So , what did I learn?

  1. “You’re my favorite EVERYTHING!!” Teen Fan to Creator. There was a true bond and a genuine trust that is rarely found in communications – real two-way engagement. I challenge us to find that kind of passion for our brands – and to support those who can.
  2. “Advertising is incredibly efficient at funding distractions. Number of eyeballs (impressions, views) is a perfect measurement of distraction but not engagement. Be in the engagement business. Engage your audience to wrestle with the issues life – whether that is solving a social issue or tying a bow-tie,” John Green, Author and Co-Founder of VidCon. Engagement is the measure, not eyeballs. Are we truly changing hearts and minds? Are we having conversations, not communications?
  3. “Be brave. Don’t be afraid to be polarizing. Authenticity is everything,” Jeetendr Sehdev, Celebrity Branding Authority and Marketing Prof, USC. Too often brands try to be all things to all people. Find your true believers and be true to them and to your brand.
  4. “Creators create for themselves. Their audiences are organic – a process of discovery and devotion. Creators are not trying to game the audience,” Andrew Wallenstein, Variety Editor-in-Chief. Our goal should be creating content that people fall in love with. We create trust by creating value, intimacy, collaboration and not by over-positioning.
  5. “Don’t give money to anyone who uses the word viral. They are bad for your brand.” Rob Ciampa, CMO of Pixability. See #2 – engagement not eyeballs.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. There is so much we can learn from observing and interacting with audiences and the creators who inspire them.