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Five Takeaways From VidCon For Brands, Influencers And The Rest of Us

VidCon, the massive fan festival/creator conference/industry summit held its annual Anaheim eruption, perhaps bigger and more inclusive than ever, and despite some attempted competition for fan attention and love.

Out of it all, there were plenty of business lessons for brands, marketers, media companies and others trying to navigate the huge and ever-more-fractured business of online video and the influencers who’ve built their own audiences there. Here are five of the biggest takeaways from the show:

TanaCon was a disaster, but its creators stumbled into a big business opportunity. Influencer Tana Mongeau, feeling mistreated by VidCon in the previous two gatherings, staged the competing TanaCon down the street during the show.

About 100 other influencers joined in, but so too did thousands of unticketed would-be attendees, attracted by the cheaper price and the chance to rub shoulders with favorite stars in a way the safety-conscious VidCon no longer allows. The result was a chaotic mess, and TanaCon was ultimately cancelled.

But TanaCon also showed the pure power of influencers, as well as the pure potential of an event like this. Next year, someone should create better-run satellite events around VidCon that let fans see even more influencers at a budget-friendly price, especially given that everyone is already in town for the big show.

Live events and tours are already a significant source of revenue for influencers, as shown by the week’s announcements around events such as Fullscreen Live. Now who’s going to take advantage by creating events around, but not part of, the massive beast that is VidCon?

“New Kids” LinkedIn and Twitch Showed They Belong. Hard to believe it was the first VidCon appearance for Amazon-owned Twitch, given its size (15 million daily users) and age (founded in 2011).

But co-founder Kevin Lin told me after his appearance with Twitch GM of Content and Emerging Markets Kendra Johnson that the gamer-focused live-streaming site actually had to call around to get a spot on the main stage.

They had plenty to talk about, given Twitch’s dominance of live gamer streams, its central place in esports and its innovative creation of many ways for its creators to make a living. Now the company is moving into new markets and new content types.

But Twitch wasn’t the only New Kid. LinkedIn, the business-focused social-media site that Microsoft bought for $26.2 billion two years ago, now has native video, its own influencers and their own audiences.

A VidCon summit for some of those influencers spotlighted the opportunities here. It’s not hard to imagine lots of companies and creators jumping onto LinkedIn in coming months. The potential audience is huge for high-value video content (and brand marketing) about marketing, job interviews, organizational development and so many other business-oriented topics. Best of all, 10 months in, it’s still a wide-open field.

Amazon pretty much everywhere. Speaking of Amazon, it made a push not just with Twitch but also its new Merch fulfillment service, and an “industry lounge” that fed and lubricated the entire industry track held on the Anaheim Convention Center’s top floor.

Merch leverages Amazon’s strengths in e-commerce, shipping and manufacturing of low-cost goods to provide custom T-shirts, stickers, notebooks and other gear that creators can sell through their websites.

During the show, the company partnered to create products for O.G. influencers Shane Dawson and Hannah Hart.

The industry lounge also spotlighted other Amazon initiatives, including Handmade, a service for the kinds of artisanal jewelry, fashion, furniture and other products you’d see on Etsy.

As was obvious at E3 the week before, where Amazon showcased Twitch and, at the Subnation booth, its Game On fulfillment service, the ecommerce giant is getting into pretty much everything. It’s building on natural strengths, like fulfillment services, and extending into other areas, such as video, to create powerful offerings for creators and fans alike. Everyone else should be nervous.

The whole funnel, not just the top. Online marketing guru Brian Solis had a big reminder for the many brands at the conference: use influencer marketing for more than just the top of the funnel.

Smart brands, Solis said, are using long-term relationships with influencers to create content that can push their products through every part of the funnel, including after the sale is made.

Some of the most powerful and brand-building content is actually the stuff showing new things you can do with a product once you’ve bought it. And this bottom-of-the-funnel, user-friendly content can be an evergreen turned up in searches for months or years after an initial campaign.

Most brands are still using influencers in “the same old broadcast model,” more like celebrity endorsements in traditional TV ads largely designed only to increase brand awareness, Solis said.

Younger audiences are spending an average 177 minutes per day on their smart phones, ushering in what Solis called Influence 2.0.

“They’ve disrupted the entire consumer journey,” Solis said. Rather than relying on metrics such as reach and impressions, brands should focus on authority, and who has it in talking to which audiences.

Metrics should be focused on growth and outcomes for the brand, built on the relationships and brand loyalty that an influencer can help build, Solis said.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and boredom. At this point in the online-video business, imitation is becoming a lot more common than innovation among the big platforms. A lot of the announcements before and during the show had a really familiar feel:

  • Instagram launched a standalone app, IG TV, that will carry videos of as much as an hour in length. It’s kind of like YouTube.
  • Facebook launched FB.GG, a centralized place for the site’s game-related content and a semi=competitor to Twitch and Gaming.YouTube.
  • Snapchat finally decided to court its influencers, offering ad-revenue shares and letting them create Shows the way it’s previously allowed big publishers to do. That puts Snapchat closer to pretty much everyone else.
  • YouTube used a distinctly underwhelming keynote to announce it will launch or extend several programs to let creators make more money. The initiatives include easier live-event ticketing, a licensed merchandise “shelf” on each page, and subscription memberships for individual channels. This all feels a lot like Twitch and some smaller sites such as YouNow.

At this rate, all the big sites will look more alike than different over the next couple of years. Influencers will have more choices about where to operate, and more ways to make money. But marketers will need to be smarter in the ways they use influencer marketing to truly unlock the potential the sector promises in this ear of Influence 2.0.