VidCon 2019: New Considerations for Cultivating Connection

by Caitlin Williamson

There are now more YouTubers making $1MM a year than there were attendees of the first VidCon in 2010- and it didn’t start out as a small conference. Ten years later VidCon remains an opportunity to immerse yourself beyond the comments section and experience the untamed passion that fuels the massive online video industry. 

Competing with The Happiest Place on Earth just next door, the conference brings together tens of thousands of creators, their communities and industry folks clamoring to be a part of their worlds. If that’s not evidence that the creators and brands succeeding in this space can offer all of us new ideas for cultivating powerful connection, I don’t know what is. 

The darling of VidCon this year wasn’t YouTube. Nope, it was TikTok. A relatively new-to-the-U.S. social media app for sharing short lip-sync, comedy and other videos that claims to have more users worldwide than Instagram and whose creator-only party was the hottest ticket at this year’s conference. You couldn’t walk five feet without seeing attendees shooting videos for the app or waiting to get a chance to talk to their favorite TikTok star. And I’ll definitely root for a new social media network that’s silly, fun, and where good things still spread like wildfire. 

Much to T3’s delight, I brought back more than inspiration for new dance moves from my exposure to throngs of TikTokers and my time at VidCon. 

Between creator talks, industry presentations and the way attendees were interacting, there were three major themes of this year’s conference. Together, they represent tenets of the most desirable brand-consumer relationships.

  1. Intimacy: Media Ecologist and one of my favorite follows, Steve Rubel, shared new research that most consumers are moving toward a diet of 2-3 primary sources of content they trust and treat very differently, more intimately, than all other content. Rubel finds that creators and brands earning their way into the trimmer content food pyramid tout their originality and expertise as it relates to what people care about most – their purpose, passions or profession. 
  2. Individualization: The modern path to purchase and expectations of brands are being set by direct-to-consumer (D2C) brands. Brands like Bark Box and Glossier address an expectation of the modern consumer, especially Gen Z, to control and tailor their relationship and experience with the brand- across channels. For ideas on how to deliver, keep an eye on these 250 D2C brands that the IAB’s research has determined ones to watch. 
  3. Accountability: While only one side of the coin, the negative effects of social media on our society are something conversations at VidCon didn’t ignore. From Jay Shetty, to Hank Green, to Molly Burke, creators taking the stage at VidCon, were remarkably positive and openly accountable for being part of the solution. Representation in online content was a recurring topic, with Jay recounting how he never thought he could be anything other than a doctor, lawyer or a failure when he grew up because he didn’t know anyone who did anything else. One small way we, personally and as brands, can make the internet and people of the Internet healthier is to create connection by each showing up as our unique selves. The result? Encouraging and empowering others to be themselves too. 

As Randall Rothenberg, President and CEO of the IAB, declared  “Consumer relationships (realized through data) are now the core asset of every enterprise.” To facilitate the depth of relationship that consumers and brands now mutually seek, decide to be something to someone as opposed to everything to everyone, meet people in all the places they can be found and commit to consistently telling your authentic story. And as Hank Green, founder of VidCon and one half of the incredibly successful Vlogbrothers, said “there’s no failure in content creation.” Simply making something that means something to you and your tribe is a success. 

Caitlin Williamson

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