As teens are changing their media habits, moving away from traditional TV viewing to spending more time with other entertainment formats—namely YouTube, Instagram, and Tumblr—their interest in traditional celebrities has waned. According to the pop-culture issue of The Cassandra Report, 14- to 18-year-olds under-index on liking to talk about celebrities with friends (34%), being inspired by celebrities (34%), and feeling that celebrities are relatable (21%). Social media personalities are filling the void; teens are turning to this new set of tastemakers, who happen to be regular teens, just like them.
Part of the draw of the Internet stars teens follow is that they are average people with an interesting perspective to share. But this doesn’t make them any less influential than traditional celebs among their fans. In fact, it makes them even more engaging because being like them—acquiring the same skills, affording the same brands, and feeling like a part of their inner circle—is possible. Young fans also respect how their social media heroes have been able to create “jobs,” businesses, and brands out of nothing more than their own creativity and entrepreneurial spirit. They are teens’ new role models because, through their own ingenuity, they’ve risen to prominence—with the help of their fans who feel invested in their success.
Even mainstream media, which has relied on traditional celebrity culture, now recognizes these stars as celebrities—as if their millions of followers and seven-figure incomes weren’t indication enough. Seventeen magazine dedicated its prominent September issue to YouTube with Bethany Mota gracing the cover (the first social media star to do so), and the style guru was also cast in the latest season of “Dancing With The Stars.” These outlets are leveraging social celebrities’ clout in highly visible ways. Meanwhile, a new industry has sprouted to enable fans to meet their beloved social media idols. DigiFest brings fans within reach of their favorite Instagram, Vine, and YouTube stars, and YouTube’s VidCon offers the same service for its talent.
It’s time for more brands to grant social stars celebrity status. They are the biggest names in media where teens spend their time and hold serious sway with their young fans. They provide inspiration for all aspects of their many followers’ lives, from clothing and accessories to culture and technology. Not many teens can afford the same clothes that actors wear on the red carpet, but they can buy the same sweater that their favorite YouTuber wore in his latest clip. These social stars can be particularly valuable partners because their entire celebrity is based on content creation, giving brands a natural entry point to get involved. Companies just have to find the right personality that fits with their brand. The key is to keep it real—if the partnership feels like a disconnect to the star’s homegrown audience, it won’t work.