Influencers At Work: The Fabulous Anonymous YouTube Stars

I once heard Stephen King say that being a best-selling author is the best kind of fame, because, and I’m paraphrasing, you  get very rich and qualify for celeb perks and yet can still walk down the street with virtual anonymity.

I mentioned this to Ian Hecox, one half of Defy Media’s brilliant SMOSH team last week at NewFronts and he concurred vigorously. If he’s not around a bunch of teenagers, he’s out of the fishbowl. But it seems YouTube stars, unlike most others, don't mind swimming in that environment a lot.

The anonymity is amazing, considering that SMOSH has 22 million YouTube subscribers and 5.5 billion views since 2005. It also shows the separate world of online video stars, and also, probably, the different lives. They are famous in ways that seem to be, as the ad folks like to say, “at scale.”

At YouTube’s giant Brandcast event last Thursday night, 2,800 buyers and video big deals packed a Javits Center hall, and were served dinner in walkaround space afterward.



I noticed Grace Helbig, a huge, gifted YouTube star, and an author of best-selling books, standing with her pal and equally popular Mamrie Hart.

I exchanged pleasantries with them. They looked like deer staring into headlights. They were off to the side near the door where the wait staff came and went --and they were standing all by themselves, trying to figure out what to do next. 

Because this was an adult crowd, there were no fans around them--though these two have filled arenas around the United States. Remarkably, given the customary care and feeding of stars, there was no publicist, no YouTube escorts.

They might as well have been junior buyers waiting for Uber to take them clubbing. But there were no ad execs buzzing around them.

Helbig reminded me she was the host of the Brandcast event just the year before.

I’m don’t think she was offended by the lack of star treatment. I think she might have been bemused.  

Maybe it speaks to what really is a glut--or make that a blur--of talent in streaming video. The YouTube Brandcasts always have an unspoken “Let Me Introduce Myself” theme--you’re not expected to know these people, even if, as YouTube touted, it now has more 18-to-49 viewers than TV, more viewers than all the Top 10 shows combined.

In a poll of young people, eight out of 10 of their favorite stars are YouTubers. Last year, it was six out of 10.

Lilly Singh, this year’s host, devoted nearly the entirety of her monologue to explaining how she came to be there, and how she now has nine million subscribers. 

“I take great care to take care of my fans because they are based on trust,” she said. She is “Superwoman” to them, though I’d guess a stranger to most of the people watching her on stage.

At the beginning of the evening, the crowd slowly entering Manhattan's Javits Center and watched as, to the right, YouTube stars met and mingled with their real fans, screaming at them from bleachers. I was struck how sincerely these interactions were.

I’d say approximately none of us waiting in line to be awed by YouTube knew who any of those people were. It was almost like being at the zoo, watching the influencers at work.
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