Nope you don’t need to be cast in an Avatar-scale Hollywood production, nor do you need to churn out chartbusting music albums, stardom is just a social media account away. Social media is clearly turning the entertainment industry’s star-making apparatus upside down.
Meet Hayes Grier, just another teenager, with a social media following upwards of 6 million including Neil Patrick Harris and Michelle Obama. It helps that his 17-year-old brother, Nash, is arguably the most famous Viner on the planet, with nearly 12 million followers and more than 2.8 billion lifetime loops on the platform. The Grier brothers enjoy a lot of attention including lucrative endorsement deals, busy tour schedules and even a fashion collaboration with Aeropostale. The stardom bug seems to have bitten the entire family. Grier Senior, Chad, is pretty popular among the boy’s lady fans and Skylynn their half-sister (all of five years old) is a budding social media star in her own respect with more than 1.3 million Vine followers.
On a hugely popular 18-city bus tour organized by DigiTour, Hayes finds company with six other social media stars. Hayes doesn’t sing or act or play an instrument or tell great jokes; he just is, and still that’s more than enough. “Some of these kids, their talent is relating to their audience. They are the coolest people you know, and they just happen to have 5 million friends” quips Meridith Valiando Rojas, DigiTour’s 30 year-old CEO. With over 120,000 tickets sold, this event is gaining main-stream traction. DigiTour expects to rake in an estimated $20 million this year alone; and with ever-growing social media interactions this figure is bound to rise.
The DigiTour artists themselves are still unsure of their popular appeal; “They just like our videos, really,” says Aaron Carpenter, another tour member. With 4000 new followers a day, Aaron has an Instagram audience of 1.8 million. These unsure celebs don’t exactly consider themselves famous, after all the tours, the millions of followers, the stuffed animals and letter and candy; but they are indeed famous beyond any teenager’s imagination. These sorta-stars prefer the tag “known” instead of famous!
Social media has made these kids famous first, while an entire industry tries in vain to catch up and monetize upon their fame. This is the “influencer space” that is the marketer’s treasure trove. Social media is easy to consume, cheap to produce, and tends to spread in the organic, intimate way that advertisers covet. These kids produce so much content everyday; and with such a mass following this presents a massive untapped advertising market. 600,000 views and 11 million views, these two numbers represent the least and most popular videos in Grier’s YouTube page. It’s no wonder that these kids have sponsorship deals lined up with companies such as Tommy Hilfiger, Coca-Cola and Invisalign. Marketing is all about interactions and keeping in touch with users constantly; and these social media star just do that. They engage millions and interact with fans spontaneously, and they are doing it on their own (something that most stars can’t achieve).
When they aren’t sleeping or performing or meeting and greeting, they’re scrolling through the legion of tribute Instagram accounts set up in their honor or DM’ing lucky fans on Twitter. When so much of your fame is predicated on the fans feeling like they know you, you have to keep it that way — even as the number of fans balloons. And when your job is to be yourself, there’s a way in which you’re always working.
Image Credit: Michael Short for Buzzfeed News