I’m a 58-year-old researcher (sigh) who is your new BFF.

For the last two years, I’ve led a team of student researchers into the youth charged, Gen Z saturated, millennially managed, social media trenches so you don’t have to. Chances are, if you are over 24 years of age, you are struggling to keep up with the creator star-verse and new Influencer economy. You hear names like cutie pie (ahem: PewDiePie), your child obsesses over Miranda Sings videos (look beyond the narcissism, spelling and grammar) and you feel minimally on-trend because you “liked” a Kylie Jenner cleansing tea post on your niece’s Instagram account. Beyond that, it seriously strains your brain trying to make sense of this new OTT, MCN-driven, social Influencer culture. I mean, who has the bandwidth?

It was so much simpler when families gathered round the TV to watch network controlled programming and we multi-tasked with a newspaper in our lap.


We’re going to go slowly. There is a lot to learn. There are words you’re going to need to know to wrap your head around this new I-want-to-be-a-brand, #instafame driven, privacy-be-damned, how-much-can-I-make, please-subscribe-to-my-channel – Influencer ecosystem.

Along the way, we’d like you to take stock of the young people in your life. Some kids are influenced; others are influencers. Some are broadcasters, revealing all; others filter and curate limiting their reach to a narrow audience. Some are production literate content creators; others, utility posters. Many more sit somewhere in the messy middle watching kids - just like them - video-blog (aka vlog) their way to fame, and in some cases fortune. Some youth are utterly pragmatic about their chances of success and ROI potential of this career pathway, passively observing it’s cultural impact through their “mobile-first” device. Others are actively tapping their inner entrepreneur and see “social influencer” as a very real career option. They dream of a brand-of-me revenue stream complete with pre-roll ad revenue, fan funded tips, a line of merchandise, Google sponsored display ads (Ad-Sense), brand sponsorships and perhaps a book and “scripted” series.

Parents, who are wont to say “get a real job” are left reconciling the fact that many vloggers and Instagrammers have negotiated 4, 5 and 6 figure contracts with talent agencies, MCN’s, publishers, and agents, and consider “YouTuber” a real job.


Kids have learned well from our 360-degree media culture. They’ve studied “how to amplify a message” and “build audience” from celebrity culture and social media giants like the Kardashians, Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift.  They’ve subscribed, viewed, liked and watched with awe and envy, their new online “friends” – Tyler Oakley, IISuperwomanII, iJustine, Zoella, - turn a basement or bedroom webcam into a content stream, an audience of millions of subscribers and a very regular pay cheque.

LOTS of young people want in, and this research project documents this new journey of kids becoming brands.

Author and Principal Investigator: Debbie Gordon