Background

#BrandofMe picks up where our year-long #Instafame study leaves off.  

The kidsmediacentre’s first round of research  - published here - looks at the cultural significance of the selfie. With a stated mission to explore kids media futures, the kidsmediacentre put the selfie under the microscope and examined the privacy and media health implications of a generation – a culture – consumed with personal branding.

SOCIAL MEDIA SHARING - BEHAVIOURAL ANALYSIS

We spent more than a year in field researching (aka “lurking” :-) social media sites. We reviewed the scholarly literature. We took our findings into focus groups with youth to #askthehardquestions. What we found is many young people are appropriating the branding tools and techniques typically used by marketers to methodically curate a digital profile, complete with hashtags, a call-to-action and cross platform optimization. Indeed, we discovered a complicated matrix of “reasons why” young people are putting themselves out there in such a public way (see behavioural analysis).

Importantly, we discovered the selfie is the gateway to “audience” and the expectation of audience, for youth, is the new norm. We lived for many years without the need to broadcast – or even narrowcast our lives. But pocket technology – the mobile phone – has shifted that paradigm forever, and the selfie is a baby step – at least for kids - into audience culture.

Brand of ME goes one step further.

In this phase of research we focus on fame fast trackers and movers and shakers (see image above). These two audience segments are content creators and entrepreneurs at their core. They believe they have something to offer their audience and are interested in building an online community and monetizing their brand. They may have started as video or photo hobbyists but they’re driven by a need to create, share and connect. They are consumers of content but what differentiates them from their peers is they are also producers of content. #BrandofMe research tracks the journey of these hyper-connected youth from content creator to influencer.

Of course the stars of this culture shift are the Gen Z and Millennial cohorts.  Their audience - the willingly influenced - are turning their backs on television, and curating their own media agenda.  This audience is choosing social media platforms for their entertainment and influence – native platforms like Vine, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter, and more importantly video services like YouTube, Vimeo and Periscope.

The migration from content creator to influencer is a relatively new phenomenon and it changes daily with the ebb and flow, waxing and waning of digital stars and their audiences. Two years ago the term YouTuber was added to the lexicon. Influencer agencies didn’t exist three years ago and yet they’ve turned the industry on its head in the last 12 months. What’s clear is there has been a wholesale shift in the media and communications landscape and youth are driving it, so it’s worth a deeper investigation.

Research Design

#Instafame – Phase 1 - was about kids’ desire to achieve some version of fame and the tools they’re using to achieve this. #BrandofMe picks up this thread and explores the cultural drivers and stories behind the massive trend we’re seeing of kids aspiring to be creators and money-making brands (aka Influencers).

The question guiding our research is what are the market and socio cultural conditions driving this need for audience.

Our research will probe the underlying social conditions, cultural and economic factors driving kids to focus on creating and developing a “Brand of ME”. Importantly, we’ll continue with our goal of #askingthehardquestions.  Questions like:

  • Is this next-generation marketing technique smart commerce or exploitive marketing?
  • Whatever happened to privacy?
  • What are the mental health implications of early fame and turning kids – en masse – into brands?
  • How do kids separate advertising from content so they can make smart informed choices?
  • The Children’s Code for Broadcasters in Canada acknowledges children’s developmental needs and states children are unable to distinguish between content and commercials. So why is YouTube not subject to the same regulatory guidelines and scrutiny as broadcasters when it’s obvious their content integrates branded content and they so obviously target children?
  • If teens and millennials are being recruited into this new digital marketplace, what skills do they need to have to be successful.

Deliverables

The research team on #BrandofMe has been in the field for almost a year investigating the influencer ecosystem and the changing landscape of marketing and advertising. In this study we explore the migration of young people from content creator to “brand” status, exploring the cultural influences and influencers shaping the experience.  While a big part of our focus is young content creators, we also look at young content consumers – the audience at the epicenter of this phenomenon. Our deliverables include:

  • Multi-media website
  • Business lexicon and skills required by youth who aspire to #BrandofMe status
  • Parental guidance discussion and tips for parents who are struggling to better understand the social influencer space – or know nothing about these new business practices - and want to help their children make smart, safe, digitally and emotionally literate choices.
  • YOUTH-SPECIFIC, UPDATED “Truth in Advertising” Rules around Influencer Disclosure for Marketers, Brands and Social Media Publishers targeting youth under 15 years of age who may not have the developmental capacity to differentiate entertainment content from advertising 

Primary Research - Interviews

  • Interviews with young content creators who are interested in being influencers

    • Layla, Jackson, Chloe, Gracie

  • Interviews with young entrepreneurs who are turning content creation into a career
    • Darian Orlando, Tennille Lawrence, Julesmeister, Yianna,  
  • Interviews with Influencer Marketing Agencies, MCNs and marketplaces either soliciting youth on social media or offering brand activation deals and sponsorships
    • Jonathan Davids – Influicity, Felix LaHaye – InstaBrand, Naomi Lennon – Lennon Management (YouTube celebrity management)
  • Interviews with media, advertising and journalism experts on the shifting media and information marketplace and tools used to sell to youth (GenZ and Milennials)
    • Mary Maddever – VP Editorial Director – Strategy, Playback, Stream, Kidscreen,   John Stackhouse, former editor-in-chief at The Globe and Mail, author of Mass Disruption: Thirty Years on the Front Lines of a Media Revolution, Craig Silverman, Editor – BuzzFeed Canada
  • Interviews with parents who are attempting to understand and navigate the content creation space
    • Meredith Orlando – mother to LA based YouTube celebrity Johnny Orlando, Kelly (4 kids/4 YouTubers), “The Typicals” (digital parenting deconstructed) 
  • Interviews with category specific experts – publishers, child psychologists, child development experts
    • Amy Tompkins, literary agent -the Transatlantic Agency, Jennifer Canham – Publisher – Owlkids, Anne Secord, a clinical child psychologist, Natalie Coulter, Professor - Communications Studies, York University

Primary Research - Qualitative

Focus group with secondary educators n = 8

Focus group with secondary students n = 14

Primary Research – Quantitative

In field – final results ~May, 2016

Secondary Research

#BrandofMe will explore:

  • The phenomenon of influencers amongst youth 13 – 24 years of age
  • The media backdrop, social media cultural landscape and key influencers (YouTubers, Viners, Instagrammers) affecting this shift to content creation, audience building and personal monetization
  • Shift in brand messaging agencies from traditional advertising and PR to Influencer marketing
  • Influencer hiring practices – social media skills required for youth to be hired by an MCN or Influencer Marketing Agency
  • Monetization opportunities for young people and publisher revenue splits
  • FTC guidelines and publishers’ policies on branded content transparency and truth in advertising
  • Ethics in hiring youth as paid influencers
  • Ethics in advertising to youth using influencer marketing

NOT YOUR RUN-OF-THE-MILL ACADEMIC RESEARCH REPORT

This research has taken the form of a multi-media resource and website. We hope it offers an easy-to understand, comprehensive educational tool for parents, educators and adults, who, with the shift to shrinking screens, are often unaware of how young people are using social media to create content, brand themselves and build a community of followers.

We’d like this resource to help create awareness of the trends we’ve seen emerging in the digital space and ultimately create a conversation in our community. It’s a complicated mix of culture, technology, business and human emotion driving this need to create and connect and there are many questions around these new trends and where it’s all going. At the intersection of these forces are youth, so the stakes are high.