From screaming fans to corporate slang, here’s how VidCon captures the creator economy

July 3, 2024
Emmy Liederman
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VidCon 2024 divided programming into three tracks: creator, industry and community.

Anaheim, Calif.—When John and Hank Green hosted the first VidCon in 2010, they were testing how digital influence would translate in the real world. 14 years later, the four-day event works to encompass a $250 billion ecosystem, defined by the realization that the people who have established online communities can also drive business. 

“VidCon was really born out of the idea of YouTubers getting closer to the fans who know and love them,” said Nicole Rosenberg, vice president of integrated marketing at Paramount. “That’s still very much the case, but the space has really permeated with a lot of brands to attract both established creators and industry folks.” 

On June 26-29, VidCon attracted 55,000 attendees and brought together talent, fans and industry stakeholders to celebrate the growth of the industry while breaking down its challenges. Topics included the future of TikTok, new creator monetization strategies and the rise of unexpected players in the space—Christian Tom, the White House’s director of digital strategy, announced that the White House would be hosting a creator summit on August 14. 

"I haven't seen it yet, but I keep saying 'This is actually really cool.' My mom told me I'm not allowed to come home without taking a picture."
- Creator Jordan Howlett re: his headshot being blown up on the VidCon billboard

YouTube returned as the sponsor this year, and the conference was split into three sections: industry, creator and community. As more conferences expand to accommodate creators—Cannes Lions added a “Lions Creators” segment to their programming this year—VidCon wants to differentiate by accounting for every corner of the industry. 

“A lot of featured creators go to the community track to see their fans, but they’re also talking to folks who want to learn to be creators themselves,” said senior vice president of operations Colin Hickey. “We also have a lot of featured creators speaking as industry experts. The ecosystem is just really neat.” 

Protecting creator careers 

Creative burnout and mental health were central topics for creators this year.  Jordan Howlett, who was featured on the conference’s main billboard, had no intention of becoming a full-time content creator. In order to stay motivated, Howlett has remained focused on what brings him joy. 

“Making videos is so much fun for me, and I truly believe you have to make content for the love of it, or you’re going to burn out really quickly,” said Howlett, who broke down his connection to Snap as a platform during his panel “Fewer Likes, More Love.” 

Shayne Topp, a member of YouTube sketch channel Smosh who got his start as an actor, attended VidCon for a live podcast recording with his cast members. Since joining YouTube, Topp has learned to set boundaries and pace his work. 

"I'm trying to come out of the shadows, and this year I'm doing a meet and greet. It's a funny career path for someone who doesn't love being in the spotlight."
-YouTube Creator Andy, aka Ice Cream Sandwich

“There was this era of daily vlogs that I think (YouTubers) have moved away from,” said Topp. “We’re working on taking dark weeks and giving ourselves some breathing room. We're acknowledging that we do better work when we’re feeling better and allow our creativity to grow.” 

When it comes to maintaining motivation, creators agree that the ability to grow their platforms while maintaining their original tone makes the introduction of partnerships an easier transition. Sally Phelps, associate director of influencer and celebrity marketing at Free People, said the best creative campaigns come from brands that maintain a hands-off approach. 

“Some of the people and brands I’ve worked with previously had these 15-20 page briefs, but ever since I’ve started at Free People, we’ve nixed that right away,” said Phelps. “Whether it’s an affiliate or brand awareness creator, the creator knows how to sell the product.” 

"Even on the days that you don't feel like filming, just know that someone is going to take something from a video you made and it might mean the world to them. That's really just the beauty of social media."
- Creator Briel Adams-Wheatley

Sarah Tortoreti, senior vice president of marketing and communications at VidCon, said the investment of major social platforms throughout the event speaks to the impact of creators as coveted business partners. 

“The fact that the platforms really want to be in front of that creator audience just proves that it’s a very valuable and core piece of the VidCon experience,” she said, adding that Meta sponsored the creator track this year.

Revamping traditional spaces 

Evidenced by the Cannes Lions integration of creators this year, EMarketer VP and principal analyst Jasmine Enberg said there is no longer reasonable doubt on the value of creators for brands. 

“We’re in this moment now where every brand marketer knows they have to be working with creators, whether or not they fully understand the space,” she said. 

Rosenberg, who spoke to the impact of creators on the broader entertainment space at VidCon, is paying close attention to the changing ways consumers engage with culture. Through launching CBS Sports Creator studio, Rosenberg has tapped creators to expand the network’s capabilities from a resource for stats and roundups to a more engaging hub for all fans. 

@_angelomarasigan We did not expect this going into vidcon, our hearts are so full 😭❤️ so grateful for you all 🥹🫶🏽 #vidcon #vidcon2024 #angeloandlexy #siblingduo #siblingduos ♬ original sound - worshipwithjeremiah

“It creates a lightheartedness and conversational aspect that would normally just exist with your friends sitting on the couch,” she said. “Fans come in all different shapes and forms, and you can really lean into a whole different side of it through social media.”

"I do something that's very niche—make songs about video games—but I've gained this audience of young kids who love music about their favorite things. It's a sheer blessing." 
-CG5, Creator

Enberg, who highlighted the growing impact of creators on B2B marketing, said creators are forcing brands to consider more engaging content in traditionally conservative spaces, like Linkedin. 

“Linkedn is really transitioning from being this professional job hunting site into a thriving social app,” said Enberg, who spoke about Linkedin as the “sleeping giant of influencer marketing” on the VidCon stage. “We’re seeing the content get more engaging and personal.” 

Reflecting on the long term impact of the event, Rosenberg looked back to her first VidCon, when the connection between attendees was her main takeaway. 

“I saw these two kids that had become best friends on the internet and lived in different parts of the country meet for the first time and hug each other,” she said. “The internet gives you an opportunity to connect with people over something that matters to you. It’s a reminder that social media can really change people’s lives.”

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