Serving as part pop culture festival, part networking conference, and part trade show, VidCon has become the world’s premier event for the fans of social media stars and influencers. Conceived by the Vlogbrothers (veteran YouTubers John and Hank Green) in 2010, VidCon was originally designed to bring physically disconnected online video enthusiasts together under one roof.
Eight years later, VidCon has expanded in attendance, geography, and scope as it continues to further its mission of connecting the digital video community and democratizing its economy. It’s also become a centerplace for top brands looking to reach these audiences as well as the de facto influencer marketing industry conference.
At its first meeting, VidCon crammed 1,400 people into the basement of a Hyatt in Century City, CA. Now, as the number one industry conference of its kind, VidCon’s U.S. event entertains more than 30,000 inside the new 200,000 sq. ft. wing of the Anaheim Convention Center. According to CEO Jim Louderback, “VidCon is really three different conferences in one that coexist and intermingle.”
While the conference’s early days were dominated by YouTubers and their community of fans, VidCon’s content makers have evolved, matured, and multiplied. Capitalizing on novel formats and bringing in new communities, VidCon is expanding their Creator track by 40% in 2018. Moreover, the increasing number of attendees have required VidCon to identify and cater to these larger needs.
In addition to the conference’s three traditional tracks, VidCon has broadened their attention to various subsets within these groups. Within the Community segment, the conference has worked to ensure that parents chaperoning their teens and tweens have a host of information and entertainment available to them.
A selection of online celebrities and popular video makers — labeled Featured Creators — are now being offered special experiences by brands looking to connect and create relationships.
With VidCon counting close to one hundred sponsors in 2018, the conference has also started to focus on ensuring that brands and marketers are having their own unparalleled experiences as well. As Louderback proclaims, “There’s no other conference in the world where you can learn how to push your business forward and then be immersed by your audience at the same time.”
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VidCon launched with only a handful of sponsors — primarily those heavily vested in the future of online video. However, as video has grown to become the place where more and more people spend their time, numerous high-budget sponsors have joined to support VidCon’s vision. The latest batch of sponsors includes all of the major social media channels, entertainment networks, gaming studios, as well as many brands and outlets within the consumer goods sector.
Top social media companies have in the past had large presences at the conference. Last year YouTube, Facebook, and Snapchat had booths for fans and creators, and Instagram hosted a large lounge which included several artist installations. Emerging social media apps like Live.me and Musically have used the event as means of reaching new audiences.
As the event and company partnerships have grown, so have the experiential activities inside the venue on the expo floor. Panels, meet-and-greets, and live performances abound, but bigger sponsors have provided even more event firepower. Nickelodeon is back in 2018 with their popular Arcade, while NBC is offering a Ninja Warrior training setup, and NERF has launched an inflatable battle arena.
As the preeminent video streaming service, YouTube dominated the early days of VidCon. Today, all of the top social platforms, including Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, Twitch, Musical.ly, Live.me, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Twitter, offer video streaming options. Thus, creators from a variety of services now come to VidCon to connect and spread their message.
Similarly, today’s fans have become their own broadcast channels and serve as some of the conference’s best marketers. With their ability to relay experiences directly from the event in real-time, VidCon’s relevance and excitement is being amplified online by its young, social media savvy attendees.
Successful and valuable companies tend to get bought by more successful and valuable companies, and Viacom’s acquisition of VidCon in February of 2018 was no different. While some creators expressed concern that the purchase will change VidCon for the worse, Louderback seems intent on resisting changes to their agenda — at least for now. VidCon will remain an independent entity. Viacom executive Jason Jordan said in the press release, “we’re excited to partner with the team to help achieve their vision and expand VidCon’s reach around the world while maintaining the grassroots energy and authenticity that makes the experience so unique and special to so many.”
With tens of thousands in attendance at their U.S. event, VidCon has expanded into other markets, including Europe and Australia. “Just like we talked about a platform dependent approach, you really have to take a geographically dependent approach,” Louderback says about their overseas events. “The creators that appeal to somebody in France are very different than the ones in Germany or Italy or the United Kingdom, so you really have to think of them as individual areas.” Louderback indicates there will be even more VidCons taking place at other locations around the world in the future.
VidCon is largely driven by the people who create online video content, so influencers and influencer marketing are a huge part of the conference. “Influencer marketing is not going away and it is such a great way to reach audiences in a natural and authentic way, but you have to do it right,” Louderback believes. “You really have to figure out who are the right influencers that match with your brand.”
Considering social media’s fake influencer issue, brands are wise to be extra cautious about their online partnerships. Louderback admits, “Too many companies right now think of influencer marketing as just another check mark on their media buy list —”
Unfortunately, as many brands are finding out, this approach can lead to wasted time, money, and efforts. On the other hand, for companies looking to partner with reputable influencers, a qualified influencer marketing agency can help. Handling influencer outreach, vetting, negotiations, and many other aspects that contribute to successful relationships, influencer marketing agencies allow brands to make the most of their presence at events like VidCon.