Social media and the personal brand phenomenon

Research explores social responsibility in a marketing environment that targets youth

Social media, like YouTube and Facebook, have only been around for about a decade, but their realms of opportunities have expanded to include more than a few hundred ‘likes’ and growing lists of friends or ‘followers.’

For instance, the online mobile photo-sharing service, Instagram, has grown to accommodate hundreds of millions of users — and some of them are changing the landscape of what it means it be an influencer in the marketing world… especially when it comes to children.

As a followup to its research study, “#Instafame: The Epidemiology of Youth’s Selfie-Curated Culture,” Centennial College’s kidsmediacentre has released a new study, #BrandOfMe.

“It’s happening at incredibly young ages,” said Debbie Gordon, lead researcher and director of kidsmediacentre, which is headquartered at Centennial’s East York campus on Carlaw Avenue. “Jonathan Davids, CEO of Influencer Marketing Agency Influicity, is working with 15 and 16 year olds — and handing over $10,000 cheques.”

This three-year study about young people becoming social media celebrities (and even “brands” of their own) explores the ethics and business models of this online brand-building. The first set of research focuses on primary data, including storytelling and qualitative groups.

A team of more than 20 students and graduates from Centennial College interviewed a list of experts who shared their views on the industry, including Craig Silverman, the editor of BuzzFeed Canada, and Felix LaHaye, founder of influencer marketing agency Instabrand.

Along with young creators, parents of budding stars were also interviewed. Meredith Orlando, the mother of 12-year-old YouTuber Johnny Orlando, details her transition from Toronto to Los Angeles while ‘Kelly and Kids’ tells the story of a mother with four kids — 5, 7, 9, 11 — all of whom have YouTube channels and a range of social platforms.

The research findings include video, audio and feature stories, as well as online tools that can be accessed to monitor the social media playing field.

“You can go to a tool like Social Blade, where you can see how well different channels are tracked and what the monetization has been over a given year,” said Gordon. “About seven of the top 20 YouTube channels feature kids.”

Whether they are unboxing products or creating original content, some children are being monetized for marketing.

And as brands continue to pursue young people directly through social media, the roles of the media and marketing agencies are being rerouted. It’s a major shift for some advertisers, but other business executives and parents should also be made aware.

“The starting point for parents is to have a sense of their children’s social media presence,” Gordon explains. “Maybe they’re passionate about game play or a cause, while others care deeply about cosmetic videos.” This is sometimes referred to as the ‘vertical,’ which is analyzed by Multi-Channel Networks (MCN) to target influencers for brand promotion.

The landscape of what it means to be an influencer is constantly changing. With so many people signing up for social media every day and building their brands, the competition is growing in a game of survival of the fittest.

From content creator to influencer, to establishing one’s presence through product and brand affiliations, #BrandOfMe highlights some of the trends and implications of the online world for young people.

The full #BrandOfMe study can be found online at www.hashtagbrandofme.com

Debbie Gordon (left) and Emily DeVries (right) work alongside kidsmediacentre and the #BrandOfMe study.
Debbie Gordon (left) and Emily DeVries staff the kidsmediacentre and worked on the #BrandOfMe study. (Ashley Bruzas)