Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt from Orange Silicon Valley’s upcoming handbook about GenZ. Watch this blog for more details.
Perhaps every generation makes some of its most valuable contributions at the intersection of Friends and Doing. For GenZ, natives of live-streams, the quest for friends over live digital platforms can be the start of something bigger. As influencer Molly O’Malia recalled at Orange Silicon Valley’s GenZ workshop: “I was looking for friends, I never thought I’d end up with a half-million followers.”
As a professional GenZ observer for a global marketing agency, Elav Horwitz of McCann Worldgroup has traveled to talk to GenZers on five continents. She observed that for GenZ, “Live-streaming is actually a career option.”
Andrew Graham is from global talent representation shop CAA; he’s a bona fide Hollywood agent repping GenZ influencers. He characterized these influencers as “multi-hyphenists,” a term that conveys their role with their fans as an all-around entertainment source. Gabbie Hannah, another example of a multi-hyphenate influencer, bills herself as author-poetcomedian-singer-songwriter.
Ironically, the artless origin story of just looking for friends online just happens to set these multihyphenate digital celebrities up perfectly for a broad spectrum of brand sponsors. For influencers like Wes Tucker, this poses major authenticity challenges: from how to relate to hundreds of thousands of followers — “I care about the people who follow me, but I can’t care about all of them,” he said — to the complicated role of mediating between Fans and Brands: “I don’t want people that are following me on a daily basis to give them crap … I have to enjoy the product, because if I don’t like it I’m not gonna tell anyone to buy it.”
The influencer/content nexus
This raised the business model question of how to create premium content, indeed, how these influencers think about premium content in the YouTube Age: “It’s [premium content] is all I think about.” said Wes Tucker, but when asked for a definition of what premium content means to him, it’s unclear. In fact, “it’s blurry and subjective right now,” he said.
This is congruent with the roadmap for influencers, away from the awkward economics of recommending other brands to becoming a Brand in their own right: Kylie Jenner and the controversial Logan Paul are two examples of influencersturned-merchandisers.
The confluence of Community and Content is deeply woven into the GenZ way. We encounter it again in the next section, “What GenZ watches.” As Orange Silicon Valley’s Christopher Bétrémieux has observed, “Gen Zers do not follow programs; they follow influencers.” Given the native social canvas of GenZ, Bétrémieux explained how the distance between fan and star collapse — “They expect entertainers to act like friends by being present for their communities.”
It’s a hard life: Demanding DMs, copycats, and bots
This makes the life of an influencer an extremely vulnerable and stressedout existence. Influencer Wes Tucker described a combination of having to reckon (or ignore) thousands of “DMs” (direct messages), the stress of going to IRL (in real life) events, and having strangers accost you with personal issues, and followers turning negative. “They put a lot of their problems on you … you never know who you’re gonna touch.”
If that’s not enough, there is the problem of authenticity, and copycat accounts. Tucker expressed frustration, saying until Twitter developed validated accounts, impersonators nearly “ruined my life.” This is not just about cognitive dissonance, but also social brand; when the person is the brand then copycat accounts by impersonators become the equivalent of bootleg labels.
If you still think influencers are not working hard enough, consider the fact they have to balance their authentic relationship to their fickle followers, with the demands of trail-blazing brands who want to jump on the influencer marketing bandwagon but still be on-brand. Wes’s take on this topic reveals some serious brandsavvy: “Most brand posts just don’t perform as well as mine … you’d be surprised how in your face some followers get.”
But then, when it comes to brands and influencers, they can even merge: the Scandinavian TV smash young-adult hit Skam has created Instagram accounts for all its characters, and searching #Skam on IG will yield over 620,000 posts, some with tens of thousands of likes. When asked whether he worries that AI and conversational robots will impact his business model, Tucker replied: “Robots can’t replace me, because across all my socials I’m the same in real life (IRL).”