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VidCon 2013: Where Virtual Communities Turn into Personal Connections

This past week was the fourth annual VidCon, a gathering of creators, industry, viewers, and supporters of online videos. VidCon showcases the revolutionary creators who are entertaining, educating and communicating primary through YouTube.
This was my third year attending VidCon, an experience I probably would never have heard of if it wasn’t for a little project called Epic Rap Battles of History. Through my husband EpicLloyd, the past three years have brought me to events and around people I could have never imagined.  I have come to love attending VidCon, so I was excited that this week’s blog post could feature it.
VidCon was developed in 2010 by Hank and John Green, creators of their channel the VlogBlothers. The conference was created to produce an industry conference with a huge party. There are now three tracks developed for attendees, industry, community and content creators. For those in the behind the scenes of content creation there are educational sessions and networking opportunities. For the faces of videos (content creators), there are sessions, signings with fans, meet-ups and performance opportunities. Most importantly is the community audience, those who love to watch online videos. This slice of VidCon has the very unique chance to celebrate the community they love in real life. Learn more about the experience in the video below.

IMG_3379Community passes are basically for fans that do not make money from YouTube. This population of VidCon sacrifices for a pricey pass, hotel, food and airfare, in exchange for the ability to mix and mingle with their favorite YouTube stars. Paying so much for this experience really proves how much fans love the YouTubers they follow. Many YouTubers have reached celebrity status, but due to the nature of their entertainment venue, they may not make themselves as available to be seen ‘announced’ in real life.
Lloyd and I recently visited New York and while taking in the Natural History Museum were stopped almost a dozen times for fan signings and pictures. We did not announce this appearance, it just happened that we and epic rap battle fans were at the same location. VidCon however is an intentional meet-up, so fans can meet those they admire. Gatherings such as PlayList Live and ComicCon are other options around the US.

IMG_3387
Lloyd and a princess fan at the VidCon Expo

My experience each year at VidCon is extremely fun, but also is like living a double life. A dimension where my husband is stopped for autographs and pictures, and rocks out on a stage for thousands. I even was recognized a couple of times, one sweet girl came up to me during their performance asking if I was EpicLloyd’s wife.
VidCon draws fans of every background, age range, and clique you can imagine. But as a whole, all enjoying the common interest of YouTube. Like a summer camp, I witnessed what could become life long friendships being fostered and maintained beyond the three-day experience.
As an experienced educational conference organizer, I know the painstaking coordination it takes to pull off such an event. I can only image the challenges and considerations when three separate communities are targeted and tailored to at VidCon. I noted a few great additions this year, as compared to previous years. These included:

  1. More food options, specific Food Trucks.
  2. An outdoor concert area
  3. Performer/Content Creator Lounges
  4. Water stations everywhere.
  5. More sessions for all types of attendees.

In the last five years I have probably produced over 500 events. Having an educator and event coordinator eye with me at all times, it is hard not to notice things when I attend something like VidCon. Considering this, I thought of a few suggestions for Hank and John Green for VidCon 2014 (already scheduled for July 26-28 2014):

  1. Make the education sessions more than just panel formats. Think about interaction, target audience and flow. A number of sessions I attended had tech issues, fans showed up to what should have been a content creator targeted session and panels lacked energy or unification.
  2. Schedule a parent meet-up or orientation. I saw hundreds of parents. I don’t blame them since there is no age restriction for attendance. Kudos to them for coming, but I could see how a lone parent might struggle finding another parent to have lunch with, know what curfew to set for their kid or have someone to sit next to at the evening concerts. Bring them all together to socialize and/or educate them at the beginning of the conference.
  3. Charging stations. I will admit, there may have been a section, but I didn’t see it.
  4. Sunday Morning Options. As we check out of hotel on Sunday, when the Disney community event was going on, I noticed a large number of fans still around. Could there be a non-Disney option for attendees that can’t afford Disney?
  5. Offer community attendees (fans) smaller sub-communities. Like the houses in Harry Potter, smaller communities increase connection. Meet-ups could be intentional in break-out conference rooms or organically outside the convention center. Each group could have a community ‘leader’ (super fan or actual YouTuber) that has a handful of fun games to learn names, maybe using exercises from improv to facilitate communication and engagement.

As an educator, I was on observation overload. I found myself curious in how to assess and apply what more occurs at VidCon, in addition to the virtual communities YouTube provides. Many times during the three days, I had to force myself to stop thinking about research questions or what field notes I should be writing to contribute to a possible study on the YouTube Community.
I believe I was feeling this way because much research is lacking on this topic. I have a unique perspective, almost in a researcher conflict-of-interest kind of way, because I guess I am partially part of the content creator community. But because of this, I see a lot of magical things happening. Unintended, yet noteworthy outcomes with YouTube at the core of this bigger virtual community movement. VidCon just happens to be fostering it further with face-to-face interaction.
VidCon declares that online video is revolutionizing how we entertain, educate, share and communicate. Further, it is content creators leading that revolution. I have no formal data or distinguished published journal to back this, but I believe YouTube and experiences such as VidCon have the ability to produce a positive impact on a young persons life. Positive influences could include self-esteem, social capital, career discernment, and much more that make up a teen and young adults sense of self and personal identity.

Could it be that?

Virtual Communities (YouTube) + IRL connection (VidCon) =

Revolutionary Identity Influence (Sense of self, social capital, social networks)

Good thing I am in a doctoral program in Education to work all these things out…

Stay Tuned!

About Josie

I’m Dr. Josie Ahlquist—a digital engagement and leadership consultant, researcher, educator, and author. I’m passionate about helping people and organizations find purposeful ways to connect, engage, and tell their unique story. I provide consulting, executive coaching, and training for campuses, companies, and organizations that want to learn how to humanize technology tools and build effective and authentic online communities.

My blog and podcast have been recognized by EdTech Magazine, Inside Higher Ed and the Chronicle of Higher Education. My book, Digital Leadership in Higher Education, was published in 2020 and was listed as a #1 new release for college and university student life. I have been growing my consultancy since 2013 and am based in Los Angeles. When I’m not helping clients lead online, you might find me training for a triathlon, spoiling my nieces and nephews, or exploring with my husband and our rescue dogs in our new RV called Lady Hawk.

I’d love to connect! Find me on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Facebook.

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