7 Things I Learned At VidCon 2014

Two weeks ago, I traveled to Anaheim, CA to attend my very first VidCon (the world's premiere conference for online video)!  I've been actively creating videos for YouTube for almost two years, and wanted to take my relationship with online video to the next level. Making videos is fun for me, but creating exciting work for business and pleasure is even more rewarding.  

Here are my coast-to-coast takeaways from media's most rapidly growing industry:

  1. Get to know your audience, and listen closely. Too many creators don't do this enough, and it was easily one of THE most stressed upon points of the weekend. Listen to feedback, and actively use it to inform your future content.
  2. Experiment! With 100 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every single minute, standing out is more difficult than ever. Experimentation is key to leaving a lasting impression from the videos you release down to the very apps that host them. Case and point? VidCon's Vine panel was packed, but the app was just picking up a following one year ago. Do what others aren't doing, and you might find yourself with a robust fan base. 
  3. Representation is still direly needed. Every single panel at VidCon was overwhelmingly white and male. That's a huge problem. Many women, minorities and LGBTQ+ creators need their voices heard. Period. 
  4. Networks aren't the answer. When Disney bought Maker Studios earlier this year, many online video creators clamored to join a network to boost their followings. However, most panelists and top-tier creators agree that user-owned content is still best. Don't worry about getting a contract. You're just fine without one. 
  5. Online video is still having growing pains. Though YouTube unveiled several new features at the conference, many were left wondering what direction the industry would take as a whole. Within such rich online communities lies deeper, unresolved issues around influence. (Full disclosure: I experienced the "Community" track at the conference and likely missed out on a few great "Industry" track conversations about this.  Next year.). 
  6. Mob mentality is toxic online and in real life. I came to VidCon to learn, but like the other 17,999 attendees, I had a more than a few fanboy moments.  A running mob of teenagers (usually with exasperated parents in tow) was not a dangerously uncommon sight. While many creators were overwhelmed by the sheer enormity of crowds, one rule quickly became clear: don't be a jerk. Period. When I crossed the street next to Grace Helbig, one of YouTube's current biggest stars, I had to keep my cool. The currency of a selfie wasn't worth making another person feel unsafe, especially in a place that's suppose to celebrate that person's craft.
  7. Make content you love first. Don't spend hours on hours creating what you're convinced will be the next viral sensation. In fact, be wary of anyone who promises that a piece of content will go viral. There is no recipe for perfection, especially on YouTube. Hannah Hart started My Drunk Kitchen as a joke to a friend. Create content that gets your own attention first. If you aren't passionate about it, how can you expect someone else to be?

VidCon 2014 was a fantastically eye-opening experience. I can't wait to use this knowledge to produce and spread great content for our clients. We may not have as big of a following as, say, Jimmy Fallon, but we're still going to blow expectations to smithereens! 

Tommy McPhail