VidCon is the largest conference and convention devoted to online video. Hosted each year at the Anaheim Convention Center, it was originally conceived as an event to bring online video creators together with the fans that devour their content. Seeing swarms of young fans descend upon their favorite YouTubers is an expected sight at VidCon. Eventually, demand grew for an “industry day” devoted to topics specifically catered to the professional creators and companies involved in the quickly expanding business of digital video. To accommodate this growing demand for the business side of things, the 2015 installment of VidCon will now feature a two day Industry Track on July 23rd and 24th.

There are 14 keynote conversations with executives, 15 panels on topics ranging from case studies of brand/influencer integration campaigns to making data-driven decisions, to building campaigns across multiple platforms. VidCon will feature 14 seminars dropping best practices on subjects like content strategy, optimization of paid media, and exploring platforms other than YouTube. There is also a track of demos showcasing 30 companies and everything from analytics to live broadcast tools.

Why Should Brands Attend?

Last year the brands that attended or participated  got a firsthand look at just why the online digital video space is no longer something they could afford to ignore. At VidCon, there are a lot of fans. So many fans that some brands compared what they saw to Beatlemania. If you aren’t convinced of YouTube’s ability to drive purchasing, or generate loyal audiences,  just spend some time hanging out on the first floor of the event hall and witness what it means to be a fan of YouTubers.

This year there is a separate Creator Track for aspiring and up-and-coming creators looking to their idols for advice about making content. There is also the Community Track which really looks like the San Diego ComicCon of online video, complete with a multi-thousand seat panel room, expo floor, and activities.

Close to 20,000 people fill the venue with youthful energy and enthusiasm and know-how about producing and consuming content, branded or otherwise.

Come see ZEFR at VidCon 2015

Along with ZEFR staff in attendance, three events will feature ZEFR panelists. Click the screenshots below for full details.

    1. Featuring Rich Raddon, Co-CEO and Co-Founder at ZEFR:Screen Shot 2015-07-16 at 2.13.55 PM
      Where’s the white space over the next few years? What are the best opportunities to build the next $100 million business? We’re at the beginning of the online revolution, what’s next? This session takes a concrete look at where the online video industry is going, with real quantifiable predictions – which we’ll revisit over the next few years to see how accurate they really were. If you want to skate to where the puck is going, this panel is for you.


    1. Featuring Meredith Levine, Fanthropologist at ZEFRScreen Shot 2015-07-16 at 2.14.30 PM
      Everyone wants to know what the value of a fan is. In an age of changing success metrics, and cult media, why are fandoms and communities better than audiences and impressions, not just for culture, but for business? This session explores the value and techniques of effective social listening, using earned media to inform your paid and owned strategies, dealing with trolls and community blowback, and measuring success.


  1. Featuring Paul Boruta, Head of Ad Products at ZEFR:
    Screen Shot 2015-07-16 at 2.15.16 PM
    Using a series of case studies, this talk will detail which YouTube ad formats work best for branding, conversions, views, and other KPIs. You will leave with an understanding of contextual and audience targeting strategies, and the role of creative and messaging relevance, and optimization strategies across all formats, including mobile and tablet.


A Suggested Schedule

VidCon can be overwhelming. Having a great convention experience comes down to a blend of networking, meetings, and going to interesting talks and panels. Here is a sample schedule we recommend for brands looking to get the most out of their trip to VidCon.

Wednesday July 22nd

5:00-7:00pm: Pick up badges and go to the Industry Track welcome reception.

Thursday July 23rd

7:00-8:30: Take breakfast meetings
9:00am: Noon Keynote speeches and conversations
12:30- 1:30pm: Anatomy of a Brand Campaign – Secret Deodorant
2:00-3:00pm: From Branded Content to Inhouse Agencies – Building a Content Brand
3:30-4:30pm: Building Brand Campaigns Across Multiple Services
4:45-5:30pm: Closing Keynote with YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki
5:30-7:30pm: Industry Reception
7:30pm+: Parties, meetings and receptions

Friday July 24th

9:00-10:45am: Keynote sessions
11:00am+: Come see ZEFR’s panels, listed above.

If you are more of a day-to-day or hands-on person, be sure to check out the relevant workshops that are held after the panels. Don’t forget to take some time on Friday to check out some of the Creator panels and Community panels. If you want to work with Creators there are panels on the Creator Track to help creators get brand ready. ZEFR recommends “So You Want to Work with Brands” from 2:00-3:00pm.

Saturday July 25th

If you are in Anaheim for the entire weekend, Saturday features some programming about Creator and Community tracks. It can be a meaningful experience for brands to see even more elements that comprise the online video community, beyond just industry concerns.

Further Reading

If you are new to conventions, or VidCon in general, check out our post from last year and more tips on surviving a fan convention. We look forward to seeing you there!


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Thought Leadership

It’s understandable that brands might find the presence of critics, detractors, or just plain old “haters” to be bad for their image, particularly when it comes to those who upload their negative opinions and/or experiences to YouTube.  For brand marketers, waking up to news of a viral video denigrating their products or services may signal the start to a rough day.

However, such a scenario is not necessarily cause for alarm. Rather, it presents a unique opportunity to build something highly valuable – authenticity.

Through the use of social media, it’s now possible to convert vocal critics into advocates and fans, and letting the world watch the process unfold creates authenticity. In the case of YouTube, rather than trying to eliminate the presence of critics, sometimes it is better to engage with these influencers and simply make your case. Negative stories are important stories, because a brand space absent of criticism is inherently inauthentic. A lack of diversity of opinion within a social network has that eerie distaste of a dictatorial regime – of cheating the system and bypassing communities in exchange for metrics that are shrinking in relevancy by the day.

Thus, the question is no longer “how do we silence detractors?”. Instead, it now becomes “how can we win these people over?”.

YouTube Strategies vs. Other Social Media

On YouTube, the lifespan of a video is inherently much, much longer than a tweet or a status update. Videos might sit on YouTube for years before someone uncovers it and sparks a viral sensation. And, once a video gains enough notoriety, attempts to remove the video are only met with more and more re-uploads of the same content, starting a useless game of whack-a-mole that only amplifies the video’s message.

So, why are strategies on YouTube for dealing with critics treated any differently than strategies on other social networks? Answer – they shouldn’t be.

If someone were to critique your brand on Twitter, you would probably choose to engage with them, rather than try to get the tweet retracted. This should be no different on YouTube. If anything, YouTube requires even more diligence to understand and engage with the communities in a positive way.

What not to do: A bad exchange between United Airlines and a Musician

One musician, Dave Carroll, while flying United, witnessed his guitar suffering abuse at the hands of United baggage handlers on the tarmac. When he arrived at his destination for a gig, his instrument was broken. United did nothing to remedy the situation, declining to reimburse him for the damage, so he made a video that ended up going viral:

Situations like this need to be treated as open doors rather than enemies to be ignored or eliminated. United was faced with an excellent opportunity to bolster brand sentiment and turn the story and attention into a more positive note. Instead, United only engaged after the video went viral and failed to think outside the box and offer up an authentic response, such as a video song of their own to apologize. To this day, new negative comments on the original video continue to get posted:



What to do: A great exchange between EA Sports and a YouTuber

A great example of an exchange well done occurred between YouTube user Levinator25 and EA Sports from 2008.

Levenator25 thought he saw a glitch in the game:

EA Sports played off of that for their next iteration of Tiger Woods PGA Tour.

Calling back to the organic user video, coupled with the new Google+ enabled comments section and threads, allows for brands to get conversations going in a positive direction. While some negative comments will always be around, plenty of authentic, positive reactions from fans can be found:


So, are “haters” bad for brands? Only if brands respond poorly or not at all. Moreover, when dealt with properly, the end result can actually be a positive overall thanks to the creation of authenticity and trust.

In some cases, ignoring your critics entirely may seem like the safest bet. But, without risk there is no reward. Engaging and engaging well with negative feedback, especially when the medium is video, is something brands need to do in order to really understand the future of branding and customer service. And, getting it right on YouTube can bring more rewards than anywhere else.

Engaging well on YouTube means listening to what’s being posted in order to discover complaints and then solve problems. And, if the problem is expressed through video, it is best to respond in the same medium. Companies need to be seen as able to evolve and solve problems using the same language as their customers. In markets with diversity of opinions, it is customer service that sets apart the good from the bad. Converting “haters” to advocates through video needs to be seen as more than just good marketing, or social strategy, but also as good customer service.


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Cultural Trends

photo above by Johan Larsson

Not all YouTube users are alike. It’s easy to see the high view counts on videos and envision a mass of viewers all doing the same thing, but it’s more complicated than that. There are varying degrees of involvement, from minimal interactivity all the way through “full time job.”

Understanding engagement on YouTube starts with understanding the people on YouTube, and the varying ways they use and interact with the platform. While this list is not meant to be exhaustive, it does cover the core differences among users, and it should be helpful when building and engaging your audience.



Lurkers simply watch rather than engage. They might be compelled to share from time to time, but they rarely comment and certainly don’t create videos. Lurkers are as close to a passive audience as audiences get. They are hard to find and may not even login to YouTube to watch or subscribe to channels, leaving little evidence they were ever around, except for a view count. But, all engaged users gotta start somewhere, and with more engaging content hitting YouTube every day, these lurkers will continue to jump in and get involved more and more.


These viewers comment and subscribe. This could range from a handful of subscriptions and a comment now and again, to having entire conversations in the comment sections.  When thinking about fans on YouTube, this is the segment of the audience we tend to think of most frequently. They may not be the largest group, but they are vocal. These fans enter giveaways and respond to calls to action. When things change, like aesthetics of videos, fans take note. Fans follow their favorite YouTubers on other social media platforms. For them, YouTube is part of their media routine. Sharing is a huge part of this audience segment; they evangelize what they like. The fan category does not exclude influencers (explained below). Most influencers are also fans, but not all fans are influencers.



photo by Joel Olives

Anyone who makes YouTube videos is an influencer. By creating and uploading videos, they are influencing the scope and direction of the platform in their own unique way.  Influencers are still fans in their own right, but they are adding to the conversation much more actively, and they are always pushing it forward. Influencers can range from the earliest stages of making videos to being on the cusp of YouTube fame.

There is, however, a difference between most influencers and “professional YouTubers.”  The line between being a professional YouTuber and being an influencer is a bit challenging to differentiate. Some of the most famous YouTubers are still in school, middle school, high school, college or beyond. Does their enrollment in school prevent them from being a professional YouTuber? Not necessarily.  In many cases, fame is in the eye of the beholder. And, just as all influencers are fans but not all fans are influencers, likewise all professional YouTubers are influencers, but not all influencers are professionals.

Ultimately, choosing to put out content on YouTube is a brave move. It requires filming, editing, uploading and then publicizing a video and releasing it for public viewing, and hence criticism. Thus, it is especially brave for vloggers and people who show themselves on camera and actually speak directly into the eyes of the viewer, where they are left especially revealed and vulnerable. When compared to text based communication, making videos is is an act of real strength, and the influence coming from such people is similarly strong in its overall effect.


Professional YouTubers, aka The YouTube Famous

Even famous people on YouTube are fans if they are native to the platform. YouTubers start as fans, and it is their fandom, and sometimes brandom, that keeps them on YouTube. These are the people that organize meet-ups and are on panels at VidCon. They make the front page, get written about and, most of all, have large subscriber bases. YouTube famous people tend to make their money on Youtube and are full-time YouTube personalities. This class of YouTuber posts regularly.  They also run social media in other forums and engage with fans online and offline. YouTube famous individuals also tend to generate money through brand integrations or alternative revenue streams. Many are looking at monetization strategies that extend beyond YouTube.

It is important to note that scoring one viral video does not make someone a professional, because they may not be able to leverage that one-hit-wonder into a sustainable community. But, viral videos can serve as launch points to vibrant YouTube careers.

When it comes to drawing lines, even VidCon has a hard time differentiating between influencers and professionals as illustrated by the following image and quote from the “Special Guests” section of their web site:


“It’s always been really hard for us to draw the line between attendee and “Special Guest.” But we have to draw it somewhere, and it is clearly more of an art than a science. But, basically, we think the people below will be of particular interest. It is entirely possible that your favorite creator is coming to VidCon but isn’t on the list. That’s just because it takes forever to crop pictures, so we have to stop somewhere.”

As the YouTube community continues to grow and evolve (with more than 1 billion unique users visiting each month), it seems likely that the kinds of users, and the creative way those users interact, will continue to grow and evolve as well. So, stay tuned.


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