[This post was updated July 3 2018]
Influencer marketing has grown at an incredible rate over the last year, especially among teens. This has resulted in the birth one of the 21st century’s newest breed of celebrity: The YouTube Star.
For those who don’t know, influencers are individuals who have a significant impact or influence on a social media platform, and brands partner with these influencers to promote their product or service.
Recent consumer insights reveal that 70% of teenage YouTube subscribers favor influencer opinions over traditional celebrity endorsements, causing a monumental shift in the way the
highly-sought after youth consumer is being marketed to.
Even the White House recognizes the power of these influencers. In 2014, U.S. President Barack Obama met with a super group of prominent digital influencers to discuss ways the White House could do a better job reaching the YouTube generation.
Imagine if this influential group collectively reached out to their combined 35 million+ subscribers and 300 million monthly views to share messages for social good!?
While fame and fortune are exciting and admirable for top tier online celebs, many are recognizing that one great way to celebrate their success is to give back to the people who have that helped them get where they are today.
This is a great thing, but there is a catch. Until YouTube's app for kids gains traction, the original YouTube channel is still a major draw for kids. If you really want to know what social media is and how it's being used today, look to the young people in your life! If they "love" social media (and YouTube stars), watch our Cyberwise video, "What Kids Are Really Doing Online" on our YouTube Channel and get more great tips in our free Social Media Learning Hub here.
With that in mind, below is a look at five prominent YouTube stars who are using their fame to help charities raise money and awareness for social causes, with a few flag mentions for parents of younger kids.
PEWDIEPIE - Pop Culture Influencer:
YouTube pioneer, PewDiePie – aka Felix Kjellberg – reaches 63 million subscribers and has the single largest subscriber base on the entire platform. Known for his wit and charisma, this Swedish, sometimes controverisal content creator celebrated via video that he and his fans raised over $1 million for charity! in just one year for many charities, including World Wildlife Fund, St. Jude, Save the Children, and Charity: Water, who personally thanked the PewDiePie army for providing water to 10,000 Rwandans.
Red Flags? Unfortunately yes. PewDiePie has so many followers it would have been erroneous to exclude him from this list. Setting his good deeds aside, parents should be aware that Disney and YouTube pulled their original reality shows with him last year after being accused of making racist and anti-Semitic remarks in videos. As a result, we recommend parents use caution before permitting under-aged kids to view his content.
ZOELLA – Lifestyle Influencer:
With over 12 million subscribers and over 1 billion video views, it’s hard to dispute the amazing success of Zoella – aka Zoe Sugg, whose popularity expands beyond online fame, including three New York Times bestselling novels, sponsorships, endorsements and even her own 50-product beauty line in the U.K.
Zoella, who openly talks about her battles with anxiety, is utilizing the power of social media to raise support for charities that aim squarely at her young viewership. This includes serving as a digital ambassador for the mental health charity Mind and being one of the world’s first ‘vloggers’ to participate in Sir Bob Geldof’s Band Aid 30 song to fight Ebola. She has also participated in funding raising for the Stroke Association an Trekstock, a non-profit that helps young adults with cancer in the UK. Red flags? Zoella unapologetically boasts about the joys of shopping, and, consequently, Zoella has advertisers eating out of her hand.
TYLER OAKLEY – LGBT Youth Activist:
Since becoming famous on YouTube, Tyler has raised more than $1 million for The Trevor Project, the leading national non-profit for crisis and suicide prevention for LGBT youth. His Trevor Project birthday fundraising video received 1.3 million views on his YouTube channel and was honored with a DoGooder.tv “YouTube Creator for Good Award” for his efforts.
Tyler Oakley's successful social media prominence among youth (particularly YouTube) also took him to the White House twice, including a one-on-one sit down chat with First Lady Michelle Obama that garnered 2.4 million views in support of her “Reach Higher” education initiative, as well as inclusion in President Barack Obama’s separate meeting with other prominent digital influencers to discuss how they can better reach online audiences about important issues such as cyberbullying, healthcare and education. Red flags? Tyler has been known to toss frequent f-bombs and blunt sex talk are peppered throughout many videos, making some of his videos clearly inappropriate for kids.
AMANDA RUSSELL – Fitness and Lifestyle Influencer: Canadian-born YouTube sensation Amanda Russell was born to run. She was living the dream as an Olympian-in-training for team USA when tragedy struck. Just weeks before the start of the Beijing Olympics, a serious injury crushed her life-long aspiration to be an Olympic star, threatened to end her running days forever and brought all her endorsement deals, awards, records and sponsorships came to a screeching halt.
Amanda turned her devastation into restoration, powering through a painstaking recovery with all the perseverance and of an Olympic champion. Today she is the founder of fitstrongandsexy.com, teaches Influencer Marketing at UCLA and travels around the world as a motivational speaker guiding people—including young girls—on how to be the leading characters in their own lives, physically and mentally. She uses her influencer fame to support Girls on the Run®, a non-profit dedicated to activating the limitless potential of young girls through interactive lessons and running games. She is also a book author and will be releasing a new book, "The Influencer Code" next year on the business of influencer marketing.
MOLLY BURKE - Beauty and Lifestyle Influencer: Last but not least is Molly Burke, an inspirational role model for any social media influencer seeking to use their celebrity voice for social good. You see, Molly is not your average beauty blogger. She's blind, yet she is more adept at putting on her own make up and outfits even better than most of us. She began as a prominent motivational speaker at the young age of five and began sharing stages with major celebrities such as Macklemore, Justin Trudeau and Demi Lovato, all while managing the challenges of her slowly deteriorating eyesight.
Today she is a fearless motivational speaker who has grown into a YouTube sensation after she began posting raw, genuine content and "blind girl" hacks for fashion, beauty, and useful dad-to-day tasks. In a recent interview in PaperMag.com, Molly revealed the real “aha moment” for her on the power that influencers can have on people came after she posted her 10 Amazing Tips to Overcome Bullying video on YouTube.
“I read this comment on that video that said, ‘I planned on killing myself tonight, but I came across the video I saw you posted. So I watched the video because you're my favorite YouTuber, and everything you said was exactly the motivation I needed to hear to not kill myself.’ And it was like, to know that you have that power is crazy. I unfortunately don't think that everyone takes it to heart and as seriously as I do, but I think there are a lot of people who understand it…and there's nothing that irritates me more than social media influencers…who say, ‘I'm not trying to be a role model, if people choose to follow me that's up to them.’ No, you're putting yourself out there, and by doing that you have to realize that you will become a role model to some people.”
Molly was 14 when she ventured into the world of influencer marketing a decade ago. Since then, she has developed strong relationships with other YouTube superstars, including YouTube segments with Kandee Johnson and Casey Neistat — and even taught supermodel Karlie Kloss how to read Braille on her channel!
Kudos to these brave members of YouTube celebrity royalty. Tapping into their clearly charitable fanbases validates how influencers can become incredible allies for charitable causes.
Let’s hope these efforts will go viral and continue to grow and provide inspiration for any fellow influencers seeking to support cause-related efforts through their social media channels.
For more information about other YouTube stars that kids are admire, visit the Cyberwise guest blog courtesy of MobiCip on the “20 YouTube Channels Your Kids Probably Already Follow.”
Cynthia Lieberman is co-Founder, CyberWise.org and owner of Lieberman Communications, a content marketing and PR consultancy firm for Fortune 500 companies. Equipped with a graduate degree in Media Psychology and Social Change, Lieberman is a Board of Director for the National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE). She teaches Social Media Marketing at UCLA Extension and recently served as an Adjunct Professor in Mass Communications at California State University, Northridge.