The Social Star Creator Camp in LA assures major success – but how far can a course take you to becoming the next big vlogger, IG it girl/guy or a Jenner?
If we’re being absolutely, truly honest, how many of us have watched Zoella talking into a camera, showing off all the stuff she’s bought or been given that week and thought, “I could do that”. Or have seen PewDiePie making millions playing games and believed “anyone could do that!”. And how many of us, upon learning that Zoella earns around £50,000 a month and lives in a home to rival the Jenners at the age of 27, have thought, “I should fucking do that!”. It’s a lot of us. It is, even if only in fleeting moments, all of us. YouTube (and other social media) stars made seemingly overnight became the biggest, newest type of celebrity – they are watched by millions of teens daily, offered book deals, and they’re buying mansions in their mid-20s. They are unthinkably rich for doing what many people would consider “very little” or “the dream”, and regardless of how much day-to-day work being a vlogger or Instagram star may well involve, it is a pretty relaxed existence to be paid millions to chat about stuff you enjoy. The problem is, though, that for every Zoella there are many more YouTubers who will always have those day jobs. The upper echelons of YouTube, lording over all the thousands of little channels clamouring for relevance, seem to be there out of good fortune – or a case of right place, right time. Social media success is not necessarily something you can teach.
There are a rising number of courses who disagree. Recently in China, a university started offering courses designed to equip students with the skills relevant to online fame. The Yiwu Industrial and Commercial College offers classes in “make-up modelling”, “public relations etiquette and cultural literacy”, and “fashion and aesthetic ability”, among others. In LA, there is The Social Star Creator Camp, brainchild of Nichelle Rodriguez, described as “a sleepaway camp for rising social media creators”. Over three or 10 days for $429 to $2690 depending on the course you choose, the camp promises to be “the fast track for new and early social media content creators, true entrepreneurs, who are completely dedicated to learning the best practices for exceptional platforms that result in earning money and viral fame!” So far the course has only taken place in LA, but the premiere London event will take place in August.
I spoke to Nichelle, the Director of Education at the camp, about the camp’s beginnings. She told me: “I have a major acting camp here in Los Angeles. We were registering so many social media stars who wanted acting training – mostly not for an acting career but to make their online presence more vibrant. On another note, we were filling our social media focused electives. I knew that a separate camp to focus on the needs of these unique creators was necessary.” She hopes to help students achieve social media success by putting, “a huge focus on the teens/young adults being business savvy. The amount of money and merchandise being thrown at these creators is crazy. They need to learn how to make the very best out of this business venture.”
There are a few things that make it hard not to feel sceptical. For one, PRs and brands have finite resources. They do not throw free stuff at just anyone – you need a following first, and you need to have built one. Plus, the idea of there being a formula that everyone can follow for online fame seems unlikely – and there is such a thing as being too perfect. The initial draw of YouTube was its realism, its authenticity, its mistakes. It offered a genuine alternative to seemingly polished, inaccessible TV and film stars; people who were funny and messed up in the same way that we are. People who did a lot with very little in their normal homes. If aspiring social media stars get taught from the get-go how to be perfect without being interesting, what will set them apart? These courses may have the best intentions, but there is still something that doesn’t sit quite right in telling ambitious teens that they can have stardom if they follow the exact same formula as their peers – and something even worse about getting their parents to fork over money for it.
We were registering so many social media stars who wanted acting training – mostly not for an acting career but to make their online presence more vibrant.
Thousands and thousands of us would like to make money sitting at home talking about our interests, and YouTube seems like a far more accessible way to get famous and make money than auditioning for TV or films. There are no gatekeepers, so we see YouTubers on screen and think that we could do it, but when everyone does it, it starts to lose its value. Plus, you can teach all the technical and business skills in the world – what you can’t teach is charisma or a sense of humour or an edge. Aspiring social media stars don’t just need technical skills, they need a niche and a personality that people actually want to be near.
It seems impossible to guarantee success in an area that is so ever-changing and dependent on luck, but Nichelle says that with her camp, “success is assured with irrefutable results because we are crossing platforms through collaboration the entire time they are with us. Beyond just being at our program, a mentor is assigned to them for a year after camp and if a participant is doing everything they are taught, they will succeed!” Of course, these are ultimately no different than any other kind of star camp or theatre course. Where there is desperation, ambition, and parents willing to put up the costs to fund dreams, there are people ready to capitalise on that. There is every chance that the next generation of little Zoellas will come out of these courses and camps, but there is also every chance that many of them will fail, and they need to be prepared for that – in this area, success is not only indefinable, but it can never be 100% assured. That being said, there’s nothing wrong with learning a little bit more about the industry and business and how to technically improve your channel or platform. If you’re into this sort of thing, it’s worth going into it with a pinch of salt – learn to be better, work hard, and don’t believe 100% in anything that guarantees you success in a field as ever-changing and luck-dependent as social media.
The Social Star Creator Camp event in London will take place on the 6-8 August. You can sign up here