Just liv­ing their lives, they speak to fol­low­ers

LGBTQ so­cial me­dia in­flu­encers talk love and brands at VidCon in Anaheim.

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - By Emily Mae Cza­chor emi­ly­mae.cza­chor @la­times.com

Last Jan­uary, Bria Kam and her long­time girl­friend, Chrissy Cham­bers, were en­joy­ing the perks of an all-ex­penses-paid Costa Ri­can get­away — one whose fairy­tale aes­thetic and packed ac­tiv­ity slate looked like some­thing out of a des­ti­na­tion episode of “The Bach­e­lor” (only with­out the bach­e­lor).

The fan­tasy va­ca­tion — com­plete with its ex­tracur­ric­u­lar freebies — was a lofty fourth-an­niver­sary gift (or rather, part gift, part busi­ness ven­ture), cour­tesy of a lux­ury travel agency look­ing to tap into the LGBTQ mar­ket. As far as Kam and Cham­bers were con­cerned, the agency’s stip­u­la­tions were no-brain­ers: Re­lax, hop on a zip line, ca­ress a jun­gle crit­ter or two, make goo­gly eyes at each other. The only caveat? They had to video­tape ev­ery­thing. From the travel agency’s per­spec­tive, their dreamy cou­ples va­ca­tion was the per­fect mar­ket­ing op­por­tu­nity.

But for Kam and Cham­bers, chron­i­cling the hap­pen­ings of ev­ery­day life is just that: ev­ery­day life. Since 2012, the real-life cou­ple have dou­bled as vir­tual-life col­leagues. (Or is it real-life col­leagues/vir­tual-life cou­ple? It gets con­fus­ing.)

Look­ing for a means to pro­vide some kind of sup­port sys­tem for LGBTQ youth, par­tic­u­larly those liv­ing in ru­ral, con­ser­va­tive ar­eas (an ex­pe­ri­ence that Cham­bers can per­son­ally speak to), they con­ceived a joint YouTube chan­nel in which they touted them­selves as the video plat­form’s res­i­dent “Singing Les­bian Duo” — and they cer­tainly fit the bill.

What be­gan as a satir­i­cal mu­sic video (in which Kam and Cham­bers duet as Ann and Mitt Rom­ney, re­spec­tively, to lyrics penned in re­sponse to then-vice pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee Paul Ryan’s re­marks on rape) has snow­balled into a so­cial en­ter­prise with more than 729,000 sub­scribers to their YouTube chan­nel Bri­aAndChrissy, more than 145,000 fol­low­ers on In­sta­gram and nearly 78 mil­lion on Twit­ter.

And though Kam and Cham­bers still ded­i­cate a chunk of their YouTube pres­ence to po­lit­i­cally and/ or so­cially charged par­ody sing-alongs (as well as non­par­ody tracks), their hook — and what makes them so ap­peal­ing to fol­low­ers — is much more straight­for­ward.

“Our re­la­tion­ship is our pro­fes­sion,” said Cham­bers on Fri­day af­ter­noon at VidCon, the con­fer­ence for so­cial me­dia cre­ators, fans and brands, held at the Anaheim Con­ven­tion Cen­ter.

Cham­bers and Kam were on a panel ti­tled “Mak­ing It Work: LGBTQ+ Cou­ples,” which fo­cused its dis­cus­sion on the chal­lenges as­so­ci­ated with cre­at­ing per­sonal, in­ti­mate con­tent with a sig­nif­i­cant other. They were joined by Ebony and Denise, whose Team2Moms YouTube chan­nel of­fers a per­spec­tive on the chal­lenges they face as a les­bian cou­ple in rais­ing their daugh­ter, Olivia.

At Kam’s re­la­tion­ship com­ment, Cham­bers looked at her part­ner sit­ting be­side her and nod­ded — one of at least a dozen word­less ges­tures of sol­i­dar­ity be­tween them through­out the panel’s du­ra­tion.

That Kam and Cham­bers are es­sen­tially a pro­fes­sional cou­ple was com­pounded by their marked “cou­ple-ness” in a set­ting where, most of the time, mix­ing busi­ness with plea­sure might seem like a faux pas. But these women have turned it into a ca­reer.

As it turns out, the con­tent that their fans crave is sim­ple: Queer teenagers in Ok­la­homa want to know what it’s like to come out to your mom, how to make the first move on an awk­ward first date, and any and every de­tail of Kam and Cham­bers’ lives. Some of the fans come to think of Kam and Cham­bers as friends and men­tors.

The fuzzi­ness of real life ver­sus vir­tual life can get tricky: “Some­times, fans feel en­ti­tled to in­for­ma­tion about us,” both women noted. But more than any­thing, Kam and Cham­bers’ fans trust them. And that’s what makes them prime real es­tate for ad­ver­tis­ing.

This con­cept of “per­sonal brand­ing” and so­cial me­dia isn’t new, but its grow­ing com­plex­i­ties — es­pe­cially as it re­lates to the life­style vlog­ger, who must bal­ance celebrity and life coach roles as a kind of DIY re­al­ity star — col­ored sev­eral panel con­ver­sa­tions at VidCon.

From a tal­ent per­spec­tive, the key seems to be au­then­tic­ity, or else “[the fans] will see right through it,” said Cam­mie Scott, a 26year-old YouTube per­son­al­ity at VidCon on Fri­day. She too gained so­cial me­dia fame through a YouTube re­la­tion­ship chan­nel with nearly as much trac­tion as Bri­aAndChrissy but broke up with girl­friend Shan­non Bev­eridge last year, dis­ap­point­ing many fans when the cou­ple went pub­lic with their split. Their YouTube video “Why We Broke Up” has been watched more than 1.9 mil­lion times.

“I have done the whole share-your-re­la­tion­ship thing on­line…. I don’t re­gret it at all,” Bev­eridge said on a YouTube video from this month called “My Re­la­tion­ship Sta­tus,” “but shar­ing your re­la­tion­ship on­line comes with a lot of things that I don’t want to ever ex­pe­ri­ence again.”

Since their breakup, both have con­tin­ued to main­tain their so­cial pro­files — and their re­la­tion­ships with var­i­ous brands. Scott was re­cently picked up by Bose as a brand in­flu­encer, which she dis­cussed at a VidCon panel ti­tled “Case Study: Pow­er­ing Brand Sto­ries Through IRL Ex­pe­ri­ences.” (IRL stands for “in real life.”)

The busi­ness-fo­cused dis­cus­sion saw ex­ec­u­tives from Bose and Su­per­fly chron­i­cling their ex­pe­ri­ence part­ner­ing at Su­per­fly’s 2016 Bon­na­roo Mu­sic and Arts Fes­ti­val with inf lu­encers like Scott, who pro­motes Bose prod­ucts on her so­cial me­dia plat­forms (for ex­am­ple, she said she wears Bose head­phones in her so­cial pho­tos so “the fans know I re­ally care about them”).

The Su­perf ly-Bose study, which the brands launched for a “test drive” at Bon­na­roo, has be­come a “blue­print,” Bose mar­ket­ing ex­ec­u­tive Joshua Glasheen said, for an ex­panded cam­paign — one that cashes in on in­flu­encers’ abil­ity to ac­cess, un­der­stand and voice the opin­ions of con­sumers and help Bose “raise its brand pro­file,” par­tic­u­larly among mu­sic fans.

To brands like Bose, a well-known per­son­al­ity such as Scott is al­most like a liv­ing, breath­ing mar­ket­ing cam­paign. (Jack Reed, Mil­len­nial En­ter­tain­ment chief ex­ec­u­tive, called it “a liv­ing em­bod­i­ment of what you care about as a brand.”) But Scott made it clear that with­out her, there would not be a mar­ket­ing scheme.

“They’re here for me, and they’re here for my au­di­ence,” Scott said of her part­ner­ship with Bose. “My au­di­ence is their au­di­ence, and they know I know them best.”

Photographs by Emily Mae Cza­chor Los Angeles Times

BRIA KAM, sec­ond from left, Chrissy Cham­bers and the cou­ple known as Denise and Ebony at VidCom.

VIS­I­TORS to VidCon, a con­fer­ence for so­cial me­dia cre­ators, fans and brands, had plenty to talk about af­ter Fri­day’s ac­tiv­i­ties at Anaheim Con­ven­tion Cen­ter.

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