Influencer events work in a similar vein to every themed convention. On a consumer level, they’re marketed as exciting opportunities for fans to meet and spend time with their favourite social media stars. On an industry level - they’re great opportunities to engage with today’s most profitable personalities.
A good example of a well-executed Influencer Event is Summer in the City, based in the UK.
Summer in the City began as a gathering, that took place in London’s parks. It was organised by vlogger Tom Burns and YouTube musician Dave Bullas, with the support of their friends Liam Dryden And Jazza John.
The event grew exponentially in popularity, before being acquired by MCM in 2016. City is now a two-day convention, that takes place annually at London’s ExCel centre.
The convention provides the larger creators with a booth, where they can set up merch and host meet and greets. Smaller creators are invited along regardless of status and can be found wandering around the convention floor.
The atmosphere is generally very polite; long-term fans of the convention understand that despite the ever-growing size of the event, it’s still very much a community affair and the passion is still at the heart of it. Imagine Comic Con, but the draw is YouTube stars, as opposed to B-list movie stars.
So, what was Hello World Live?
Hello World Live, hosted at the Genting Arena in Birmingham, seemed to be a step in the right direction at least.
It was promoted as an ‘immersive experience’, where fans could get up close and personal with their favourite YouTubers, all whilst enjoying a vibrant and inclusive atmosphere.
This type of affair isn’t unusual - Summer in the City manages to bridge the gap between fan and creator very well.
So, what went wrong?
Hello World became a logistical nightmare, first and foremost. Reviews online suggested that a lack of planning and communication between organisers and staff was to blame, plus an oversight on how many people would actually attend the event.
According to some who attended, the event didn't deliver on a number of promises, entertainment was lacking, and people had paid for VIP goodie bags that they didn’t receive.
Attendees took to social media to share their experiences of feeling disappointed and 'robbed' by the event, leaving scathing reviews on the Hello World Facebook page.
YouTuber Calum McSwiggan hit out at the organisers, stating the team behind the event "just had pound signs in their eyes".
"The YouTube community has a really bad reputation sometimes and it's because of events like Hello World." said McSwiggan.
Meet and Greets work, as long as they happen
While Hello World wasn’t marketed as a meet and greet event, attendees were told that they’d be able to meet a number of creators. An email was sent around to guests informing them that they’d be able to attend a meet and greet with YouTube vlogger Tyler Oakley, only to be told on arrival that it was a mistake.
Guests were told that there would be opportunities for them to queue to get some time with certain creators - but many were left disappointed. Fans of vlogger Zoella were instructed to line up outside her ‘Winter Wonderland’ area, but Zoella herself was long gone before her queue of adoring fans was exhausted.
Summer in the City’s meet and greets work in a similar vein. Fans will queue for hours to meet a YouTuber they care about without complaint, as long as there’s a guarantee it will happen. Fans are told when to queue, and are given wristbands that allocate them a space.
Of course, the amount of time a creator wants to spend on their own meet and greet is a factor. I watched musician Dodie Clark spend at least five hours per day on her own booth at Summmer in the City and she didn’t leave until she’d met every single person in her queue.
While that is not a requirement, it’s a silent expectation from influencers.
The filler is always killer.
Now that Summer in the City is under the arm of MCM, the convention isn’t short of things to do. It’s rife with merchants, food stalls and entertainment which will keep guests happy (and spending) over the weekend.
Hello World struggled to deliver a large proportion of the promised attractions. While the draw of the event is primarily the talent on show, guests expect a spectacle of some sort and there has to be some kind of entertainment for those spending a considerable amount of time there.
The illusion of profit must never be obvious.
Although it goes without saying that the point of an event is to market a product and profit in the process, that's not the message that attendees should recieve.
The personal and informal nature of YouTube gives fans a feeling of being spoken to, instead of at. This makes them form a one-sided friendship with this influencer, leading to fans either becoming disillusioned to the true nature of their idol or defensive of possibly toxic behaviour.
Ergo, this 'YouTube friendship' means online influencers are under a lot more pressure to please entitled fans than most other forms of celebrities.
"It's a really big deal for fans to meet their favourite YouTube stars and take photos with them," said Calum McSwiggan, speaking to the BBC.
Hello World later issued an apology on their Facebook page for the reported problems at the event, stating they were "disappointed and very sorry to hear that some fans feel they did not get the experience they were hoping for".
It claimed the "atmosphere at the event was very positive overall" despite the negative reports, and said it was responding to complaints on an individual basis.