This week my teenage kids are dragging me of to the premier YouTube event of the year – VidCon.  I was foolish enough to agree to chaperone them, and now I have two days in LA immersed in a sea of one thousand YouTube celebs, fans and wannabe’s. But not one to miss an opportunity, I’ll be spending some time looking for new insights into using YouTube for science communication and engagement amidst the latest on-line personalities and music acts.

To be fair, the event intrigues me.  Established last year by a hugely successful pair of YouTube video-bloggers (or vloggers) – John and Hank Green – VidCon is hosting some of the biggest names on YouTube.  And when I say big, I’m thinking subscribers, views and comments.

To get things into context, John and Hank regularly attract between 200,000 – 300,000 views on videos posted to their vlogbrothers channel.  What really grabbed my attention though was that their videos attract comments in their thousands – these brothers are engaging with people big time.

But when I mentioned this to my kids, they just sniffed and said “ha, that’s nothing!” (or words to that effect).  To check this I eyeballed the YouTube channels of some of the speakers at VidCon – most of whom admittedly I know nothing about.

At the time of writing, performer/participant Shane Dawson’s latest video for instance had 1,189,880 views, and 29,463 comments – not to bad.  He also has 2,655,489 subscribers.  Another one – my daughter tells me Charlie McDonnell is big: he has 1,091,173 subscribers, and his videos get viewing figures in the millions.

These may be the exceptions in the world of YouTube users, but the numbers are unavoidably impressive – comparable with top broadcast media circulation/views, and significantly better than the reach of some old media outlets.  And in each case, they represent interactions within a community – multi-way conversation rather than one-way dissemination.

So what has this all to do with science and technology?

For a start, it’s a stark reminder of the potential of social media such as YouTube to connect with large communities.  Of course I’m not naive enough to think that, just because it works for some teen talking off the top of their head it will work for anyone – it doesn’t. But I am interested in what makes successful YouTube users successful, and whether there are lessons here here that can be applied within the scitech community for connecting with others more effectively.

So I’ll be keeping my eyes and ears peeled over the next few days.  I’ll also be paying special attention to those YouTube celebs with a science and technology leaning (including VidCon co-founder Hank Green, who also runs the website EcoGeek).

I’ll also be doing my bit to promote my daughter’s rather fab YouTube collaborative Fellowship Of the Ning – hence the tee shirts with the rather snazzy QR Code.

In the meantime, if I happen across anything interesting while partying away ’till the wee small hours with the likes of Chameleon Circuit (a Dr. Who-inspired Brit Band believe it or not!), I’ll let you know!

Here’s the list of speakers at this year’s VidCon.  The full program can be seen here.

And despite evidence to the contrary, the kids are pretty good – should be a fun few days!

Andrew Maynard