Beauty YouTuber Ingrid Nilsen is obsessed with soy candles, skeptical about drugstore dry shampoo and…gay. “I want to have this conversation, just like I’ve had with friends and people who are close to me,” says the teenage-looking 26-year-old with impeccably drawn crimson lips in a 19-minute video that went viral in June. Up until this point, Nilsen had been best known for posting monthly makeup roundups and tips for her 3.7 million subscribers. Her coming out was viewed nearly two million times within 24 hours, garnering comments like “YES, girl. Kick Ass!!!!”
With their seemingly unrehearsed, uncensored messaging, along with a “so happy to see you!” delivery, YouTubers like Nilsen are making fans believe they’re friends. “If communication feels sincere and ongoing, that will build the relationship,” says Catherine Rawn, a University of British Columbia instructor who will begin teaching a psychology of social media class in 2016. “If the person is sharing details about their life, then that creates a connection not unlike the ones we encounter in face-to-face relationships.” Except these BFFs are available for 24-7 heart-to-screen interaction.
Their subscribers rival Swifties or the Beyhive in both numbers and devotion. Toronto’s Lauren Riihimaki, better known to her 1.9 million Pretty Little Laurs as LaurDIY, started sharing her DIY tutorials in 2012. Now, the 22-year-old Ryerson University grad dishes advice on adapting to a new city with a side of prom hair how-tos. During last year’s Much Music Video Awards, she recalls, “One girl told me that my videos helped her get through chemotherapy. I’ll never forget that.” The most popular YouTubers are also launching lucrative side gigs—and their mega fan bases are following along. “It’s called basking in reflected glory,” says Rawn. “To an extent, our identity is connected to this person. If they succeed, then we feel pumped up about it.”
British vlogger Zoe Sugg (a.k.a. Zoella) parlayed her audience of 8.5 million into a book deal with Penguin. Her debut young adult novel, Girl Online, tackles anxiety, relationships and cyberbullying, and had record sales its first week on shelves last November. Plus, her sophomore range of Zoella Beauty products recently launched at Superdrug in the U.K. California’s Bethany Mota, whose 8.9 million subscribers have made her YouTube’s top beauty babe, has competed on Dancing With the Stars and interviewed celebs for Entertainment Tonight. “I’ve watched her since she was a timid girl making videos in her room,” says Krystle Casupanan, a 20-year-old Western University student and Mota superfan. “I cheer her on like she’s one of my friends. It’s encouraging to watch her progress.” Because there’s no turning your back on the people you click with.
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