Social media camp: a 10-day course on lighting and how to be an ‘influencer’
For $2,690, the Social Star Creator Camp says it will teach teenagers the digital skills they need to become social media ‘influencers’ – is it too good to be true?
If you are the parent of teenagers, here are three words that may make you shudder: social media camp.
Rather than wean adolescents off Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube, a 10-day course aims to deepen their immersion in online platforms to turn them into social media “influencers” and “stars”.
The camp, which is due to launch in Los Angeles and spread to Britain, Australia and Japan, says proper use of phones, tablets and laptops is the key to Hollywood-style success. “Whatever your skills and areas of interests are, there is a social media channel out there that will help you reach the stratosphere of fame and fortune.”
It is the brainchild of Nichelle Rodriguez, 48, a social worker-turned entrepreneur who has run a youth acting camp near LA for 18 years and now thinks social media is the future. “Social media is fast overtaking everything. The interest is incredible,” she said. “The camp is a business incubator. The sole purpose is monetizing and learning the business.”
The Social Star Creator Camp bills itself as “the first sleepaway course for teens dedicated to professional growth and monetary success on social media platforms”. It will run from 8-17 July at the University of La Verne, 35 miles east of LA.
Similar camps will run in London in August and in Sydney and Japan next year, the venues to be confirmed, Rodriguez said. “This is a camp for those who want success – who want to grow their audience and engagement.” Each camp – the antithesis to rehab courses for teens addicted to social media – has 300 places.
For $2,690, the LA participants are promised room and board, tours, technical workshops, instruction from established social media influencers and advice from companies seeking talent to promote corporate brands. Airport pickup, camp T-shirts and some meals cost extra.
The camp’s promotional blurb cites Adele and Justin Bieber as examples of social media’s springboard power. It also cites teens who have turned sports, food, fashion, makeup, comedy and other interests into big online followings.
“The more people know you and love you, the more famous you are, right! All you have to do is to let your skill and your personality shine, trust yourself, be consistent and let the social users recognize your uniqueness.”
Dozens have signed up for the LA camp since registration opened this month, Rodriguez said. Four of them attended a film lighting workshop in LA last week, a warmup for the camp.
“I really want to publicize myself more to have people more intrigued – and to be worth their time,” said Brooke Alyse, 18, from Sydney. She hopes that growing her 10,100 Instagram followers will boost her chances of becoming an actor.
The camp’s website dangles the prospect of being discovered. “If you have a larger than life personality you can even be approached by a movie executive to star in a cool flick.”
December Ensminger, 18, from Arkansas, said she got serious about social media at the ripe age of 14 – “I was a late bloomer” – and that she also wished to pursue acting. “I want to be able to market myself and figure out my own image.”
Ominous words for those who fret about teens spending too much time on social media. Some critics cite a different concern: parents wasting money and children nurturing unrealistic dreams.
Hollywood has a long tradition of parting naive outsiders from their cash with bold promises of fame and fortune, according to Anne Henry, co-founder of BizParentz Foundation, a nonprofit that advises families in the entertainment industry. The explosion in social media has fuelled delusions, she said. “Now we think anybody can be a star. Which means every parent is open to scams.”
Rodriguez insists that in social media anybody really can be a star – and make serious money. Teenagers have always pursued hobbies and passions, and now they have a chance to monetize them. “We’re just lucky that we’re in this era where there’s a dollar attached to it all.”
With enough dedication, she said, a teen can find an audience that draws advertising revenue. “If you make the numbers, the advertisers are in.” The camp can accelerate the learning curve, Rodriguez said. “It takes three years off the process.”
The camp’s aim is to help teens as young as 13 to define their personal brands so they can earn cash endorsing products, said Sara Gertler, the camp’s business development manager. “Stay true to your brand because that’s when you’re most interesting to advertisers.”
Alyse, the budding actor, said she would endorse only products she believed in. Social media, she said, meant her generation could avoid career drudge. “You don’t have to do a job you don’t like any more.”
At the workshop an Austrian film-maker, Leopold Keber, gave tips on framing and lighting. “You can really get a lot of your story across in the setting,” he told the four students.
Raphael Capulong, 14, from the Philippines, said the tutorial would benefit his YouTube channel. “I’d like to do better video production.”
Not all participants dream of stardom.
Lauren Kelly, 15, the only LA local among the four students, said she was looking forward to the camp and to launching her own YouTube channel. Her goal, however, was not fame, fortune or branding. “I’m not really into that. I’m just posting stuff. It’s a way of being social, connecting with friends.” She hopes to become a pediatric nurse.
Lauren’s mother, Kymberlee Kelly, said she and her husband hope the camp will be fun and nourish a hobby. “We tell all our children to follow the path that God has chosen. We’re not looking for her to become a brand.”