Student YouTubers establish strong campus presence

Julia Erickson | Daily Trojan

They might be your friends, classmates or tour guides. You may see them in the library or skateboarding across campus. You might also recognize them from your computer screen or your Facebook feed — that’s because in the lives of USC’s YouTubers and social media content creators, being a student and a global internet personality are one and the same.

YouTubers on college campuses have become a phenomena, with an extensive market of viewers interested in getting a glimpse into the college lifestyle. They are products of a generation of young people who grew up with technology and have the skills and platforms to capture and share their lives.

Students at USC, however, seem to be particularly plugged into this trend.

“It’s almost like if YouTube had a university,” said Rowan Born, a freshman majoring in journalism.

Her YouTube channel currently has over 4,800 subscribers and continues to grow, and her most popular video has nearly 20,000 views.

Well-known YouTubers hailing from USC include recent graduate Katherine Berry, sophomore Joi Wade, senior Annemarie Allen, junior Tasha Farsaci, junior Justin Escalona and sophomore Markian Benhamou. These Trojans have a composite subscriber and follower count of over 980,000.

“When you look online, there’s no other school that has this many YouTubers concentrated in one area,” Born said. “I think location is a big [reason for this], and then the fact that this is a private university, so even though this is a big school, it has a more family-like feeling. And then just with the dynamic that there is on campus, [in regard to] student life. So the combination of those factors really makes the school worth recording and putting on the internet. And then you have the prestige in there, so it’s just kind of got everything.”

Many of USC’s YouTubers, such as Born, Berry, Wade, Chase and Farsaci, primarily make “vlogs” and advice videos, in which they speak directly into the camera, address their audience and focus the clip on a particular college-related theme.

“Over the course of my college application journey, I made various videos about the schools I applied to, and then when I decided where I was going, I started doing full-out high school help videos, college advice videos and now I’m doing videos about what it’s like at USC,” Born said.

For Born, the focus of her channel has directly impacted who her audience is, and from personal experience, she knows there is a niche for her on YouTube.

“[My] main audience … [is] often [high school] juniors and seniors,” Born said. “I remember being in the college application process and just being absolutely desperate for any content that I could get that had anything to do with USC, because it was a dream school of mine since I was 12. And then it gets so many views because, like I said, it’s those kids who are really desperate to go to USC … and they’re just trying to feed off of that.”

Her own desire to create and connect has shaped the content that Born now uploads to her channel.

“Personally, I think just watching a lot of those videos, outside of just the academics, kind of helped me shape my idea of what USC was and put that into my application,” Born said.

There are a number of content creators at USC with different approaches to their channels. Benhamou, who may be best known on and off campus for his popular “Fake Celebrity Sneaking into Frat Party” and “Dressing Up as a Girl to Frat Party” videos, now focuses on Facebook videos aimed at “making people smile.”

“My whole branding is about smiling, having a positive theme,” Benhamou said. “My content is very family-friendly and relatable, and I hit a million likes this summer, about a month ago. It’s been growing very fast and I’ve enjoyed the transition from YouTube to Facebook.”

Escalona, also known as PlayTheGameFilms, has forgone the traditional vlog and direct-address structure in his channel as well, at least partially.

“When I moved out to college … my first month I didn’t do anything film-related,” Escalona said. “And then one day it really hit me hard … So my roommate and I made a commitment — we were like, ‘Let’s make a video every single day, but let’s not make some [regular] vlog, let’s make a daily documentary.’”

That idea spawned his series Daily Docs, which features videos he uploaded for 400 consecutive days. Escalona credits this dedicated routine as the primary factor for his spike in views and subscriptions.

“I was really focused on growing my YouTube channel, because I thought if I can get my YouTube channel to be really big, it could get me a lot of leverage in the film world one day,” Escalona said.

While Escalona has focused on using his experience as one aspect in a future career, some creators see social media growth as their primary goal.

“[Social media] is crazy and it’s incredible,” Benhamou said. “It’s such a new, evolving industry that you almost can’t study it because it’s changing so quickly. A lot of people don’t understand it, especially older people — that’s why you don’t learn about it in your marketing classes, in your communication classes.”

Benhamou argues that despite being relatively new to the scene, social media has rapidly ascended to become an important aspect in launching and maintaining  successful business ventures.

“It’s a new business model that is incredibly vital, and those that understand it and know how to use it effectively will benefit immensely in whatever they’re doing,” Benhamou added.

With this in mind, Benhamou founded Reach, the first social media-related community at USC.

“It’s going to be an incredible club where we’re going to have huge influencer guest speakers, workshops to teach people how to create viral content, how to do growth hacking — but most of all, we want to create a family-like community,” Benhamou said. “So it’s not a class or lecture-style organization.”

However, social media has also met its  critics, who point to its potentially negative usage and extremely widespread reach as  safety and security risks. But for these students, the tool is a positive and creative platform that allows them to craft unique personalities.

“I love social media as a creative outlet,” Born said. “I think that’s the best way to look at it. I know a lot of people try to demonize social media for various reasons, and it’s not perfect, but I definitely think that if you try to make the most of it in a positive situation, it can really bring about a lot of change.”

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