Michelle Obama arriving in Japan on Wednesday. Photo: Rex
For Michelle Obama’s trip to Japan, she isn’t going with her mother, husband or teenager daughters, instead she’s taking Michelle Phan, the prolific beauty vlogger, as her travel companion. While this might seem like an odd choice — as one of the most powerful women in the world, why wouldn’t the First Lady pick someone such as Angelina Jolie or Gwyneth Paltrow — it’s actually a strategic move.
Vloggers (an amalgam of video and blogger) these days have so much more influence over their audiences and beyond than many realize. Phan, who was been on YouTube since July 2006, has more than 7.5 million subscribers to her channel where she not only teaches viewers beauty tips, she speaks personally about her own life and current events. (Put into perspective the fact that 42 million people saw American Sniper, a movie about wartime, and yet Phan has had more unique viewers than that in the same time period.) In January, Phan’s peers, including Hank Green, Bethany Mota, and GloZell Green, got to sit down with the President for personal interviews on topics they’re passionate about beyond topics besides fashion and pop culture including race, bullying, and the environment.
The Obama administration has been making a play to reach a younger generation as of late. With a video on BuzzFeed (that was filmed in a record 9 minutes), the President reading mean tweets about himself on Jimmy Kimmel Live (with over 10 million views it’s now the biggest in the series), and increased efforts on social media platforms including Twitter, Snapchat, and maybe even Meerkat.
The First Lady, whose passion projects include healthy eating, exercise, and women’s rights, to name a few, seems to be taking a cue from this developing tactic to reach a larger population of people. And while some might balk at the obvious play, comparing the President to a dorky dad attempting to friend his kids on Facebook, because of the types of relationships vloggers share with their audiences, it’s likely tapping into this will bring the government what it’s aiming for.
“It’s such a personal relationship,” Meredith Foster, a beauty vlogger with more than 3 million subscribers and 230 million views recently said on a panel at SXSW. “On TV, the people in shows are not constantly communicating with their viewers. When we’re talking to them, we’ve created this bond and I think they feel like I’m one of their friends in real life because of the way I’ve communicated with them. They can come to me with anything and I tell them I can go to them and we support each other.” Tyler Oakley, a similarly influential voice in the field, agrees that the medium has a more approachable level of authenticity to it. Who you’re watching on your computer, phone, or tablet could be your sibling, neighbor, or BFF. That level of intimacy leads to greater amount of trust in what these influencers are saying. “I think for YouTubers the consumer is part of the success and they feel a sense of ownership in that,” Oakley, who has more than 6.5 million subscribers said. He explained that whereas with a lot of traditional media and faces such as television shows, movies, and music, executives, business people, and those behind the product are making decisions, vlogging is much more democratic.
As Joe Zee puts it, vloggers of today are movie stars of the ‘90s. Nicole Kidman appears in one or two films a year and while some might like her, she’s not very accessible. Then there’s Jennifer Aniston and she’s on TV every week and viewers felt an unprecedented kinship with her. “Now you have Meredith on your computer and on your phone where you are on every single minute of the day. If i write her she’ll even write me back. That level of frequency, that level of connection, is now even more than Jen Aniston,” he said.
Constant connection has meant that content can travel anywhere as long as there’s Internet or 3G. As Phan arrived in Japan today with Michelle Obama (who, side not, was wearing a chic lime green patterned Kenzo dress with oversized belt), she asked on Twitter:
— ✧ MICHELLE PHΛN ✧ (@MichellePhan) March 13, 2015
>Followers have responded with poignant questions, curious as to the First Lady’s perspectives on feminism, homelessness higher education for women, work-life balance, and more. In a surprising twist, Phan, a 27-year-old beauty guru gives Michelle Obama, the First Lady of the United States of America, more direct access to women and girls. My how the tides have turned.
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