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03 Dec

What Your Nonprofit Can Learn from a YouTube Star

Issa

When my 11 year old daughter asked me to go with her, a friend and her friend’s mom to YouTube star Issa Twaimz’s concert, I have to admit that I was less than excited.  I have heard all about Issa and have watched my daughter glued to his YouTube channel and singing and dancing his songs around the house for months. Despite her enthusiasm and his 3.2 million YouTube channel subscribers,  I did not get the appeal.

When purchasing the tickets, I learned that the concert ticket included a “meet and greet” that started at 2 pm and the concert began at 5 pm.  What was going to take 3 hours? I could not imagine, but it would be an outing that was special for my daughter so I was game.

I was perplexed when my daughter assured me we needed to go even earlier to get in line. We arrived at 1:40 pm to a line of mainly tween and teenage girls and chaperones that was out the door of the theater and around the building.  Many of the fans, including my daughter and her friend, were dressed up in plush animal onesies like the ones Issa was known to wear, and my daughter and her friend brought him a box of small homemade presents and giant package of candy as fan gifts. We waited over 1 hour and 20 minutes to get in to meet Issa and another 2 hours for the show to start. Neither the girls, nor anyone else I saw, complained.

Before we went in my friend and I joked about what our daughters saw in this young “star” and doubted his antics (dressing up in animal oneseis and adding “issa” the ends of words “Christmsissa” and “Hallowissa” just for example). I have to say that despite our initial hesitation, we left fans.

Here I am a week later and I can’t help thinking that Issa is part of a much larger movement and that my clients, mission-driven organizations, can learn from this generation of YouTube stars. Here are five observations about this YouTube star’s appeal and takeaways for your consideration.

  1. Observation 1: Every ticket included the chance to meet Issa, not just VIPs. Issa took time with each ticket holder to meet them and take pictures in front of a step and repeat and give out autographs. No one was rushed, and he was warm and engaging. Now I know why they needed so much time before the show! When my daughter and her friend gave him their fan gifts, he was so excited and grateful. He clearly loves his fans and understands that he owes his success to them. Takeaways: Personally greet all your guests with warmth and excitement from the minute they arrive at events or your organization. Never forget to practice deep gratitude. 
  2.  Observation 2: Through his YouTube channel,  Issa shares a lot about himself and his life with no filter. My daughter and her friend knew about his taste in clothes and music, about his dog, what his room looks like, his challenges as a gay teenager and his depression following his grandfather’s death. His dad is a regular on the channel, and they knew about his other family members too. The younger members of the audience was already in relationship with Issa because he shares so much of himself with them. They had a common language, shared inside jokes and laughs. Takeaways: Share more than just scripted, produced “stories” about your staff, supporters and customers/beneficiaries. Let your supporters follow the same people over time and develop a relationship with them. Go beneath the surface, and let people be authentic.
  3. Observation 3: Issa made the audience into a community. In line, we were encouraged by someone on Issa’s team to introduce ourselves to the people in front of us and behind us. During show, he took out his phone and took video and pictures for social media of this Boston audience. He put all the words to his songs up on a large screen so fans could sing along. Issa made the audience pinky promise to sing and dance, and some members were brought on stage. The concert felt campy in a good way. Takeaways: Make your people feel like a community by connecting them and encouraging shared participatory experiences. Help them break down barriers, interact and take shared action.
  4.  Observation 4: Issa’s message was deeply personal and inspiring.  He used his positive energy to spark excitement and to make the audience think and feel. He talked about how he would have loved to have a figure tell him that he wasn’t a monster when he was a young closeted tween who felt different.  Issa told the audience to be themselves and to love themselves. He implored the audience to take out imaginary scissors from their back pockets and cut out anyone who doesn’t treat you well or make you feel good. As my daughter said, “Issa doesn’t let haters get in his way.” At the venue, they handed out cards with hotline numbers of people to talk to if you are depressed or need a friend. Takeaways:  Be vulnerable. Inspire your community. Spread love. Empower them. Give them simple tools to help others.
  5.  Observation 5: What Issa lacks in traditional musical and dance “talent”, he makes up for with his big and warm personality and his marketing genius. Social media made him, and he understands and feeds the machine.  Fans are encouraged to post on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter and YouTube, and he offers lots of social media gold from branded step and repeats and kitchy merchandise, to fun videos and brightly colored props and visuals, to catchy “issa” added to words to create  ample “shareable” content. Takeaways:  Social media is not optional. It is not enough for your organization to have these channels and for professionals to post. Encourage your community to be active on social at events and give them interesting, easy and catchy content to organically share.

Issa Twaimz is just one of a generation of low-budget YouTube stars with huge followings of Generation Zers and older people too. It is worth the time to understand their appeal and learn from them to be relevant to younger generations and beyond.

This blog post was co-authored by my daughter, Alexis. With gratitude to our friends Sara and Alana for sharing this experience.

Nanette Fridman, MPP, JD, is founder and principal of Fridman Strategies, a consulting firm specializing in strategic planning, financial resource development, governance and leadership coaching. She is a frequent speaker, trainer, workshop presenter and facilitator. Nanette is the author of “On Board: What Current and Aspiring Board Members Must Know About Nonprofits & Board Service.” She can be reached at fridmanstrategies@gmail.com

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