Social media stars have always been keen on merchandising and fully understood its value to their business (especially when their content is free).

But now, we’re seeing a change in their understanding of how merchandise can raise their brand awareness. It’s not just about selling, well, maybe not at first.

For online stars, merchandise can be a way of spreading cool ideas, new designs or just general silliness with their fans.

UK Vine stars Stuggy & Ashton, YouTubers like Stampy Cat, iBallisticSquid and Sweden’s Sp4zie have huge audiences who engage with them, are entertained and share ideas.

To outsiders it can often seem very silly, but what isn’t silly is the size of their potential market, which can be global.

Stuggy & Ashton have over 190,000 Vine followers, nearly 60,000 on YouTube, and 1.2m Facebook likes. 

For these social media stars, merchandise has become another way of engaging with their fans and sharing ideas. It doesn’t have to be about selling in the first instance.

Initially they can just put a funny thought, cool new design, or amusing slogan on to a t-shirt and share it online.

Then they can see whether anyone likes it, make changes, improve it and then offer it up for sale on a print-on-demand basis. The scope for spreading ideas is only limited by their imagination. 

This approach appeals to their fans, millennials who instinctively understand the significance of sharing online. They are eager to engage with social media stars and keen to spend on merchandise when they have had a hand in creating it themselves.

Which may be why social media stars are bigger business than Hollywood in this age of instant commerce.  

US marketing research suggests that young fans will spend far more and engage more readily with these social media stars than with offline celebrities.

This upcoming generation of consumers illustrates that digital stars may well have more relevance than traditional stars in the very near future.

AdWeek’s research reveals that generation Z’ers and millennials spend nearly 21 hours per week watching digital content and nearly six out of ten prefer digital content to TV. 

These new stars are plugged in to pop culture and use their creativity to drive sales.

For them, merchandising isn’t just about flogging t-shirts, it’s about engagement; spreading ideas, sharing your humour, incorporating your fans’ ideas, and then offering the best for sale. 

They get what makes the next generation of shoppers click on ‘buy’. 

That social media stars are in the ascendant can be seen by the rise in global talent agencies and other services springing up to supply them.

We’ve partnered with some of the largest global talent agencies to tap into YouTube talent for about an additional $5M in revenue.

The biggest agencies are in Los Angeles, but we’re now working with major YouTube talent agencies in six different countries, including Fullscreen and Maker Studios.

Most of today’s top YouTubers are international stars with an engaged global audience, but are probably still very small businesses in terms of people.

They want to effectively outsource merchandise, shipping, payments and other services. It is no surprise then that YouTubers are one of our fastest growing sectors and a big revenue channel.

They keep us on our toes though. This new generation is driving the mobile-friendly focus across the industry. It means we are constantly working on improving our platform and all our services for them. 

Social media stars reach global audiences through their ability to share and spread ideas. Merchandising is part of this engagement; a way of sharing and spreading thoughts and designs online and offline.

In our steps to become a $1bn game-changing business we’re making merchandising easy and relevant in an age of instant commerce.

Social media stars are already taking advantage of this.

For more on this topic, read: