Illustration: Ashley Siebels
The Future of Work

This summer camp teaches teenagers how to create a personal brand

From navigating cramped bunk beds to eating in mess halls, summer camps teach you valuable lessons of friendship and independence that you can only get when you’re living away from your parents. And now, thanks to one new addition, they can also teach you how to build a personal brand.

Social Star Creator Camp calls itself as the “first sleepaway camp for teens dedicated to their professional growth and monetary success on social media platforms.”

The 10-day camp will launch this July in Los Angeles and spread to London and Sydney later this year.

A camp to take you from a nobody to a somebody

Here, participants ages 15-21 are referred to as Creators. For $2960, the Los Angeles camp says it will turn a teen’s “hobby” into “viral fame.” From gamers and athletes to vloggers and comedians, all pursuits to commodify one’s talent are welcome at this camp. Tuition includes room and board and “viral fame” courses.

A sample schedule includes a course on the “Foundations of Viral Fame” where Creators will learn about lighting and production, technical privacy and how to safely do stunts. There’s also an engagement workshop that promises to teach Creators the “best practices to clicks, shares and earning money!”

If you’re used to the nostalgic ideal of outdoor summer camps, the idea of youths spending their summer monetizing their passions for #content can seem strange. There has been no end of sarcasm as the summer camp’s fame has grown. Learning of the idea, one journalist asked to be sterilized so his “future spawn are spared this hellscape,” while another saw it as “the future of [journalism] schools.”

But Nichelle Rodriguez, director of Social Star Creator Camp, is taking teens’ desire for viral fame very seriously. She thinks critics who don’t understand that teenagers are already using social media to make money are “naive.”

A teen weighs in

A Future8 “Best Blogger” winner, Amber Kirk-Ford is an 18-year-old British blogger and vlogger who runs The Mile Long Bookshelf.

With her social media success, Kirk-Ford became self-employed last year and can often be seen doing book haul videos on her YouTube channel, which has over 1,800 subscribers.

As a teenager making her living doing social content, Kirk-Ford is an ideal participant for Social Star Creator Camp. Ladders asked her to weigh in on the idea.

“I can see the appeal,” Kirk-Ford told Ladders about whether she would do this. “[A] few years ago, YouTube wasn’t a career aspiration, but now it is! In that respect, it’s no different from sending your kid to a music camp or a sports camp because they want to be a musician or an athlete.”

But would she pay over $2000 for this?

“Whilst it sounds like a fun and well thought out 10 days, I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary—I learned how to do this all on my own, as did probably 99% of bloggers and vloggers. YouTube regularly run courses and workshops at their Spaces around the world, and the community is full of people willing to help.”

She advises aspiring influencers to figure out what they like before they start opening their wallets. “[T]est out your new hobby before spending thousands on a camera, microphone, lighting, etc—plenty of people start with their phone or a webcam, and that’s fine! I would also encourage you to be yourself, which sounds cheesy, but it’s true.”

The attention economy has already arrived

Just as industrial skill was once the highest currency, then professional skills, now the ability to attract attention has become an important primary currency in the modern U.S. economy.

“Advertisers are seeking out these kids anyway, so I’m really proud we are able to help [the participants] understand the minds of the advertiser.” Rodriguez told Ladders.

And if you go to social media camp, it doesn’t mean you’re bound in blood to promote yourself forever.

“Our program helps them understand from the very beginning what it takes,” Rodriguez said. “At the end of the day, this is an exploration program so they may discover this is not the route they want to go.”

Parents of Creators can also learn how to understand their social influencing teens better. At camp, parents can take a one-day session to help them “understand what they need to do to protect their child [from advertisers] and say ‘this is enough,'” Rodriguez said.

To critics who would call the camp’s goal of stardom unrealistic, Social Star Creator Camp would point you to its “5 young people who become RICH through social media” inspirational video. One of the role models the camp cites is 19-year-old Nash Grier, who got brands to pay him up to $100,000 for his six-second Vine videos.  In a separate promotional video, Social Star Creator Camp cites musician Justin Bieber and actor Darren Criss as celebrities who began their careers performing for free on YouTube.