The hottest media trend in the last few years has been the explosion of hyperlocal content—it has become clear that the masses cared most about themselves and their surroundings.
Teens take it to a new level. Their obsession with hyperlocal isn’t just a fad—they see a direct link between social networking and everyday life and the path to becoming famous. It’s a fast track to celebrity—and social networking fuels aspirations that can now be put in high gear. Instead of just following celebrity gossip they can now be celebrities of their own.
From small-town star to media darling
We already know that celebrity culture is omnipotent and that it drives teens’ media consumption. But hyperlocal hits the sweet spot because in a teenage mind becoming a local celebrity sets off a chain of events: First you become a micro-celebrity in your town (a goal in itself). Then you become known as a rising star regionally. That’s the ticket to regional TV or talk shows. Which catapults you to becoming a media darling, e.g. Britney Spears.
How do teens get there? In Scandinavia they do so through DKBN, short for Denmark By Night. The social network doubles as a nationwide popularity contest. The site is trawled by about 700,000 Danish teens who have added profiles highlighting their age, hometown, and relationship status. The goal: rate others on their looks. Pictures are uploaded weekly by more than five hundred photographers that DKBN has hired to work at nightclubs and to snap photos of people drinking, dancing, making out, and partying. People tag themselves in those pictures and upload their own.
The site works because it’s all about looking hot. It’s not a dating site as much as an extension of the nightclub, a place to continue the party and to continue flirting. While you can also add friends to your profile, just as you can on Facebook, the core activity on DKBN is to increase people’s “hot score” by voting for them. (Despite the appearance of being progressive, the site only lets people vote for the opposite sex.) DKBN keeps a Top 30 list for each local town and one nationwide list; making it to the top means you’ve truly become a local micro-celeb.
Why are teens so obsessed with this site, which trades simultaneously in admiration and humiliation?
It’s the same impulse that drives the obsession with the Fox reality show Paradise Hotel, which sends a bunch of young singles to a resort to see what the emotional (and sexual) fall-out will be.
If teens can buy popularity they will
But more importantly teens pay for this stuff—and they don’t pay for media much at all these days. If teens can’t get fifteen minutes of fame on a national/global scale they can at least have a consolidated position as a celebrity in their hometown of 1,500 to 15,000 people.
In our research on teens we interviewed an 18-year-old woman named Thea, who currently ranks number-two on her hometown’s Top 30 hot list on DKBN. She proudly announces that she has been recognized by people in nightclubs in Copenhagen—a confirmation of her popularity—and she spends a few hours daily on the site to check out the people who are checking her out. She also pays for this—70 DKK monthly—in an era when most teens refuse to pay for digital content.
Also important: Just like real stars, micro-celebs need to use media to boost their profile. They may have no use for media content but they certainly need the DIY media tools for user-generated content on sites like DKBN. Technology lets them playact and live their lives even more socially than before. And will they pay? If it benefits them socially, yes, they will.