In the past nine months, a first-grader named Ben Hampton has exploded onto the social-media influencer scene.
Since launching his Instagram account with a photo of himself at kindergarten graduation in February, Ben has amassed nearly 700,000 followers on the platform, gone viral on YouTube, collaborated with top-tier internet stars, and gained entry into Team 10, the internet’s most notorious and exclusive vlog squad.
Ben has become so popular that it’s hard for him to walk around his neighborhood without getting recognized by tween fans gushing over his coordinated outfits or asking him for selfies.
When Ben stepped out of his car seat at a recent pop-up shop in Los Angeles he was met by a crowd of fans screaming his name.
As a 6-year-old who only recently learned to read and write and who does not yet have a signature, Ben scribbled his initials onto the iPhone cases, sweatshirts, and shoes of his admirers. He calls these fans his “young savages” and prides himself on high-fiving and thanking everyone.
Of course, unlike his fellow influencers, Ben Hampton himself has never posted to Instagram or YouTube. His account is fully run by his father, social-media veteran Branden Hampton.
The elder Hampton says that he and his wife started Ben’s account about a year ago after noticing that photos of Ben were popular on their own personal Instagram accounts.
These days, it’s not unusual for parents to start social-media accounts in the names of their children, but very few gain a dedicated following outside family members and close friends.
Hampton, however, through his job as a social-media consultant, has built a career on making things go viral, and Ben’s account, characterized by daily photos of Ben’s well-planned outfits, quickly gained a niche following.
“When Ben was born, my wife decided to go all out on clothes,” Hampton said. “She loves playing dress up and she just decided, ‘I’m not just going to throw OshKosh B’gosh overalls and SpongeBob T-shirts on this kid. I’m going to dress him all out.’”
But well-dressed kids on Instagram are a dime a dozen. It was Hampton’s contacts with established social-media stars that ultimately provided Ben’s springboard to fame.
This summer, as Hampton and his wife meticulously uploaded photos of Ben with captions designed to go viral on Instagram, Ben was becoming enamored with the world of YouTube.
Ben has been consuming content on YouTube since he was 2 years old, when his father says he could spend hours watching toy reviews. But as he progressed through kindergarten and first grade, Ben began watching more gaming streamers along with influencer content and daily vlogs.
In a vlog uploaded this fall, when asked what his lifelong goal was, Ben looks straight to the camera and says, “My goal is to become a famous YouTuber.”
A lot of young kids in 2017 aspire to become famous YouTubers or social-media stars—according to a recent study by travel company First Choice 75 percent of kids between the age of 6 and 17 say they hope to pursue a career in online video—but Ben had the type of father who could make it happen.
The 6-year-old began collaborating with Jake Paul, one of the largest and most well-known YouTube stars working today, through Hampton’s connections. And after jointly posting a photo of the two of them together, Ben’s fan base spiked.
The 6-year-old has since been featured as a guest in eight or nine of Paul’s videos and has even joined his vlog crew, Team 10, which guarantees him a platform and promotion on Paul’s affiliated channels. Ben will also be launching his own line of merch in partnership with Fanjoy this winter.
Hampton says that despite his son’s burgeoning fame, he and his wife go to great lengths to keep his life normal. “He’s a kid first and a social-media star second,” he said.
Ben still attends regular public elementary school in Fresno, about three and a half hours north of Los Angeles. After school he plays in a soccer league or attends dance class. Hampton said he’s mastering jazz, hip hop, and ballet. On the weekends he hangs out with friends or goes to Dave & Busters.
Ben’s vlogging schedule picks up in the summer and on the weekends, when he has more free time. A videographer at Hampton’s production company shoots and edits Ben’s videos then uploads them to his YouTube page, however Hampton stresses that the concepts are all his son’s.
“He’s done a couple pranks, a cooking video, or a taste-test challenge,” Hampton said.
His mom also gets him ready every morning about 15 minutes early so they can take pictures in his latest outfit for his Instagram page.
When Hampton accompanies his father on projects in Los Angeles he regularly pals around with top-tier influencers, but Hampton said he doesn’t want the public to think he allows his son to hang out with 17- to 20-year-olds on the regular.
“We live three and a half hours away from L.A.,” he said. “It’s not like we are there every day… Ben has always had an interest in the social-media influencer world because it’s what I do.”
As Ben becomes older though, and more proficient at navigating the internet, Hampton said he and his wife have begun to prepare their son for the inevitable backlash he will face as a young social-media star.
Social-media influencers are one of the most frequently derided groups on the internet, and Hampton said that he has tried to teach his son two key lessons as his audience has grown: The first is that he is no better than any one of his followers and that he needs to remain humble. The second is that there are always people who will say negative things online and it’s important not to take those spiteful comments to heart.
“We parent Ben the same way we parented our other two kids,” Hampton said. “If he’s not following directions or being rude to people, he’s going to get in trouble, it doesn’t matter if he’s an influencer or not.
“Having followers doesn’t change how much phone time he gets, it doesn’t change his bedtime, he doesn’t get an allowance, there’s no special purchases, and he doesn’t get any special treatment aside from some travel opportunities.”
Hampton vehemently denies that he is exploiting his son in any way for viral fame and stressed that Ben’s success is not a business plan for him or his wife. If Ben decided to give up social media tomorrow that would be fine, Hampton said.
“This is not a financial game for us. Ben is a natural entertainer and we want him to flourish and do what he’s good at. If there is monetary upside, we want him to benefit from that when he’s older. The money he makes is money he earns for himself,” Hampton explained, adding that they’ve set up Ben’s accounts under a separate business.
In the meantime, Hampton said while he’s proud of how his son has captivated such an enthusiastic following, when he grows up he hopes that Ben will eventually evolve as an entertainer and develop his own unique career path.
“If he’s still taking pictures in clothes that his mom picks out when he’s 13, I think that would be a mistake,” Hampton said.
In a recent vlog, Ben is asked what he would do if he suddenly lost all of his fans. He sits and ponders for a minute before saying, “Well, I would just be normal. I mean, I did that before for four years.”