Last week I took part in a unique tour of Israel.
I toured Israel with the NELK Boys. They are a Canadian-American YouTube channel phenomenon and entertainment company.
NELK Boys? It doesn’t sound familiar. That’s precisely the point. Read on.
While Times of Israel readers were busy following the political climate in Israel, the local demonstrations, or recent terror attacks in Israel, I would argue that the Israel-related topic that North Americans under 30 were aware of was the NELK Boys’ visit to Israel.
With over a billion (BILLION!) views, the NELK Boys are a poignant example of the power shift in modern media. Likely, you never heard of them these young men.
At this point, please take a break from reading this article and watch some of NELK’s content online. Warning: You may be confused or upset with what you see.
For mature adults (and kids) their content is inappropriate. It is often disrespectful, foolish, and/or shameful.
Here’s a second assignment. Ask any North American male between 18 and 28 to express their opinion about the NELK Boys.
You are in for a shocker. You will be floored by the overwhelming popularity that groups like the NELK Boys have among younger demographics.
We are no strangers to generation gaps. Well, this gap is on steroids. How can we grasp such a huge disconnect between those of our own generation?
Israeli diplomat Paul Hirschson was the first to open my eyes to this vital topic of disconnect. I met him 13 years ago. He was addressing a group of teens visiting Israel from Australia. He shared something that seemed outrageous to me at the time.
Hirschson predicted that by 2020, social media will be the number one news source for most people. And he was correct. Today, most people get their news from social media.
While traditional media outlets are still popular among older populations and ‘decision-makers,’ they are wholly irrelevant to huge populations.
Despite this fact of life, the Israeli government and major Jewish organizations spend money and effort fighting anti-Israeli propaganda coming from mainstream media.
Do you see their mammoth mistake, to my thinking? Do you comprehend the missed opportunities?
Focusing on biased media outlets is a dead-end proposition. Moreover, it is discouraging. But more than that: CNN and others have minimal impact. Their reach dwindles daily.
Today belongs to social media influencers. When they talk, rant, rave, dance, or whatever it is that they do, young people listen.
Unlike traditional media outlets, social media influencers are independent. They are not hampered by big-company hierarchy and stuffy board members. They create relevant content for their ever-growing fan base and followers. They are not afraid to deal with complicated situations or controversies – unfiltered and unplugged.
While traveling with the NELK Boys, I observed them closely. Quickly, I learned to appreciate their work, even though I was not their target audience. But watching them cast their spell wherever they went was mesmerizing.
The influence these guys have on their followers cannot be underestimated. Fans followed us throughout Israel. Religious or secular, young fans obsessed over them. They craved interaction. Charisma.
The influencers were real. They didn’t put on a show. If they are in a foul mood or not enjoying a given situation – their fans immediately sense it. Authentic.
These guys are skilled. Camera staff, editors, and content providers know what they’re doing. It was inspiring to watch them in action. Energetic.
I was impressed by their abilities. They may be young, but they have years of experience. With ease, they navigated difficult conditions. Leadership.
Of course, this one experience doesn’t qualify me as an expert in social media. It did, however, turn me into a believer. How little do we know about these modern media outlets!
We must confront this yawning generation gap. My bubbe wouldn’t allow her children (my mom and uncles) to listen to the Beatles. Ben Gurion’s ban extended to the entire country. For old folks, the Beatles represented rebellion and disrespect.
If we look at Instagram or TikTok content creators, the same fights rage today. Some of us may never learn to appreciate this kind of content. That’s fine. But, if we don’t work with these creators, a price will be paid. Opportunities to connect with an entire generation will be lost.
Social media outlets for posting content that older people create/approve doesn’t cut it. If we seek to connect young people with Jewish values and Israel, collaboration is a must. On their turf.
And yes, we’ll have to bite our lip to look away at the sexuality, foul language, improper jokes, and more.
Once we manage these obstacles and learn to accept the new reality, we may be surprised at the depth and positive content beneath the surface. We may learn that many content creators deeply care about their fans and feel responsible for making this world a better place.
The sponsors of the NELK Boys’ trip did not push any agenda. They allowed them to travel freely in Israel and let them see for themselves what Israel and Judaism offers.
We tried our best to answer difficult questions and trusted that they would produce whatever content they believe is relevant for their fans and followers. And as for the outcome: It was wildly positive.
The positive vibe and exposure to Israel may be greater than any single tour of Israel. Millions of young people worldwide experienced Israel in a fun and exciting way through the eyes of the NELK Boys. A true game-changer.
In less than 24 hours, over one million people watched an hour-long podcast of the NELK boys talking about their Israel experience. Over 10 million people will probably watch the full movie that comes out on Tuesday, March 7.
A small group of out-of-the-box thinking sponsors was willing to take a chance because they saw potential. What a difference they made!