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Young YouTube Partners: Finding Success as Entrepreneurs and Internet Stars

12/31/2012 02:44 pm ET | Updated Mar 02, 2013

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British twins Jack and Finn Harries are among the most current successful teenage YouTubers. (Photo credit: Jack Harries & Finn Harries)

"Once you start vlogging, you generally stop caring when people look at you all weird," Cianna Wilkinson assures me, as she sets up her T3i Canon camera on one of the many giant rocks at the ice rink at Ryerson University in downtown Toronto. People walking past are curious to know what we're up to. But I don't care if we attract attention. I'm in the company of someone with lots of experience in this. We filmed a YouTube tag video. For those unfamiliar with tag videos, they are videos in which people answer a series of questions depending on the theme. I love watching tag videos online, so I jumped at the opportunity to make one.

Cianna Wilkinson is a 19-year-old video blogger (vlogger) known on YouTube by her alias, Sachie. Born in Toronto to an English father and a Chinese mother, Cianna is effortlessly photogenic and charismatic. She currently lives in Hamilton, where she is a second-year student at McMaster University, studying Communications and Multimedia. She uploads videos on YouTube regularly, to an audience that enjoys her content which revolves around Asian culture, cosplaying (in conventions like Anime North or FanExpo Canada) and fashion.

Back in October when we filmed the first of several videos, she only had around 13,000 subscribers. It seems like I'm understating that massive number, since the more famous YouTube personalities like Joey Graceffa have over 300,000. But as of the end of December, Cianna has over 18,000 subscribers and 2 million video views. Her number is going up fast.

Original content creators, nicknamed "YouTubers," who have a massive amount of subscribers have the option of joining this program. YouTube partners earn money based on how many hits or views an original video they create accumulates. This has become a career for the few people who are fortunate enough to gain an audience of the thousands or millions online. This kind of career did not exist 10 years ago. For those of us '90s-born children who grew up with the Internet, it feels like YouTube has been around forever. But it was actually established in 2005.

Do you know who Charlie McDonnell, Dan Howell, Phil Lester, Bertie Gilbert, Catrific, Sam Pepper, Grace Helbig, Caspar Lee, or Jenna Marbles are? Those are the names of some of the many YouTubers I subscribe to. While the average person may not know who they are, they have become household names to the online YouTube viewer community. I find it amazing that young people are finding major success as partners. The youngest name on that list is 15-year-old Bertie Gilbert. They are essentially entrepreneurs, using YouTube to help build their self-name brands.

YouTube's partnership program started in May 2007. In order to become a member of the partnership program, a content creator had to be invited by YouTube. But after Google purchased YouTube for $1.65 billion in October 2006, it became open for anyone to join. However, acceptance into the program will depend on how popular a user's videos are, how involved the user is with YouTube, and his or her record of following the rules of conduct. The partnership program's openness increased significantly this year in April, when it made it available to 20 countries around the world.

As long as your content is original and you own all the rights to it, you can monetize that video. The share is between advertisers and the partner. Joining the partnership program means that the partner is agreeing to allow advertisements to be run with his or her videos. Advertisers pay money to have their ads run against particular videos. Based on the partner's audience demographic, the advertisers are able to choose what videos they want to display their ads on.

Bairos compares the business relationship between YouTube partners and advertisers to the Food Network. "The advertiser's trying to reach the audience you're trying to reach," she says. "People that have products that they want to put in front of a food audience will pay a certain amount of money for advertising to run on the food network or against food specific shows."

Because of differences in viewer count and business deals, it is impossible to generalize an income rate. If you define success on YouTube by the number of subscribers and views your channel gets, the most successful are those getting paid enough money to have it as a full-time job. Bairos says hundreds of partners have been able to earn a hundred thousand dollars a year.

Well known YouTubers are offered deals from companies to promote their products. Partners earn extra money, and advertisers get product placement. Even though Cianna's YouTube popularity just started this year, she has already had companies like shoppingholics.com and maplelense.com, sponsor her videos. They send her samples of their contact lenses and ask her to review them.

Two of my favorite YouTubers are 19-year-old identical twins Jack and Finn Harries of London, England. The two incredibly handsome and charming brothers' YouTube channel, JacksGap, was started in the summer of 2011. Initially, Jack made videos by himself. But the popularity of JacksGap didn't increase significantly until he invited Finn to join him. The channel now has more than 700,000 subscribers and more than 30 million video views.

In this short period of time, Jack and Finn have gotten business opportunities that they normally would not have had without YouTube. "Anything can come out of it, from signing with an agent here in the U.K. that I wasn't previously signed with," Jack says. "To meeting a load of amazing people that are now my best friends, to getting offers to do certain TV or films things." Among their upcoming projects are a T-shirt line and smartphone app based on JacksGap. "The great thing about YouTube is that it gives you an audience, and you can feed off them," Jack says. "I like to think of myself as an entrepreneur."

Being a YouTuber has arguably become more mainstream in the past two years, making regular people into online celebrities. If you go on Tumblr, you'll find countless gifs and pages of famous YouTubers like Jack and Finn just by searching their names. If you browse more, you'll even find creepy (or unintentionally hilarious) fan fiction from teenage fans. 50 Shades of Grey-esque fan fiction is no longer reserved just for fictional characters from TV shows.

Finn believes the reason that YouTubers are entering the mainstream is because more people are using the Internet compared to television, as a form of entertainment. "I don't know about anybody else, but I don't watch TV anymore." he says. "I just use my computer to catch up on TV. So it's the same with YouTube."

Cianna says that YouTube has helped with her confidence. "I'd say some people, when they see me through videos, they think I'm a lot more confident and outgoing than I actually am," she says. "I'm more like a quiet person. I'm not a party girl." As a well-known Canadian YouTuber, she has occasionally been recognized on campus by subscribers. "When somebody comes up to me in person, and they're like, 'Hey, I recognize your videos.' It's really mind-blowing."

The most popular YouTube personalities are invited to be featured guests at events like VidCon and Playlist Live . VidCon is an annual convention for video creators, created by YouTubers Hank and John Green. Each year since it started in 2010, VidCon has attracted thousands of YouTube subscribers or creators to the Anaheim Convention Center in California. This is a major event in which subscribers get to meet and interact with their favourite YouTubers. Another way YouTube helps its partners get more recognition or fame is through its NextUp contest. Content creators can compete in various genres like Next Comic or Next Fitness Star, depending on what talent you want to showcase.

But what characteristics would an individual need to attract massive audiences to watch their original videos on YouTube? Not everyone is capable of attracting thousands of subscribers. Talents like comedians, filmmakers, musicians, and makeup artists find a market on YouTube. But people with no talent can still gain lots of subscribers. An outspoken person with strong opinions can rant on YouTube and get lots of hits.

A.J. Rafael, a 23-year-old singer from Riverside, Calif., who uses YouTube to promote his music, says that a charismatic and outgoing personality certainly helps. But he acknowledges that quirky and introverted people do have an audience. He says an important quality is to be your true self on camera. "As long as you are yourself, that basically transcends to the audience."

Jack believes the key to success is simply producing good content. "You just need to create constant videos that are the best quality possible for a certain amount of time," he says. "If your videos are good and if people enjoy watching them, it doesn't matter who you are, or what type of person you are."

With the worldwide platform of the Internet, there is a downside to massive exposure. In particular, the negative feedback from some narrow minded viewers, also known as "trolls." A popular YouTuber who deals with this issue is Tyler Oakley. The 23-year-old from Michigan is openly gay, super flamboyant and not afraid to show it. With over 400,000 subscribers and over 30 million videos views, Tyler produces comedic content from random rants to "fanboying" over stars like Darren Criss and One Direction.

Despite his massive popularity, Tyler still gets comments on his videos that discriminate against his sexuality. Tyler says he was initially shocked with the negative comments. But he has learned to ignore the anonymous haters, who often post from accounts with no way of identifying them. "So it's very much people that are insecure with themselves that attack you," he says. "I'd say 499 comments out of 500 are very positive, so I focus on that."

Cianna has also been the victim of hate comments on YouTube. She believes you need tough skin in order to be a YouTuber because some negativity is inevitable. From her experience, she finds female YouTubers get more rude comments as opposed to males. "If you're a girl, you do get criticized more harshly on your looks and stuff."

Tyler believes that it is very difficult if someone defines success by the standard of being able to make YouTube your full time career. He believes it is easier to define success if you're using your channel as a forum rather than a career. "If you define success as finding a creative outlet for you to express yourself, then it's a place where anybody can be successful," he says. "My idea of success is being able to connect with people and hopefully entertain and inspire and have fun just with myself."

All YouTubers share the same appreciation of the online community of subscribers they've formed in their channels. "I see the same usernames come up all the time in the comments," says Jim Chapman, a 25-year-old YouTuber from Norwich, England. "It means a lot. It's good to watch people enjoying what I do, and they respond to it."

The process of making YouTube videos was a lot more challenging than I had expected. We had to reshoot multiple times because of technical difficulties. Although we were not scripted, due to our retakes, we had an idea of what we were going to talk about. Besides filming videos with a friend, another aspect I've enjoyed is reading and responding to comments from subscribers. I now understand why having an online community of subscribers appeal to content creators.

While I plan to continue making videos, I could never be a full-time YouTuber. It is a commitment to produce daily or weekly videos. Talking in front of a camera and expressing yourself, knowing that countless people will be watching can seem intimidating at first. You don't want to say anything that will be taken negatively by a viewer. But once you get comfortable, you simply stop caring.