I spent the weekend with some friends. These friends are some pretty ridiculous online talent in the form of content creators. I am not exaggerating when I say they have many millions of Youtube, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter followers between them.
I then went and had a conversation with someone over dinner who is not what they themselves would call the generation of online creators - this person is 35. So young by many standards, but by his own admission, not a natural constant content creator. He kept asking me questions like - what makes them successful? What makes their content better than others?
My half answers started to annoy me, let alone him. I am not a YouTuber. I don't have 1 million (or more) subscribers. But I do work with them a lot, interact with them a lot, hang out with them and observe, from a steady distance, the similarities that make them great. So I thought I'd write a list.
What makes them successful?
- They're empathetic, consistent, transparent and editorially very conscious -- as a majority, they speak about what they know, have experienced or the environment in which they exist. They are savvy and skilled in how they present their material and exactly to whom they are sharing their stories with. This approach creates a brands which delivers authenticity.
- They're always creating -- They are among the most curious people I have ever met - they don't coast. They organise experiences (yes many of them are fortunate enough to be sponsored), but even if they don't, everything they do is always an opportunity for content creation - festivals, street performances, social gatherings, news cycles ("This is getting a lot of attention in the press so we thought we would try it/address it ourselves").
- They have a point of view - It took me such a long time to have a point of view I was proud of. I still often open my mouth before thinking and there are lots of things I'm too intimidated to say. These guys aren't, and they find a way to deliver their message in a manner and medium that communicates rather than stipulates.
- They're actually pretty hilarious - in the same way that Radio hosts or TV presenters are successful at forming bonds with their audience that incite loyalty, YouTubers understand the importance of humour as a vehicle for this connection. Admitting the silly funny or embarrassing situations one has found themselves in and sharing these encourages an audience to empathise back, communicate back and pay increased attention.
- They're collaborative. They're inclusive.
As a final thought - JacksGap's (the latest post is a great example - produced by their new brand We Are Native, which strives to deliver collaborations and content across online platforms which is editorially thoughtful, complex and original. The Native and JacksGap asked people to submit Skype videos asking them - What do you love? They received over 2500 entries. Contributors hailed from Palestine, USA, India, Norway, Dubai, Argentina and many more. You know what makes their final edit so great? They authentically enabled their audience to contribute. Their audience spoke about self worth, sexuality, love, race and living life in a manner true to yourself.
These are deep, emotional topics and sentiments that most, if not all young adults will grapple with at some point as they strive to establish who they are and what they stand for. Surely one of the main advantages of YouTube and of the internet is that sharing these insecurities, questions and other information makes you feel less isolated and more empowered. Having established channels, with 'owners' and a means of curation seems to me a powerful way of supporting these people on their journeys and a story of their own.
These Vloggers can't be bought. Well - the ones I know can't.
Brand affiliation must be genuine, campaigns heartfelt and integration seamless. A lot of brands 'want a piece' of YouTube talent right now because their audience engagement is so strong and their distribution channel is something a lot of brands have failed to successfully leverage as part of their audience strategy. I hear people say 'we must have influence on YouTube' in the same way they used to say 'we need a website' without really knowing why.
For what it's worth, all these distributed channels should be used by Brands (and anyone else) to build genuine, tailored content with their audience (different from their consumer) and to drive their audience back to the Owned channels to engage further in their native environment. It isn't a throwaway panacea for picking up some segment of an always-on society they are desperately seeking, and any YouTuber worth their weight in viewers wouldn't let a brand insult their audience for a nice pay check.