What do YouTubers Have that Brands Can Learn From?


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[if you are starting here, go back and read Part I: WHY for more context]

Now that we've established the growing power of the digital influencer and their ability to engage your audience on a deep and meaningful level, let's dive into why they've become such powerhouses. All-in-all, you'll see that they appeal to their audiences because they have a very different approach from traditional marketing/advertising. They are audience-centric, highly accessible and connect emotionally. So, how exactly is their approach different?

Digital Influencers are Different Than You Would Expect

To really understand how to work with the new digital influencer, you have to understand WHO she is. And who she is...is nothing like you may expect.

1. They are NOT just extroverts who sit in front of the camera and "wing it".

I think Hank from popular YouTube channel, VlogBrothers, demonstrates it best in this video (careful...it's a bit painful to watch):

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zoy-x9VBhVc?list=UUOT2iLov0V7Re7ku_3UBtcQ]

One minute of video takes hours of shooting + editing to make it just right. This video is amazing and painful and completely revealing. But I'd venture a guess that it is pretty illustrative of most all YouTube channels.

There is lots of planning and research and work that goes into each video. Maintaining a channel (or a Vine or a Blog) is much like running a daily newsroom. You need to feed the content monster constantly...and audience expectations are getting higher and higher.

I've witnessed many people rolling their eyes and saying things like, "I'm in the wrong career. I wish I could just sit around making YouTube videos all day and make money." To this, I always answer..."Have you tried?" It's really not as easy as it looks, which leads me to the next point...

2. They have worked hard to build their audience

I mentioned this in my first instalment, but it's hard work to build an audience and even harder work to keep that audience engaged. With very few exceptions, digital influencers are not overnight successes. Most of the influencers you've heard of have never had a breakout 'viral video' - they've built their audience subscriber/follower/fan by subscriber/follower/fan. Many of them have been posting for years.

One of our favourite Canadian YouTubers, Matthew Santoro (who has 2.5 million subscribers), has been posting videos for four years and has only recently experienced explosive growth. His videos are great and entertaining, but it took 4 years of consistent posting and perseverance to build the massive audience he has today.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wAV8je6Dqqc?list=PLe7K6kDBf74FfG_58mgdyMeYLtQULXKq0]

Brands need to take note of this. Many still chase the elusive viral hit, but the value lies in the connection people like Matthew have with their audiences.

3. They serve their audience first and last

When we collaborate with influencers on projects for our clients, we advise our clients to defer to the influencer on how they will approach the video, post, interaction or image. Though it may seem that their content is all about them, it really isn't. Digital influencers have become influential because they know how to read and respond to their audiences. They live and die by their fans responses.

While chatting with Andres of EhBee (Viner with almost 800,000 followers), he told me that popular Viners commonly delete Vines that don't get an immediate positive response. Keepers are called 'Heaters' (or 'Bangers') and those that don't do well? They are called 'Deleters'. It doesn't matter how much work goes into a six-second sketch. If the audience doesn't respond, it's gone, and the Viners learn from what works and what doesn't.

Another digital influencer we recently worked with (can't disclose, but she is 18 and has over 500,000 subscribers) took the idea we pitched her and completely morphed it to satisfy her audience. Though we initially questioned her approach, she was right. She knew her audience's tastes better than we did. Lesson learned.

This is another area where brands approach their audience very differently. Most brands still create content that satisfies their own needs/goals, but they should be learning from and adapting to their audiences. And while working with digital influencers, it's important to listen to them. You'll achieve the kind of results you desire if you do. If you don't, you may only satisfy your ego.

It's not about you, it's about the audience.

Their Content is the Opposite of Traditional Marketing/Advertising

There are also some other significant differences when it comes to the type of content that YouTubers, Viners, Bloggers and other digital influencers tend to post:

  1. It's accessible - For example, many beauty brands post tutorials given by top flight stylists and makeup artists, but most of us don't have stylists and makeup artists at home. We want to see how we can achieve a look ourselves. In this way, amateur content has an advantage over professional content.
  2. It's flawed in the most relatable way - Further to my first point, we connect to influencers who we can relate to. You have a terrible memory? OMG, *I* have a terrible memory, too! People who are too perfect make me feel bad about myself. When someone I look up to has flaws, I feel better. :)
  3. It's emotionally satisfying - even the most scripted stuff posted (like top 10 lists or fun facts) has a human touch to it. It may be the casual language used or the humorous angle or the funky jump cuts or the silly outtakes...who knows. But watching a YouTuber explain something deeply scientific or economic is entertaining. It makes people smile, laugh, stare in awe and, overall, remember the content. Remember Bill Nye's show? Beakman's world? The success of these shows were a testament to approaching a serious subject with humour + emotional arousal.

Feminist Frequency is a great example of highly academic content made incredibly entertaining:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uqJUxqkcnKA?list=PLBBDFEC9F5893C4AF]

VSauce is another popular entertainingly informative channel:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dd7dQh8u4Hc?list=UU6nSFpj9HTCZ5t-N3Rm3-HA]

Their 'Best Practices' are Different

There are also some pretty basic practices that digital influencers tend to stick to so that they keep their audiences happy:

  1. They post consistently/regularly - Weekly or bi-weekly or even daily...but they have a consistent schedule and they stick to it. A few months back a YouTuber we were working with told us she was expected to post at a certain time on a certain day, so she couldn't post when our client wanted her to. It's all part of answering to an audience.
  2. They collaborate with other YouTubers - Collaboration is a very cool part of YouTube culture. It's a recognition that YouTube is a community, that they aren't in competition and that they are part of the 'rising tides lifts all boats' ethos. There is a huge advantage in collaborating as well - they get introduced to one another's audiences. There is no 'me' - it's 'we'.
  3. They interact with their audience - All of the time. On every platform. They answer questions, emails, tweets. They retweet and promote their fans. They ask for and listen to fan suggestions and feedback. They incorporate fan input into their future work. Once again, this is inherent to an audience-centric model of being.

Here is a fun version of a collaboration between two huge YouTubers: Shane Dawson + Grace Helbig.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2QOUFeB44_8]

Their Rules Are...Actually the Same (if you want to appeal to this audience...which you do)

Different rules only apply to digital influencers because when it comes to content, their approach is different.

They aren't tied to a length of post or video. There isn't a specific time of day to post that works better than another (though they post on a certain day to satisfy audience expectations - which is different than posting at optimal periods). Of course they title, tag, properly thumbnail, describe and otherwise optimize their videos for better discovery (mostly - but sometimes they don't), but their secret sauce is really in their audience-centric, emotionally-connecting, highly accessible model. There isn't really an all-encompassing best-practice that suits everyone as individual audiences respond in unique ways.

So, when building your influencer strategy, it's not going to be about dictating content or setting down parameters as much as it's about picking the right influencer with the right audience.

The next instalment of this series will be about exactly that: picking the right influencer with the right audience, which (hint, hint) doesn't mean size of audience. So stay tuned!

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Hey there! I'm Tara Hunt, I lead the Social Digital team at MSLGROUP (Canada). I've been doing this internetty stuff for a loooong time (since Mosaic was the browser to use!). I wrote one of the first books on how the social web is changing business (so old, you can get it for $0.01!). I'm better at typing, but I'm trying out that YouTube thing. I like to brag that I'm influential in business circles, which means I don't get much for free stuff except books. That's a-ok with me! ;)

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If you haven't already, go back and start from the beginning:

Building a Strong Influencer Program: Part I: WHY

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