So now that you understand that working with Digital Influencers is important and you are starting to recognize who they are and what makes them tick, it's important to understand HOW you work with them. One dimension of this is understanding the types of content that they are producing on a regular basis. Part of my job is to watch hours and hours of YouTube videos, discovering emerging talents and trends. Over this period, I've discovered that, barring a few outliers and pioneers, there are a list of tropes that the majority of YouTubers follow.
A trope is a commonly recurring motif - a type of video in this case - that you see across multiple channels. Not quite a meme, not quite a format, these tropes recur between groups of YouTubers to help connect their content.
Different vlogging communities have different tropes and will make fun of tropes that exist in other communities. For instance, the Makeup Tutorial Trope has been used as a comedic vehicle in videos like this one by Megan Mackay:
Many people recognize the Makeup Tutorial trope, but there are many others. Just producing Makeup Tutorials on a channel isn't enough to connect with your audience. In the How-To & Style category, there are many tropes that YouTubers use to connect with their audience. The most popular are the following:
- The Makeup Tutorial Trope
- The What's-in-my... Trope
- The Haul Trope
- The Lookbook Trope
- The Tag or Challenge Trope
- The What I Am Wearing Trope
- The Routine Trope
- The Review Trope
- The DIY Trope
- The Q&A Trope
All of these motifs recur frequently under the How-to & Style category and are the go-to video for most beauty and style YouTubers. For any company that is looking to collaborate or hire a YouTuber, you can use these to think beyond the product review.
The Makeup Tutorial Trope
The Makeup Tutorial seems to be the most commonly used and popular trope of all. Michelle Phan has made an empire from makeup tutorials - doing everything from a smokey eye to celebrity makeup:
Makeup tutorials are great because many women are searching for tips on how to recreate looks on YouTube all of the time. I, myself, have watched Kandee Johnson's Jem Tutorial multiple times (as it's my fallback costume).
These tutorials have a consistent pattern of:
a. show the finished look b. go to bare face c. go step-by-step to create the look (usually speeding through unimportant details) d. show finished look again
The What's-in-my... Trope
Even before it hit YouTube, What's In My Bag/Laptop Bag/Camera Bag/etc was a commonly used on blogs and photo sharing sites like Flickr:
The What's-in-my... videos are exactly what they sound like: the vlogger pulls items out of her bag and talks about them one-by-one. Her electronics, her cosmetics, her essentials...she usually talks about the bag itself as well:
These are incredibly popular and are a mix of personal information and product reviews. It's not just a beauty vlogger phenomenon either. You'll find the What's-in-my... trope in other categories as well.
Other variations include: What's on my Phone (apps), What's in my Fridge, What's in my Drawer, What's in my Locker, etc. Audiences love these videos because it helps introduce them to new products that they may have not heard of before and getting the validation from their favourite YouTuber will go a long way to driving interest.
The Haul Trope
Hauls are, in basic terms, a showing off of what you just bought. Whether it was going down to the mall and buying a bunch of new clothes or makeup or ordering a bunch of stuff online, the format of a haul is to pull out new products one-by-one and talk about:
a. what you bought b. why you bought it c. what you paid for it (sometimes...and especially when it was a deal)
Some focus on specific shops (Sephora, Lush, Forever 21, etc), some focus on times of year (back to school, summer, holiday, etc.) and some are just big splurges.
Hauls have been the subject of much derision by the non-beauty community, but they are consistently popular for the YouTubers that use these tropes, though they tend to only do them a few times per year. Hauls, very much like the What's In My... Trope, drive interest for audiences.
The Lookbook Trope
Lookbooks summarize the wardrobe trends - usually for the season - for each of the YouTubers. They are usually done to music in various poses with closeups on details of the clothing and makeup. In these videos, the YouTubers usually point their audience to where they can buy these looks themselves:
Modelling themselves after fashion house lookbooks, these videos are highly stylized and have a funky beat for a soundtrack. There is usually no voice over for this type of video.
Lookbooks are loved by fans if they are done right - beginning of a season, etc - because they give them ideas on how to pull together outfits for that season.
The Tag or Challenge Trope
Tags on YouTube are very different than tags as we know them on other platforms. Tags on YouTube are more "Tag, You're It!" than #hashtag (though they are tied together with tags/hashtags).
The way Tag Videos work is that the initial Tagger will create a series of questions and answer them in their video, then 'tag' a group of other YouTubers to answer these same questions. There are hundreds of Tag videos on YouTube under almost every personal topic including: Boyfriend Tag, Best Friend Tag, Sister Tag, Twin Tag, TMI Tag...and many many more.
Here is a great example of how a brand worked in their core message to start a Tag (disclosure: I worked on this campaign):
Challenges are a bit different and are participated in more by men than women (women tend to do Tags on YouTube, while men do the Challenges). They usually involve something physical (ie. The Cinnamon Challenge, where participants are challenged to eat a spoonful of cinnamon on camera) and are more silly/fun than personal:
Both Tags and Challenges are great ways for YouTubers to collaborate at a distance and create a sense of community on YouTube.
The What Am I Wearing Trope
OOTD or Outfit Of The Day videos are similar to the lookbook videos, but they tend to cover only one outfit (thus OOD). Like Lookbooks, they tend to be highly stylized and without commentary and point their viewers to wear they can recreate the look. These videos are an evolution from Fashion Blogging, where the fashion bloggers would take a series of photos - close-up details and full length shots - to demonstrate their daily fashion look.
GRWM or Get Ready With Me videos are a combination of OOTD and makeup and hair tutorials. In one video, you get a full routine. They usually revolve around an event (prom, back to school, wedding, date night, etc) so you can, literally, follow along to create the same look head to toe:
I call this category, in general, the What Am I Wearing Trope as they both deconstruct a specific look to try at home.
The Routine Trope
The Routine Trope brings you even closer to learning a day-in-the-life of a vlogger. Some of these routines are more instructional, such as My Workout Routine, but many of them are intimate like Morning or After-School Routines that take you a little bit behind the scenes of their lives:
In these videos, you get to learn a little more about who the person is and what makes her tick. And many viewers feel that they can relate deeply to these very normal, very mundane lives.
The Review Trope
The Review Trope is also where many brands enter the conversation. There are a few ways that How-to & Style YouTubers approach reviews and it is very rarely a straight-up review of a product.
One of these approaches is to talk in general about the list of products and services that they are currently enjoying as in [insert month here] faves:
Many brands want exclusive review posts, but what they fail to understand is that being included in these round-ups can actually be MORE beneficial as it comes across as more genuine. If a vlogger talks about loving a brand's face cream, then talks about the competitor's cleanser, it comes across organically vs an entire post dedicated to a single brand. The consumer audience is highly suspicious of sponsored content.
They will also do the negative side of the review in monthly round-ups of products they advise their audiences NOT to buy. If your brand ends up in this round-up, don't panic. This presents a great opportunity to reach out to the vlogger and say, "Sorry that product didn't work for you. Is there any others you are willing to try?"
The DIY Trope
Millennials and their Gen Z little sisters are very DIY. I chalk it up to them having gone through a long and arduous recession, compiled with the desire to actually create rather than be passive.
How-to & Style YouTubers with DIY just about anything from Halloween costumes to prom dresses to room decor. Anything that can be created with supplies from an arts & crafts store and a glue gun or some thread is free game:
What this trope teaches us is that this group loves hands-on.
The Q&A Trope
The last major trope I want to cover is the Q&A. This Trope usually emerges as a vlogger gains popularity and starts to get fans that are dying to know even more intimate details about her life:
Usually the vlogger will ask her fans one week ahead of time to send in questions under a hashtag or in the comments. During the video, she will choose the best questions and answer them openly. Even taboo subjects get covered like Zoella's example above. And the more taboo, the more views these videos get.
The Importance of Tropes To Your Brand
As video blogging and YouTubers have grown in popularity, they've had to evolve to continue to entertain their hungry audiences. Their audiences are demanding to connect on a deeper level, to learn more and to be entertained. You don't just throw up a channel with a bunch of makeup tutorials any longer. For whatever look there is to create, a makeup or hair tutorial has already been done. There are only so many "recreate this celebrity look" videos you can do before people become saturated.
These may be common tropes today, but they have emerged organically with the demands of the audience and the inventiveness of the YouTubers. Within the next few months, different ones will emerge and within the next few years everything will look completely different.
Brands need to understand the evolving landscape and be up-to-date with what is happening now as well as recognize what is emerging in order to work well with this new influencer.
And if you happen to be looking to start your own channel, learn from these tropes, but understand what sort of audience needs they fulfill rather than just copying them outright.
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! ;)
If you haven't already, go back and start from the beginning: