04 3 / 2013
Josh Kolm, a who is getting his Master’s in jounalism at Ryerson University asked 10 very very good questions. Though as a former journalism student myself, I will give him (and all of the rest of you) a tip my professor once gave me…try to only ask one question per question.
1. In terms of building a community of fans, how much of it is talent and how much of it is luck? Is luck all that separates someone with 1 million subscribes and someone with 10,000?
I think it’s more than talent and luck. I think there’s also ambition and cleverness and sometimes downright underhandedness. There’s no one on YouTube (including John and me) who has made it without “playing the game” a little bit, whether it’s giraffe sex thumbnails (in our case) or outright spamming (in cases that I will not discuss.)
But to your question, a lot of it is luck. A lot of it for us was starting when we did, when it was a lot easier to get noticed…and when it felt huge and important to have 10,000 subscribers, so we worked our asses off for them even though, today, we can get that many subs in a week.
Luck is certainly not the only thing though, people who make great, innovative content get noticed. It’s just really hard (and getting harder every day) to make really great, innovative content. What is absolutely guaranteed…you will not succeed if you start the way someone else started, or do the same thing someone else is doing.
2. How much is it up to a YouTuber to build, and then foster, that community? Can someone really promote themselves if no one knows who they are? Is it just a matter of making good stuff and hoping someone finds it? On the other side, do they have to keep that quality up to keep an audience? Will an audience accept anything from a YouTuber they already adore? Like, could Charlie McDonnell read the ingredients on a Mini Wheats box and not get un-subed?
All of the most interesting online projects are more about community than content, but that certainly does not mean that content doesn’t matter. If you don’t innovate, if you stagnate, if you stop caring…your channel will stop growing and people will move on.
As for how to promote yourself if no one is watching…make funny videos referencing YouTubers you love…maybe they’ll reblog you :-).
Seriously though, we tapped into existing communities, and that’s a very important path to success. We happened to, also, tap into the best community of all time…Harry Potter fans, which was very lucky for us. So we were able to build upon a part of that community that came over to us. Fostering a community is something that comes very naturally to some creators, and feels very foreign to others.
3. Are subscriber and view counts an accurate measurement of how strong/dedicated/sustainable/whatever a community is?
Not at all. This might sound crass but I swear it’s not. The best analytical measure of how dedicated a community (that I have found) is merch sales. We’ve sold shirts for a lot of people at DFTBA, and I’m always shocked how some channels with 50,000 subs can sell more shirts than channels with 2 million.
View counts are a terrible measure of engagement, subscribers is even worse (since channels that have been around a long time have /tons/ of subs that don’t watch anymore. Not necessarily because the content started to suck, just because people move on and get interested in other stuff.)
4. In terms of your own projects, do you think some of the other stuff you’ve produced (SciShow, Crash Course, Lizzie Bennett, Brain Scoop) has found an independent audience, i.e. one with members that found those channels for reasons OTHER than that they were Nerdfighters first?
Totally. I went to PAX, a gaming convention (lots of nerdy guys in their 20s and 30s), this year and I was recognized almost exclusively as “The SciShow guy” not “Hank Green of the Vlogbrothers.” SciShow’s audience is 80% male and 60% over 20. Lizzie Bennet’s audience is 80% female and 60% under 20.
Part of the reason I like to create those things is that a strong community can only be so big before it doesn’t feel like a community anymore. By giving our community those different focal points, it encourages a more smaller, stronger, independent communities, rather than on big wibbly blob that can’t support its own weight.
5. What do you think has a better chance of building a community: an interesting show concept (Crash Course, My Drunk Kitchen, Epic Meal Time, etc.) or more straight ahead vloggers? Why do you think that is? If it’s the latter, how can it be possible to stand out from everyone else that’s doing the same thing?
Format vs personality? It used to be that you really could create a channel based purely on your personality and it would take off. That’s /much/ harder to do now. In fact, it’s probably impossible unless you either have some kind of insanely powerful and charismatic personality (Olan Rogers) or are already famous (like if Jennifer Lawrence wanted to start a vlog, people would watch.)
Nowadays, the path seems to be to start with the format, but let the real you shine through, not a character, just you being you and being likeable and cool and enthusiastic about the thing you’re doing. People get into the format first, and the personality second…but the relationship with the personality ends up being much more valuable for both sides of the interaction. It’s just a lot harder to get to now that YouTube feels (to many people) less like a community platform and more like an entertainment platform.
6. How much do inter-community relationships matter? In other words, how much do you think a YouTuber benefits from having another YouTube mention them in one of their videos and sending members of their community over there? When there’s more and more people on YouTube every day, do you think that could ever be/already is the only way someone could establish themselves as a YouTuber, by having an already-established YouTuber endorse them?
Almost all top YouTube channels were part of a group of YouTubers that came up together and helped each other along the way, not via established YouTubers promoting them. It’s happening right now with the cute boy British YouTubers. It happened in 2007 with us and Charlie and Michael and Alex. It happened in 2009 with Tessa, Mitchell, Cat, and Shawna. Hannah, Andrew, Mamrie and Grace in 2011. There are exceptions to this, but it’s much easier (and more fun) if you’re doing it with friends whose work you’re excited about, and who are excited about your work.
Of course, getting noticed and promoted by established YouTubers is also great, but usually, if you’re consistently getting noticed by big YouTubers, it isn’t long before you’re on the same level as them anyway.
7. Are communities different in the U.S. compared to other countries in terms of the kinds of stuff they get behind?
I don’t really think of any of this geographically, so it’s hard for me to say.
8. What about in terms of demographics? I know in the latest Becoming YouTube video it’s mentioned how many of the community members are girls under the age of 18, and in videos you’ve mentioned that to be true for vlogbrothers as well, but is that true for other YouTubers you know? Why do you think that is?
First, yes, it’s certainly true. The core audience of YouTube…the people who come back for community-focused, personality-based content tend to be young women. As for the “why” I think that’s a really complicated and interesting question. I could venture some guesses, BUT IT MUST BE CLEAR THAT THEY ARE GUESSES!
So here’s my guess…I think young awkward teenagers are on YouTube in equal numbers, but I think the females tend toward wanting to be a part of something and to understand where things are coming from while young males tend to be more interested in the creations and the enjoyment they provide than the creators that do the things. BUT THIS IS JUST A GUESS AND THESE ARE ONLY TENDENCIES!
9. How realistic is it for someone to make a career out of a YouTube community in 2013? Is it too competitive? Is it going to get harder or easier in the years going ahead? Both for those that are already established and those just getting started?
I think it may actually start being easier soon, not because it will be easier to get a million people watching, but because it will be easier to make a living off of a smaller number of community members. I want it to be easier to make a living, and harder to get filthy rich. That’s basically my goal for 2013.
10. Aside from all the amazing charity-based and worldsuck-reducing stuff Nerdfighters have done, what about your community are you the most proud of?
Discerning enthusiasm….and that we create great things together.
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