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How to Succeed on YouTube: Tips from Zoella and Direct Line

When 24-year-old Zoe Sugg appeared on the Comic Relief Great British Bake-Off this month it cemented her position as a very modern breed of celebrity – a home-grown, bedroom superstar whose fan base began on YouTube.

The vlogger, better known as Zoella, has amassed a subscriber base of more than seven million people – an audience the envy of many a brand, plenty of which now court her for partnerships, leading to a book deal and eponymous make-up range late last year. Until then she was something of an ‘anonymous’ celebrity – the mainstream might not have heard of her but every school-age girl in the country had.

Zoella, together with TomSka (three million plus subscribers) and twins Niki ‘n’ Sammy, who have amassed 110,000 subscribers in just 18 months, share their experiences and tips in ‘How to Succeed on YouTube: Grow Your Audience’, the second in a series of four guides aimed at advertisers and agencies.

The Drum is showcasing these films, which complement YouTube documentary The Creators, premiered by The Drum, throughout the week.

As Decoded CEO Kathryn Parsons says: “There are now powerful people and brands emerging from entirely new spaces.”

"Not that long ago the power of a YouTube celebrity was considered to be far, far below that of a TV star, though the balance of power is changing – and brands are watching."

“It’s a genuine relationship because it’s a human relationship,” says Parsons. “The audiences are built organically through real emotional connection with the person on screen. Zoella is greeted by her fans as if she was their big sister or best friend. To get that level of trust is something that governments, brands and corporations are genuinely grappling with.”

Having discovered the very real power and communication that YouTube creators have with their audiences, many brands are belatedly welcoming the medium. They are either looking to partner with established talent or piggyback their audiences by buying pre-roll ads. Many are also looking to create their own content streams and are looking to emulate the success of the stand-out stars.

Mark Evans, marketing director at Direct Line Group, says: “The creators achieve genuine love and adulation from their fans, which fuels the viral growth of their fan base.” However, he cautions that few brands can operate at that level so it is important for marketers to stay realistic about the likelihood of creating a viral sensation.

The film offers marketers and agencies four key pieces of advice to grow their audiences on the online video-sharing platform: listen to your audience; don’t expect engagement, ask for it; promote your other content; and be regular and reliable.

Evans adds: “Having listened to the creators at the premiere, it was really interesting to hear how they were very clear on the different role of YouTube versus Twitter versus Facebook. It’s a good reminder that brands need to be conscious to tailor their creative content to the context. In line with this, at Direct Line we have created bespoke content for YouTube pre-rolls as an extension to the core ‘fixer’ campaign exactly for this reason.”

What Zoella and her co-creators have in common is their commitment to studying the analytics behind their videos. They know that Google’s algorithm favours regular, frequent uploads and understand the power of a call-to-action to grow their fan-base.

As Starcom MediaVest Group digital strategy director Liam Brennan says: “Look at these guys and their subscribers: it’s not just great content but interaction and regular updates at the right time. So many brands don’t do that. So many brands still use YouTube as a dumping ground for their TVCs.”

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Justin Pearse

Managing Director of The Drum's content marketing agency The Drum Works and member of BIMA's executive committee. Former editor of New Media Age.

All by Justin