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How to succeed on YouTube: YouTuber stars' tips on engagement

Every day, people watch hundreds of millions of hours of video on YouTube, generating billions of views. In fact, every minute over 300 hours of videos are uploaded to the video-sharing site.

Amid such a torrent of content it can be hard for both brands and individuals to stand out, yet a small number of individuals have done just that – becoming first YouTube stars and now increasingly influencing the mainstream.

Advertisers and agencies have much to learn from these ‘creators’ – how people discover, watch and are encouraged to keep watching them. A new series of short films aims to uncover just that.

In ‘How to Succeed on YouTube: Engage Your Audience’, vloggers Zoella, TomSka and Niki and Sammy, who have a combined subscriber base of more than 10 million, offer their tips for success. It is the last of four films complementing YouTube documentary The Creators, premiered by The Drum.

Core to their appeal is “relatability”, that they are approachable and authentically themselves on camera. As TomSka says: “A good YouTube creator loves what they’re doing because they’re being honest”, and this comes across to their audience.

Stuart Avery, managing director of creative agency The Rumpus Room, says: “Brands wanting to build engagement need to ask: why would anyone care, why would anyone want to view your content?”

He points out that these YouTube stars have risen in popularity in a democratic way – people have chosen to view their content from the thousands of people vlogging every day.

“Brands that engage well with their audiences are those such as GoPro and Red Bull. Viewers know that without their financing that content could not happen: the brand is seen as an enabler rather than an advertiser, he adds.

He says that authenticity is key – that audiences on social platforms can “smell corporate” a mile off. One of the film’s points, that content does not have to be glossy, is key to this new world. “Production values are less important in this space, which is something that brands are often uncomfortable with. Yet in social, high production values can often in fact be a negative.”

Flora Kong, strategic insights director at ZenithOptimedia, agrees that YouTube should not be a dumping ground for brands’ glossy television commercials. “[But] is it about building an audience or is it about sales?” she asks.

“Ultimately brands are still trying to grasp how you use social as part of a wider brand strategy.” It will be a different approach with different outcomes for different industries, she adds, saying that a financial services brand will connect and engage differently than an FMCG or retail brand.

Karmarama managing partner Lawrence Weber agrees and says: “Brands need to understand what they’re contributing to the particular genre.”

He says brands wishing to engage on the platform should look to do so in one of three ways: either as direct content brands such as the BBC and Vice; as a brand that naturally pulls content around it, such as Nintendo, where fans create content and connections with it; or by “borrowing interest” as a sponsor.

Weber also strikes a note of caution for the YouTubers themselves –for these new stars to be aware of how to stay relevant and authentic as they build ever bigger audiences and attract ever more corporate attention.

He says: “Much like a brand that starts by word of mouth or a band that starts with a small but passionate fan base that strikes it big, there will be an inflection point where they will lose fans.”

That could be because they are too big to be seen as talking to their individual audience members or be seen to have “sold out” by taking too many brand and partnership deals.

In the meantime, however, all agree that developing a better understanding of this new medium is crucial for all brands.

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