After 10 years, what can brands learn from YouTube?

With today marking 10 years since the first YouTube video, The Drum takes a look at what brands can learn from the shrewd population of bloggers who have made a living by engaging audiences on the platform.

YouTube hosts many successful video bloggers, from fashion and beauty vlogger Zoe Sugg (Zoella) to 21-year-old identical twins Niki and Sammy Albion (NikiNSammy) and video creator and cartoonist Thomas ‘TomSka’ Ridgewell.

A new documentary, The Creators, premiered by The Drum, recently went behind-the-scenes to discover their secret recipe and what brands can learn from the YouTubers capturing the hearts and minds of consumers.

Be authentic

Success on YouTube comes down to the audience's relationship with those on screen; if the audience doesn’t connect with a creator it’s unlikely their videos will have any impact.

“Our YouTube persona is an accurate form of ourselves,” says Sammy Albion, whose NikiNSammy channel with his twin brother Niki Albion has more than 127,000 subscribers. “But we condense it down to four minutes so it’s a hyper real version of us.”

“Vlogging in general is built on the YouTuber’s relatability to the audience. We respect them [viewers] and they respect us, it’s a two way thing.”

Being open and honest is at the heart of a vlogger’s relationship with their fan base. Ridgewell, who has almost 3.5m subscribers to his comedy and cartoons blog TomSka, even goes as far to call it “brutal” after recently opening up to his fans about his battle with depression.

“A good YouTube creator loves what they’re doing and they’re honest because sincerity is very important,” he adds.

By cutting the smoke and mirrors often associated with traditional advertising, brands can create a stronger relationship with their audience, for example using YouTube to provide behind-the-scenes content fans wouldn’t have been privy to before.

Be relevant

Genuinely interesting and exciting content is the only way to capture an audience on YouTube. Sammy Albion advocates looking at trending topics prior to filming to “get traction” amongst viewers.

“What’s great about YouTube is it’s punk. There’s no one telling us what we can and can’t do, there’s no boss man telling us what the kids are in to. You decide what to show people and people will judge for themselves,” says Ridgewell. “I take my own personal experiences and share them, not only is that interesting but it can help certain people.”

The key takeaway for brands here is to not simply create content they think is interesting or on-message brand communications. Take cues from what customers are showing an interest in and create content accordingly.

Collaborate

Working with other creators can help boost a YouTube profile, cross-pollinating pre-existing fan bases.

Sugg, whose Zoella fashion and beauty vlog is one of the most popular in the UK on the cusp of 8m subscribers, often films with other vloggers including her brother Joe Sugg (ThatcherJoe); boyfriend, Alfie Deyes (PointlessBlog) and friend Tanya Burr (Tanya Burr) and describes collaborations as her “favourite films to make”.

“There’s a huge online community and we all make videos together and support each other,” she says. “I’ve always been really involved on Twitter wanting to make friends and speak with other people who do the same thing; I feel it’s really inspiring to do that.”

Unlike rival film or TV studios, rival YouTubers don’t feel “threatened” by one another, according to Ridgewell. “You can always storm to the top on your lonesome but it doesn’t hurt to collaborate,” he adds.

Working with similar creators who have a comparable subscriber base is an easy way to help build and share growth. Brands should be aware of opportunities to join forces with like-minded brands and content creators to reach a wider audience.

Listen to your audience

Responding to viewer feedback on YouTube is necessary to build rapport with the audience, as well as improving a YouTuber’s relationship with their fans actively taking part in conversations and listening to feedback can help generate content ideas for even the most seasoned creator.

In addition to taking feedback on existing videos, Ridgewell also “peer reviews” scripts for future videos.

“If I’m doing a video on an important issue I publish the script and get it peer reviewed by hundreds, if not thousands, of people,” he says revealing that his video ‘The Sex Talk’, which has had over 2m views, was “actually helpful” because he listened to feedback after posting a draft online.”

The takeout for brands is to engage in a two-way dialogue with consumers, actively engage in conversation and listen to their hints and suggestions, rather than rigidly sticking to an agenda.

Brands shouldn’t be afraid of asking for consumer opinions and should be nimble enough to adapt and change depending on the feedback. This requires adopting a more fluid approach to communications.

Be regular and reliable

With YouTube the unofficial launchpad of the next generation of celebrities, as the platform grows in popularity, creators have to work harder to retain current fans and attract new ones.

As Google’s algorithm favours “frequent, regular uploaders”, Niki and Sammy Albion maximise their reach by posting at least three videos a week.

“If we were to create one video a week I wouldn’t be happy with that because people forget about you in that time,” explains Sammy Albion. “We stick to our schedule and we haven’t missed an upload.”

Sugg also praises the merits of a schedule as it helps viewers know “when they’re meant to watch your videos.”

Keeping YouTube content fresh is imperative to success on the platform and brands need to adjust their mindset from running one big campaign on TV for a number of weeks to creating rolling content.

You can watch The Creators documentary below.

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