Patrick Eng
Developer, Marketer, SEO Specialist, and Random Knowledge Blogger

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Week 13 - Everything I Needed to Know About YouTube Influencers

Fresh off the winds of Gen Z and technology usage, this post is all about the rise of YouTube influencers and their effects on society. And just to clarify, while I am saying YouTube influencers, I am also looking at digital influencers in general, ones that don't fall into your traditional celebrity categories.

Some popular Youtubers I know off the top of my head are:

  • PewDiePie

  • Jenna Marbles

  • Smosh

  • Ryan Higa (nigahiga)

  • Logan Paul (suicide forest guy)

  • Dude Perfect

So, in this week's post, I want to take a look at the most popular Youtubers, what they actually, do, and the influence they have because of the YouTube platform.

While this article gives a much longer than the list I gave above, I only plan to focus on the six I mentioned. So, here are short summaries of some of the most popular YouTubers in the world, their niche, and why they are in this class.

1. PewDiePie

With 61 million subscribers, almost twice that of the second most subscribed channel, PewDiePie is arguably the most successful YouTuber in history. This Swedish YouTuber's claim to fame came in the form of Let's Play videos (where he plays video games and records his reactions/commentary) mixed with his unique vocabulary.

While he has shifted away from his original Let's Play content and into more vlog style content, his real power lies in his relationship with his fans. His fan base, lovingly called the Bro Army, is most likely made up of Post-Millennials/Gen Z (age 13 - 18). With so many young minds to mold, it should be apparent how much power PewDiePie has over a growing generation.

PewDiePie, hate him or love him, takes time to invest in his army. That investment is the foundation of his success.

This became especially apparent when PewDiePie made anti-Semitic jokes, leading to lost partnerships with YouTube and Disney. With 61+ million subscribers and 17+ billion views, PewDiePie has the ability to influence a whole generation, from buying (or not buying) a game to slowly accepting a certain way to treat people.

2. JennaMarbles

Considered the most successful female YouTuber, Jenna Marbles is no stranger to authenticity. Her rise to fame came in the form of her first hit video "How To Trick People Into Thinking You're Good Looking" where she talks about everything people think about but never verbalize. Jenna speaks from the heart, as someone who earned a master's degree and still had to work multiple jobs just to pay rent.

Her success can be attributed to a variety of reasons, but let's get down to the truth of it:

  1. She's an entertainer, tried and true

  2. She's realistic but uses comedy to lighten the blow

  3. She's relatable

  4. She educates

Jenna has no problem getting to the heart of the matter and does it in way where most people just can't help them self from at least smiling. In the best possible way, she's your typical 20s/30s woman that has gone through shit and shares it with the world. Her stories are relatable and funny, and people love her for her authenticity.

3. Smosh

Co-founded by high school friends Ian Hecox and Anthony Padilla, Smosh is a comedy sketch channel that started when two guys were just messing around and decided to record all their shenanigans.

They found success in the early days of YouTube, and kept the momentum going once the platform left beta. While their first videos were them just lip-syncing songs, they moved onto more ambitious styles and mediums thanks to their own comedic skills and some help from Disney.

After that, they were noticed by YouTube and became a member of their partner program. While that partnership program brought a more stable source of revenue, it wasn't a foundation for a strong business. They knew they had to leverage their own business, using YouTube as a way to get people in the door, but keep them with content on their own site.

Smosh's success led them to getting acquired by digital media company Alloy Digital (renamed to Defy Media) in 2011, which in turn led to even more content.

4. Ryan Higa (nigahiga)

I still remember the first Ryan Higa short I ever saw: How to be Ninja. I remember thinking it was the funniest thing I had ever seen, but to be fair, I was 11 at the time. While his early videos were limited by the technology of their time, their content was funny enough that people still go back to watch it, even 10 years later.

While his famous "How to be" videos (ninja, emo, and gangster) were removed and re-added multiple times due to copyright violations, Ryan and his long-time friend Sean Fujiyoshi kept putting out comedic content.

In 2012, Ryan founded his production company Ryan Higa Production Company and works to continue creating content for their YouTube channel. Then in 2016, he formed K-Pop group BGA (Boys Generally Asian).

5. Logan Paul

Logan Paul's claim to fame came through the short, six-second videos uploaded to the video sharing platform Vine. Through his success on Vine, he quickly gained fame on all other popular social media platforms and quickly moved to YouTube with vlogs and comedy sketches.

Between 2015 and 2017, Logan starred and contributed to various TV shows and feature-length movies, like Law & Order: SVU, Weird Loners, The Thinning, Stitchers, Airplane Mode, and Baywatch.

Clearly riding high on his past success and not exactly thinking about the reach of his influence, Logan Paul released a video on December 31, 2017, where he shows his journey through the "Suicide Forest" in Japan. On his walk through the forest, he finds a body hanging from a tree. This video gained 6+ million views in 24 hours and received brutal criticism from entire communities. The video was quickly removed and apologies sent out, but the damage was done and YouTube and his viewers quickly made clear their opinion of his deal.

6. Dude Perfect

A group of dudes from Texas recording them taking trick shots in any sport they can find. Competition, testosterone, and creativity at all-time highs, this group of friends works to outdo each other every day with more unbelievable trick shots.

The group receives constant criticism as to the validity of their stunts, which they take as compliments due to the complexity of most shots.

Dude Perfect quickly received endorsements and requests to work with other celebrities/sport stars, creating a domino effect of popularity and recognition.

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Once again, Millennials take the front and center. As the largest consumer generation and a general shift from TV to online streaming and social media, Millennials have a lot of purchasing power that is being influenced by not so traditional means.

A study done by Defy Media found that over 60% of people between 13 and 24 would try a product or service advertised by a YouTuber, versus 48% when it came to a movie/TV celebrity. But this influence goes beyond the wallet. A different study done by Variety found that U.S. teenagers consider YouTubers to be some of their most influential personalities based on their approachability and authenticity.

Millennials crave authenticity from those they look up to, and when they see that it's not real or its just for money, they drop it and don't look back.

So, what makes these YouTube stars more influential than all those traditional TV and movie stars? Well, it can be boiled down to three components:

1. YouTubers develop relationships

The core YouTubers' success is that they approach topics and issues with real and unfiltered support or criticism. They don't have PR strategies dictating their moves, what they can say, and who they can associate with. What they say comes from an authentic and grounded reality, and when it doesn't, the results show in their view and subscriber count.

They discuss the highs and lows of society, create content that people want to see, and do it in ways that connect with their viewers.

2. YouTubers thrive on engagement

Almost all YouTubers started as friends who were goofing around and decided that what they were doing was cool or funny and decided to record it. Their content wasn't some high-end production with tons of money to throw around. It was scrappy and creative (and sometimes just weird), and most did it because they just wanted to share some interesting content.

The YouTube platform creates a conducive environment to both share that content and receive feedback on it. YouTubers are then able to take that feedback and adjust their content according to what people want to see, and frequently respond to comments or questions by people who watch their content. They actively walk through all the toxicity and support, taking time to establish some sort of connection to their viewers, not because it's part of their PR strategy but because it's what makes their content a success.

3. YouTubers set trends and shape culture

Because of the relationships built by these YouTubers and the engagement they maintain with their viewers, they obviously hold large sway over their viewers. A majority of YouTube subscribers would try a product or service suggested by a popular YouTuber over a traditional celebrity.

Popular YouTubers are helping Millennials (and especially Gen Z) shape their views of the world, and whether or not you think that influence is dangerous, it's the reality we live in.

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This is the success story of Canadian YouTube channel Yes Theory. This group of four strangers came together to show the power of saying yes to the voice in your head when everyone and everything around you is saying no. The birth of this group is a shining example of that, given that all four founding members said yes to this project even though they had promising futures in a more traditional format.

While their content might look similar to a lot of other content on YouTube, like jumping out of airplanes or meeting celebrities, the focus is always on saying yes to that voice in your head.

As with basically every success story though, Yes Theory had to overcome many obstacles before they actually hit "success". The key to their success, as cliché as it sounds? Persistence. While people might see them getting lucky by being in the right place at the right time, they miss that their persistence put them in as many places as possible at as many times as possible.

Why Equipment Needs to be a Secondary Concern

Yes Theory knew that their overarching narrative was important. They knew it struck a cord and connected with people on a more intimate level. Once they realized their why, they could look into getting better equipment. You will be wasting your money if you go out and buy expensive equipment and software without truly knowing what you will be recording for the world to see. Finding your why is the first step, getting better equipment has to come after.

Schedule and Strong Suits

A constant theme for any YouTubers' success is that they have a consistent schedule for their content. When they first started doing a video a day for their Project 30 initiative, and then moved on to 3 videos per week, they maintained consistency throughout.

Obviously, the key is to plan ahead. Easier said than done, I know. Yes Theory figured out their planning ahead process, as all successful YouTubers do, and they maintain a schedule three weeks ahead to account for any issues.

This planning ahead is possible because they don't try to do everything themselves. Each person is talented at a specific piece of the machine, and someone who is great at entertaining doesn't get bogged down with the editing. While that may not be the case early on, Yes Theory knew that leveraging other people's talents was the key to their success, and had to figure out who thrived in each department.

Knowing What Works

As we've learned, YouTubers engage with their audience and establish relationships. They know what videos get engagement and views, and have no issue repurposing or reshaping that content (like Unicorn marketing). In Yes Theory's case, they knew that their Abandoned and Asking Billionaires series were fan favorites and would sprinkle them throughout their releases of regular content that was released to just increase recognition.

Know That Not Everything You Put Out will be Gold

YouTube can be a very toxic place, as any platform that allows people to hide behind a screen can be. While you'll see a lot of encouraging comments about your content, you could see just as many calling it trash.

The key is to have confidence in what you're doing. You need to believe that the content you put out is something people need to see, not just that it would nice for them to see it. Push past the hate and know that your content is valuable. Don't get bogged down in the comments and keep moving on to the next project.

You Have to Make Money Somehow

Leaving traditional jobs, or at least the chances of them, left Yes Theory to a lot of confusion and criticism, specifically from their family and friends. But as they started gaining success, they knew they still needed more ways to support themselves.

One of the founders had a streetwear business prior to creating Yes Theory. And while researching how to be successful with his clothing business, he kept reading about influencer marketing and getting his product on celebrities radars. As Yes Theory became more successful though, they realized that they could be the influencers themselves, and not rely on others. They skipped that middle step of reaching out to other influencers and started promoting their own products (tastefully of course) and even created a store that helps other YouTubers merch get seen.

When to Say No

Yes Theory knew that their YouTubing path would lead them to challenge traditional ways of life. The No's that they make are for the purpose of making sure their success is maintained, like not going to parties and getting drunk, choosing a minimalist lifestyle, sacrificing time on a Friday night to make sure a video is ready to go out, and making sure toxic people are removed from their lives.

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As the shift from traditional TV continues to grow, YouTube and other online video services are becoming the norm for information and entertainment. These services are also creating a new type of celebrity, and these celebrities are even more influential than traditional ones, at least when it comes to Millennials and Gen Z. Here's the data to back prove it:

YouTubers with Relatable Personalities and Active Relationships

  • 70% of YouTube users relate more to YouTube personalities than traditional celebrities

  • 40% of millennial users say that YouTube personalities understand them better than friends

When YouTubers listen and interact with their viewers, they not only give their viewers and sense of importance but are also able to tailor their content to what people want to see.

Better Relationships = Higher Engagement

When compared with videos by traditional celebrities, the most popular YouTubers gained:

  • 3x more views

  • 2x more actions

  • And 12x more comments

All of this increased engagement came to be because of YouTubers willing to engage with their audience first and establish some sort of tie with them.

Influence and Perception

  • Millennials see YouTubers as stronger trendsetters than traditional celebrities

  • 70% of viewers believe that Youtubers "change and shape culture"

  • 60% of viewers would rather follow advice from a Youtuber than that of a celebrity

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If you think being a YouTube Influencer is an easy and fun job, you're only half right. To actually be a successful influencer, you need to have an entrepreneurial spirit, a passion for what you do, and an understanding that you are building a business, with all its successes and failures.

What is an Influencer and What Do They Do?

According to Agnes Kozera, co-founder of influencer marketing platform Famebit, "an influencer is someone who has a substantial following and can command an audience. They have specialized knowledge about a certain subject. They are all experts at building a brand." They are able to sell a product in a way that doesn't feel like they're selling a product.

Where Do They Live?

No, I don't mean physically. You'll find celebrities in movies and TV shows, and you'll find influencers on YouTube and social media. They thrive on platforms that allow them to connect with their audience, and make sure not to lose those roots.

How Did They Start?

Like most successful entrepreneurs, these influencers started by just doing something they were passionate about and a desire to share their passion with others. Great influencers find their niche and become masters of it, essentially turning themselves into thought leaders of a topic. But to get to influencer status, they had to be consistent and put content out all the time. You don't become an influencer through one or two (or even a handful of) viral videos. You have to establish a pattern that people recognize and crave.

What Connects Brands and Influencers?

There are two ways influencers can connect with brands:

  1. An influencer marketing platform like Famebit

  2. A Multi-Channel Network (MCN)

Famebit is a platform that helps connect influencers (with a certain level of reach) and brands that want to have more mediums of recognition. As a creator, you find sponsorship opportunities, make your pitch, and if you're selected, get some extra money.

When it comes to MCNs, however, it becomes a little more difficult if you're a smaller channel. MCN opportunities usually go to the channels with millions of followers, and while you can sign up to be a part of that MCN, your chances of getting picked aren't great.

So, Where's the Money?

Ah, the age-old question. How do YouTubers actually make money? It's a risk to be a YouTuber, since it's not a steady source of income and you have to be popular if it is a job that is supposed to support you. When you hit star status though, your sources of revenue will most likely be:

  • Ads

  • Sponsorships

  • Commission

  • Merchandise

You decide how much money you make with the content that you put out. The highest paid YouTuber (PewDiePie) earned $15 million in one year. But that didn't happen overnight and being an influencer isn't some get rich quick scheme. Becoming a YouTuber is essentially beginning a startup, and unfortunately, most will fail.

What Does a Normal Day Look Like?

Each influencer's day will look different depending on what their niche is, but there are some basics all around:

  • Film raw footage

  • Set up equipment

  • Travel

  • Editing

  • Preparing future videos

  • Admin work

Because you're a self-employed entrepreneur, you have to be motivated. Otherwise, your company will fail.

What Parts Suck?

The common thread of agitation for YouTubers seems to be the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). For example, according to FTC regulations, YouTubers must explicitly state to their audience when they are being compensated by a brand.

You don't see this same regulation enforced in movies, however, and YouTubers are wondering why they are being held to a higher standard. Take, for example, one of the most shameless product placements I have seen in my entire life (Fast and Furious 7):

What are Their Fears?

Some people might think that influencer's jobs are just a fad and one day they'll have to grow up and get real jobs. While that might be the case for a good number of YouTubers, the real ones will keep on their path, putting out content their audience wants to see and growing their company into a brand of its own.

YouTube influencers know that people came to them because of their authenticity and relatability. They want to stay consistent with their own being, which allows them to be as human as possible to their audience, not some fictional character in a movie. They are becoming the connection between brands and consumers, and are doing it in an organic way.

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Too Long; Didn't Read

YouTube influencers are constantly putting out authentic, funny, and interesting content every day. Their audience mainly includes Millennials and Gen Z and tend to be the connection between the audience and consumers. Audiences trust influencers even more than traditional celebrities and establish relationships with their influencers.

Becoming a successful YouTube influencer is no small task though, as you are essentially starting your own business. You need to know your why behind your channel and be able to produce quality content on a consistent basis that engages with your audience. This can take time, as you might not get a viral hit for a few years, or maybe feel like you hit a wall.

The key is to make your own luck. Own what you do, believe in it, and reach out to other influencers for help or collaboration.

Maybe you get a decent following and get on a platform like Famebit, or maybe you just get acquired by an entertainment company like Fullscreen. Either way, you have to make your own luck by being in as many places as possible all the time, using your network, your skills, and your friends to achieve your dreams.

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Patrick Eng