TV actors used to worry about reality show stars stealing their thunder and opportunities. Ah what quaint days those were. Turns out the no-names doing seemingly brainless stuff as YouTube “celebrities” loomed as the larger dinosaur-killing catastrophic threat.
We present as evidence a recent survey commissioned by Variety, the traditional film/TV industry’s legendary trade publication. It showed that as far as US teens 13-18 are concerned, the faces they watch on YouTube are more important and influential to them than Sheldon, Leonard & Penny.
No, those actors aren’t hurting (just renegotiated huge new per episode deals). But much of a star’s value is in their ability to sell stuff. And that’s where YouTube celebrities are shining, ranking sky high on traits like engaging, approachable, authentic, and relatable. They even hold their own in sex appeal vs. the glitterati. Their fans love that they aren’t handled by slick PR machines or marketing operatives. There’s realness and intimacy.
It used to be that YouTubers put out content hoping to get discovered by the networks & studios. Now, that could be the worst thing that could happen to them as it risks damaging the profitable relationships they’ve built with fans. The top earner, a Swedish gamer known as PewDiePie, has 23.9 million subscribers and 3.69 billion total views, earning him up to an estimated $8.47 million per year after Google’s 45% cut. Who needs Hollywood?
So what should we as brands tasked with using content to build audiences and relationships take from this seismic shift in entertainment sources?
1. Your brand is legendary? So what? Nobody owes you a thing. The Variety article points out it’s not that teens don’t know the big TV, movie and music stars, it’s that they fail to appeal to them like YouTube stars do. You’re building your audience from scratch, and on even footing. Act like it.
2. You’ve got to be a consistent, reliable presence. If your brand doesn’t have a “show,” you’re in trouble. Your one-off attempt at a viral video or your twice a year Prezi about your white papers is a neglectful, non-serious effort that will be rewarded as such.
3. You must be real. This runs counter to everything corporate communications was built to be. “Who can be the best fraud” is no longer the game. Nobody really believed you were perfect and flawless anyway.
4. You must be approachable/accessible. Again, corporate customer service and interaction has been historically constructed for one purpose, to avoid actual contact with customers. You can’t build intimacy and hide at the same time.
5. Communities get built around great content. Following a YouTube star alone isn’t nearly as much fun as having a tribe to discuss the star and their content with. If the content strikes a chord, fan bases coalesce and spread quickly. Think less about creating fans of your brand, and more (much, much more) about creating fans of your content.
Modern marketing and the technology to optimize social distribution & promotion are falling into place. But those capabilities will go completely wasted if brands can’t stop self-obsessing long enough to care about what kind of content will make them a star with their customers.