YouTuber: Career or Fad?

by Darla Van Govan

Note from Sy: We're lucky to be running our first guest post by one of our interns Darla Van Govan. Enjoy! Be sure to follow her at @IO_Psych101 

The Rise of YouTubers

Over the last 12 years, YouTube has become a daily destination for content. Since its inception in 2005, YouTube has transitioned from a video sharing platform to a content creating space. There has been an influx of individuals creating content on YouTube in recent years. Many of these individuals do it as weekend entertainment or as a secondary source of income. However, there has been a growing population of individuals who become full-time YouTubers. With the incorporation of AdSense and third party sponsorships, it has become possible to make a modest income. These individuals leave their more traditional occupations to devote time to their YouTube channels. Their goal in becoming full-time YouTubers is to grow their channel and their influence on other social media platforms, including Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat.

In recent years, advancements in technology and science have created demands for jobs that did not exist a few decades ago. It can be said that being a YouTuber is one of the newer career choices available to individuals, particularly millennials. However, since it is a relatively new platform, it is often debated whether if being a YouTuber can even be a viable long-term career choice. This question has a complex answer that is both yes and no.  

There is a perception that being on YouTube is not a job, that it does not require or develop any useful skills typically found in “normal” jobs. A common complaint is that the typical YouTuber stays home all day, sits in front of the camera to talk about a topic (or themselves) or to demonstrate something. This is not the case at all.

Careful consideration must be taken with how a YouTuber is labeled. It is important to acknowledge that “YouTuber” is not a job title. For example, engineers at Google do not call themselves Googlers. Chemists at L’Oreal do not call themselves L’Orealers. Similarly, a YouTuber is not simply a YouTuber. This is extremely limiting and does not communicate YouTubers’ varied skills. Rather, it is more accurate to call them content creators. YouTube is a not a career or a job title, it is a platform for content creation.

 

Myth 1: Anyone Can Do YouTube

Content creators on YouTube have skills rooted in multiple disciplines. Three things are required for a successful YouTube channel: personality, niche content, and quality control. That is not to argue that having these three things will guarantee an aspiring Youtuber fame and fortune. It is unwise to make such promises. However, they are three important ingredients to success as a content creator on YouTube.

  • ·      Personality: This is a no brainer. An interesting and engaging personality will attract more views and subscribers. Everyone has a favorite YouTuber or two. We watch these favorites religiously. We watch them because we like them as a person and we like the content that they produce. The biggest and the most popular YouTubers are ones with recognizable personalities - PewDiePie, JennaMarbles, iJustine, Phillip DeFranco, and KSI to name a few. An opinionated personality makes a YouTuber easy to connect with; it makes them more than a face on a computer screen.      

  • ·         Niche Content: No doubt there are strong communities,, even industries in the YouTube space. A quick search on YouTube and you can easily find the heavy hitters in the Beauty Guru community and the experts in the Tech community. Other genres include Gaming, Lifestyle, and Pranks/Comedy. Having a defined channel ensures that the target audience is reached. It also makes it possible to network and collaborate with other YouTubers within the same genre. It also gives the YouTubers the ability to build camaraderie among the subscribers. Building a community with viewers is extremely vital to creating a loyal fanbase. Some fans are devoted enough to claim that they know their favorite YouTubers better than friends and family. Some even claim their favorite YouTubers are major influencers in their lives.

  • ·         Quality Control: It takes both time and money to create professional-level quality videos on YouTube. Many YouTubers invest in high-end microphone and camera set-ups as their viewership increases. There is also the need to learn how to use professional-grade editing software. Some of the larger channels, such as Unbox Therapy, even invest in separate filming studios. As many of these content creators rely on YouTube as either a primary or secondary source of income, producing quality content is regarded as extremely important.       

 

The purpose here is not to dissuade future aspirants from pursuing YouTube. It is imperative to remember that becoming a YouTuber in the comforts of one’s own home is not a get rich quick scheme. It requires unwavering dedication, time, and even money to truly have a chance at becoming successful on the platform. Those who start Youtube channels with the intention of becoming the next PewDiePie or IISuperwomanII will find themselves burnt out and discouraged when they realize their growth is not moving as quickly as they had hoped.   

 

Myth 2: I Can Do YouTube Forever

YouTubers can make an income, even at small amounts, from uploading videos to YouTube. But is it a career? Or even a job? Not quite so. The relationship between YouTubers and YouTube is not equal. Content creators are not employees of YouTube or Google. YouTube, in the end, does not owe content creators anything. There is no salary; there is no employer-employee contract vetted by a HR professional. The income YouTubers make is dependant on ad revenue and sponsorships, not a wage determined by YouTube. Rather than an employee, content creators are users of a service. That is all.  

This unilateral relationship was apparent in the recent YouTube policy changes termed “Adpocalypse” by many Youtubers. This began when the Wall Street Journal targeted PewDiePie after couple videos were deemed controversial. They ran with a sensational “PewDiePie is a Nazi” story. Further investigations led to the discovery that there are more controversial content on YouTube with ads enabled. This instigated a massive exodus of YouTube advertisers.

Another incident was when YouTube tried to be more transparent with their ad revenue policies. The new policy stated that if videos are demonetized by YouTube from that point onward, the content creators would be notified. This, of course, meant that prior to this new transparency policy, YouTube did not notify content creators when videos were demonetized. How ironic!  

This, as one can imagine, caused a ripple throughout the entire YouTube community as many well-known YouTubers’ earnings have dwindled; some by 60-80%. Many content creators have looked far and wide for other sources of income. These include Patreon and other donation set-ups, merchandise stores, moving onto other platforms or creating their own, and seeking sponsorships. A handful have already decided to leave content creation permanently. The moral of these recent events show that YouTubers may not always be able to stay YouTubers full-time. YouTube may not always exist as a viable source of income.

Another concern is the longevity of being a YouTube content creator. Using the trajectory of an educator’s career as an example, we can map out roughly the career path, from a student teacher to associate teacher to senior teacher. Some may enter the administrative side by becoming principals, joining school district administrations, or even, ahem, vying for the position of Secretary of Education. The changes in roles and responsibilities keep things relatively fresh over the course of a career. Variety is the spice of life. The same can be said about work life.

However, a YouTuber is always a YouTuber. The only way YouTubers can grow professionally is by finding new opportunities - which may not be readily available to a beginner YouTuber - and creating a variety of content. Making videos may get monotonous over time. Switching niches may be risky. A tech expert who wants to suddenly make videos about the vegan lifestyle may alienate a portion of their viewership. A career as a YouTube content creator can be inflexible as they are locked inside a bubble. This has been seen many times with content creators from BuzzFeed. In the last couple years, many BuzzFeed content creators have gone rogue in order to create their own unaffiliated content. However, their new content is similar to their BuzzFeed portfolio. Being known for one style of content or for a specific niche effectively typecasts content creators into that bubble.         

 

Myth 3: #YouTubeIsDying

Given what is discussed above, it may come across as a surprise that the Twitter hashtag is presented as a myth. Being an industrial-organizational psychologist is not just about identifying problems, it is also about figuring how to address them. Creating content for YouTube is not entirely a waste of time, especially for the younger individuals who are still identifying personal strengths and weaknesses. YouTubers develop skills that are relevant to and are valued in other careers. YouTubers are masters of content creation. This particular set of skills is valued in the digital marketing and branding spaces, for example. Another skill everyone must develop is verbal communication, regardless of industry. Learning to use editing software or a new piece of equipment can be accomplished over time. However, verbal communication is the first skill YouTubers need to master.

Soft skills should also be acknowledged. This includes time management, ability to be a self-starter, and manage a project or product development from start to finish. These skills are extremely needed in a variety of jobs. YouTube can be used to learn skills which are useful outside the video sharing platform. If YouTube does cease to exist one day, with careful personal re-branding and portfolio building, a YouTuber could easily find a job that fit their content creation skills.       

 

The Future of Youtube

What it means to be a YouTuber has already begun to see a transformation. In its humble beginnings, YouTube was used to share content for entertainment. Then it progressed into an income generating platform for content creators. Many YouTubers consider producing content a full-time occupation. Now, society is experiencing the age of influencers, which is a new tactic employed by marketing teams.    

Many YouTubers are already involved in large scale marketing campaigns. More and more YouTubers are becoming “Influencers.” Impacted by their internet celebritydom, YouTubers and other individuals with large social media followings are often targeted as brand and marketing tools. In the beauty industry,  there are many makeup, skin- and hair-care brands who are exclusively YouTube or Instagram-famous. One such brand famously known for YouTube affiliates is Morphe. Among the non-niche content creators, sponsorships, such as those from Crunchroll, LootCrate, SquareSpace, and GlassesUSA, are commonplace. In a political twist, Hillary Clinton sought out endorsements from influential YouTubers during the campaign trail. This does not mean that YouTubers are no longer trustworthy in their opinions and in their content. Most of them continue to create trustworthy content that are enjoyable. This only reveals a growing trend in how online marketing is achieved today.

     So what is the “TL;DR” short answer to the question of whether if YouTubing is a viable career choice? Being a content creator on a video-sharing platform is not a lifelong career move. There is no guarantee that income generating, video-sharing platforms will still be present in 15-20, or even 30 years. However, the skills one develops as a content creator may open up opportunities elsewhere.

One such opportunist is Michelle Phan, one of the original beauty gurus on YouTube. Once she gained large enough of a following, she was able to pursue business ventures. On a smaller scale, other beauty gurus often collaborate in makeup collections with established brands. Philip DeFranco, who creates daily news show content, is in the process of establishing his own independent news network. Casey Neistat, another well known giant on YouTube, controversially sells his company to CNN for $25 million. Neistat’s fans now joke that CNN now stands for Casey Neistat Network.   

All of these examples show that even now, YouTubers are smartly reaching for opportunities that go beyond making videos on YouTube. They acknowledge that in order to survive with a social media-driven career, they must become entrepreneurs and create opportunities for themselves, just as the Kardashians famously (or infamously, depending on your views) did in their rise to fame. Just as how Kylie Jenner is now on her way to $1 billion from her cosmetics line.