This is a thought post, no content warnings necessary, though if you feel I should add one let me know!
So my first ever post was about myself as a potential YouTube star. Now I want to talk about YouTube stars (and YouTube) in general.
If I were to ever conduct some kind of anthropological study I would probably see if I could get away with studying YouTube.
YouTube and it’s community is utterly fascinating to think about. Here we have hundreds of thousands of people posting content every day and millions of viewers watching said content. We have vloggers, make-up artists, musicians, craftsfolk, comedians, let’s players and so forth. But I think what strikes YouTube as unique in humanity’s history of media consumption is how it operates and who operates within it.
I believe the main reason why it’s striking is because many of us are quick to compare it to the other big form of motion picture media, television. But television has what I’m going to call a top down social approach. People are chosen to be put on TV, and depending on the circumstances, getting the attention required to be on television is extremely hard.
But YouTube? YouTube is generally more of a bottom up approach. You post content online and if you happen to become popular enough you can get attention from people higher up on the social/corporate ladder (YouTube/Google), further bolstering your opportunities in the world and giving you reasonable income from making videos. Obviously YouTube is not completely bottom up (I don’t think such things exist honestly). If you’re a big musician or comedian already you’re essentially guaranteed exposure on the website and your original content will be the first to show up on searches (as opposed to uploads of said content, or related to the content). If you’re popular you’re also guaranteed good search slots, pushing down lesser known folk and making it harder for them to become well known. Something many people, including some of the YouTube stars themselves, have pointed out and critiqued.
But there’s more to YouTube than just worth and profit. As someone who frequently watches YouTube videos I can see there’s a very unique social interaction between people who are bottom up independents and their subscribers.
Let’s take the let’s play channel Jacksepticeye. Jack (or Sean) is a charismatic Irishman. He’s close with several other big let’s players on YouTube such as Markiplier and PewDiePie (who both bolster subscriber numbers far above his own). Which is already something interesting and unique to think about. YouTube being able to connect users with similar content, enabling collaborations and friendships alike between people who would’ve never otherwise crossed paths.
Anyways, Jack doesn’t just sit and make let’s play videos. He does vlogs as well, and he talks a lot about how he feels about his fanbase. Jack often thanks his subscribers, speaks about how much he feels his fans give to him. Jack looks directly at the camera a lot and as a seasoned let’s player has mastered the art of treating the camera (and thus the viewer) like a good friend.
Jack isn’t alone, many people who are bottom ups do the same thing. There’s a layer of interaction and connection that is extremely unique and strangely personal. A kind of connection that is very, very different from television. One that not only very pointedly acknowledges the audience, but also engages them. Jack has a series where he just reads and responds to actual comments. He frequently addresses concerns and rumors in the fanbase. The fanbase actively gives to him, and he actively gives back.
You wanna know my honest thoughts here? I think that connection is one of the big keys to becoming a well known YouTuber. The ability to treat your audience as friends, to make the audience feel safe, welcome, and good. Taking the time to address them directly by reading their comments or talking about what they’ve been talking about. That is what makes a YouTube star stand out, plus their talents of course.
On a final somewhat random note I do want to say I think if YouTube should be compared to any media form it would be radio. Why? Well, radio is less bottom up than YouTube, but it’s certainly more-so than television. With the right equipment and money one could easily get on the air. Depending on the kind of show and personality many people managed to foster more personal feeling connections through radio. The most well known example I can think of is Franklin Roosevelt’s Fireside Chats. Where the president of the time sat down and made an address to Americans across the nation, and many said it made them feel very safe and conned to their president. But perhaps folks can think of better, more modern examples.