HOW INDEPENDENT WEB CONTENT PRODUCERS ARE BECOMING WINNERS IN THEIR OWN RIGHT
A plethora of YouTube personalities, a generous helping of viral video stars and even a nod to the ice bucket challenge craze that swept the world. These were the key ingredients to YouTube’s 2014 recap video and boy does it just go to show how much our digital landscape has changed since the video sharing platform’s conception. The terms Blogger, Vlogger and Youtuber have become well-known terms in the English language — and in the last few years they’ve even become job descriptions. As these new era success stories make their way out of the world wide interweb and into the real world they’ve faced their fair share of backlash and an onslaught of those woodwork gremlins known as haters. Here’s why I think they’ve not only earnt their place in terms of success, but why we should recognise and celebrate their talent.
These success stories are now aplenty and not just in terms of online metrics such as views and subscribers — but arguably in terms of financial and influential success visible in the ‘real world’. Popular YouTube beauty and fashion star Zoella (6.7 million YouTube subscribers) managed to secure a book deal, with the publication ‘Girl Online’ becoming the fastest selling UK hardback of 2014 as well as having the highest first week sales of a debut author EVER. Across the pond hilarious YouTube personality JennaMarbles (14 million YouTube subscribers) regularly draws crowds in the hundreds of thousands for her appearances and was celebrated as Viral Superstar of the year at the 2014 Young Hollywood Awards. Beauty guru Michelle Phan (7 million YouTube subscribers) managed to secure a deal with L’Oreal to produce her own make up line titled ‘Em’. You get where I’m going with this — what may have started out for many as filming themselves talking about something they’re passionate about has developed into a fruitful career in terms of real world metrics. I’m talking metrics visible to people who aren’t familiar with the online community.
So what’s the problem? Take a look at the comments page of any popular YouTube personality’s video — you’ll see a barrage of hate comments about how they are being sponsored or they don’t necessarily deserve their ‘easy’ success. Some viewers are in an uproar about the element of mistrust that is attached to sponsored content. As Gary Vaynerchuck states in his recent #Vaynerworld talk, YouTube isn’t a social network, it’s a content sharing platform. In many ways it has a sense of community and trust amongst the users to provide original and truthful content to their loyal subscribers. The rise of sponsored content and seemingly ‘easy fame’ has in many cases scarred that trust and injected a business element into what was once a community where people would go to share views and ideas.
One prominent example is how YouTuber Zoella faced backlash for her new publication ‘Girl Online’ for being ghost written. It’s strange to think that the scores of conventional celebrities who have ghostwritten their autobiographies haven’t faced the same issue. It’s even stranger to think that once upon a time, traditional ways of finding success were frowned upon until they were eventually accepted. People are still afraid of what they don’t understand. The way the world works is constantly changing — you’d have thought we’d be used to it by now.
It’s important to note that these loyal fan bases have by no means appeared overnight, they’ve been carefully crafted over years. A talented few have learnt how to communicate their passion in a way that draws in millions of viewers and readers. This phenomenon can also be explained quite largely by the brands and agencies that have recognised these key influencers and the impact they can have on their businesses. This is by no means only the case for the YouTube platform; marketing strategy is now being tailored around bloggers and other original content producers. As the popular phrase goes, content is still king, and those that can produce it well are truly becoming winners in their own right.
So put away those pitchforks and disband that angry mob! It was once the case that if you had a talent to share you had to be seen by the right people or have the right connections. Now you don’t have to tank at a hundred comedy clubs before becoming a successful comedian. You don’t have to struggle as an unpaid fashion intern to have make any impact in the fashion world. Anyone with an internet connection and reasonably good editing software can post content on YouTube. Anyone can create a slick looking blog post in minutes using platforms such as Medium.com. Anyone with a passion and a little web know-how can create an original blog providing value to readers.
The fact is that the internet gives us easy access to a huge audience — it evens out the once mountainous landscape giving many people a chance to not only get noticed but to succeed for their talent. The traditional paths to success are being challenged. The ways that talent is sourced is changing. Instead of sitting around shaking our heads at the phenomenon that is the rise of web celebrity, we should be embracing the opportunity and communicating what we are passionate about. We should be using all of the tools at our disposable to get our message out there, whatever it may be.