The Bizarre Business of Youtube

Image; Flickr - Edd Sowden

Delving into the YouTube world is a bizarre experience; this infinite landscape of content is known to most people predominantly for its viral videos of kittens or overweight individuals on roller coasters. Yet it’s also fostering a not-so hidden world of mini-businesses in the form of personal channels, adding a whole new dimension to the 21st Century definition of Entrepreneurship. Disclaimer: it’s a little different from Alan Sugar’s.

Regular ‘content producers’, just like any start-up founder, need some sort of unique idea or expertise to fuel their channel’s conception. This can be anything from a background as a qualified make-up artist for a beauty channel, right through to a steadfast interest in plant-based superfood meals for a recipe ‘how-to’ series. Yet the most addictive (and fastest growing) sector of the YouTube community draws these video styles under one umbrella: ‘lifestyle vlogging’ can, in many cases, be especially lucrative. With these videos, the content matters, but less so than attaining the perfect combination of careful editing, apt background music, and a certain je-ne-sais-quoi. Here, the faces of the channels become brands in their own right. And a lot of the time, they’re female.

Once well-established, youtubers can host ‘meet and greets’, publish books or launch product lines, and regularly engage directly with their ‘fans’ via snapchat and twitter.

In this way, YouTube facilitates a new sort of entrepreneurship: making the self our best commercial asset, transforming the mundane parts of our day-to-day existence which had previously served only to fill the gaps between our more productive hours, into prime uploading material. Examples of this include: tidying and organising bedroom space to the dulcet tones of James Bay, microwaving some morning porridge (run through of mug, bowl and oats included), even demonstrating an entire ‘morning routine’, or pulling halter neck top after halter neck top from crisp Primark bags as part of a ‘clothing haul’. But, when this is done right, subscriber counts multiply at an astonishing rate.

And a channel’s success is dependent upon this happening, in a basic demonstration of supply and demand. Once well-established, youtubers can host ‘meet and greets’, publish books or launch product lines, and regularly engage directly with their ‘fans’ via snapchat and twitter. ‘Zoella’ is the poster girl for this sort of success. Even her grandfather’s Instagram account has racked up an impressive following of almost 100K. And in a bizarre sort of cyber-inception, this fame is enticing to big companies. Attracted by the youtubers’ influence, and just how quickly marketing messages fall on subscribers’ impatient ears, many brands offer sponsorship for their products to find their way into ‘Monthly Favourites’ videos, which can showcase everything from the latest eyeshadow primer (I didn’t know it was a thing, either), right through to the newest boutique brand of peppermint tea or vegan brownie.

The newest idea of ‘success’ for young girls seemingly pertains to an enviable collection of professional makeup brushes, eyeshadows in shades with names too long to remember, a carefully sculpted (and probably vegan) daily meal plan

It’s a new sort of celebrity that’s perhaps even scarier than the last. Why? Because it’s alluringly accessible, and easy to emulate. The newest idea of ‘success’ for young girls seemingly pertains to an enviable collection of professional makeup brushes, eyeshadows in shades with names too long to remember, a carefully sculpted (and probably vegan) daily meal plan…and where’s the next generation headed if the budding Karren Bradys are all too busy relentlessly pursuing internet stardom, and financial success via the internet, to focus on anything else?

We’re all told over and over that too much time spent on social media is making us depressed, insecure, and isolated; too convinced and intimidated by everyone else’s’ perfectly constructed (and probably very false) universes to focus on our own. But there’s something distinct about YouTube’s influence in commercial terms that sets it apart from other social media platforms: it is potentially changing the ambition and priorities of employees-to-be. Alfie Deyes, Zoella’s youtube-famous boyfriend, known also for his ‘Pointless Blog’ merchandise, recently tweeted some advice to his 3.12 million followers: ‘Don’t work 8 hours for a company and come home and not work on your own goals’. And there’s something unsettling about this message: where’s the future really headed if collective ambition, or a drive to work as part of something bigger than ourselves, makes you a bit of a fraud? Are the next generation destined to favour goals exclusively related, instead, to themselves?

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