Editorial note: I’m writing about building cults on YouTube, and doing so with authority since I’m a marketing author who has been seen more than 200 million times on YouTube alone. More importantly, I’ve read The Secret, and I’ve placed my “order to the universe” that you’ll read this, share it, and refer to it as “brilliant.”
So I sat recently in a crowd of 500 people, and listened to an author speak about the similarities between cults and brands. Yeah it creeped me out a bit.
I had some moral problems with this, and involuntarily pictured the Kool Aid man running through Jonestown with Manson. I think I’ll avoid Photoshopping that, so do your own mental work.
Now before we use “cult” and “audience” in the same blog post, let’s be clear about connotations. Then back to how you can apply this to your relationship with viewers. We end with 10 steps on turning viewers into a cult army.
The word “cultivate” (which seems to have mostly positive connotations) originates from the Latin “cultīv” (care for). But according to Wikipedia (so you know it’s somewhat true), the concept of “cult” was introduced into sociological classification in 1932 by American sociologist Howard P. Becker as an expansion of German theologian Ernst Troeltsch‘s church-sect typology.
So let’s focus on the 1.0 connotation of “cult” here:
- Cult 1.0: Becker created four categories out of Troeltsch’s first two by splitting church into “ecclesia” and “denomination“, and sect into “sect” and “cult.”
- Cult 2.0: In the early 1970s, a secular opposition movement to “cult” groups had taken shape. The organizations that formed the secular “Anti-cult movement” (ACM) often acted on behalf of relatives of “cult” converts who did not believe their loved ones could have altered their lives so drastically by their own free will. In the mass media, and among average citizens, “cult” gained an increasingly negative connotation, becoming associated with things like kidnapping, brainwashing, psychological abuse, sexual abuseand other criminal activity, and mass suicide.
Now: Cult Marketing & YouTube Applied…
10 Easy Steps to Building a Cult on YouTube…
- The first step is to refer not to yourself, dear YouTube creator. Focus on the collective group. It’s not “I” and “me” it’s WE.
- Name your collective. The Vlog Brothers have Nerdfighters. Shaycarl has Shaytards. Olgakay has the Moosh Army. And Zack Scott has “my babies.” As Michael Buckley once told me, never refer to your audience as fans. They’re viewers, but not necessarily all of them qualify as “fans” just because they subscribed..
- Introduce an icon. A giant fist punching an eagle is a good place to start, but a monkey with shades shows commitment.
- Create a theme song. The music can be hypnotic, and will create a sense of belonging. For example, I have mysteryguitarman’s classic “Nalts/Waltz” theme, as well as “Nalts Makes a Video Every Time You Poop.”
- Distribute wardrobe. Start with t-shirts like Ray William Johnson’s =3 collection. Then step it up with “Moosh-shoes” or “Mythical Shoes” ala Rhett and Link. Finally, introduce something that allows a viewer to express extreme devotion. Try a Cult Snuggie (see video).
- Transform yourself. You can get a hair transplant, or disfigure yourself in other ways. Invite your devotees to follow suit.
- Tell people how to live. Make up rules of humanity and cultivate a sense of group “right” and “wrong.” Tell them how NOT to live, and find an enemy. Find examples of “rule breakers” outside the cult, and chastise them in the style of McCarthyism or Salem Witch Trials.
- Make them laugh. They’re much less likely to think for themselves if they’re laughing. It increases their vulnerability better than sleep deprivation and chocolate milk.
- Let your cult followers fight your battles. They’ll not just do the fighting for you, they’ll want to. It’s a reward for all of your effort and smarts.
- Go a little nutso. Stop shaving, and make 7 minute rants on YouTube. Put a pot on your head, insert fake teeth and call the suicide prevention hotline (see Mr. Pregnant). Next, reduce visibility. Vanish suddenly to create intrigue. It’s called “pulling a Mr. Safety.” Don’t worry- you’ll be back in the limelight soon. If you’re so inclined, you may wish to make a“Heaven’s Gate” video and let your peeps know how it’s going down in the after life.
Now they’re your stone-faced zombies, so feel free to encourage them to buy stuff, donate their life savings to you, or takeover a country. If things go sour, just hide in plain site. But put up 18-feet walls around you and don’t use the Internet. That may be difficult, but who said leading a cult is supposed to be easy?