Do YOU Have What It Takes to Become (and Stay) a YouTube Star?

I’ve written plenty about how to become a YouTube star (see free eBook v2 and “Beyond Viral“), but today’s post is the first of a series about the persistence of some top YouTube talent. It’s one thing to break through the clutter and develop a following, but quite another thing to maintain it… the latter takes consistency, adaptability, time, ability to spot trends, endurance, patience, loads of work, and thick skin.

You don't become a top YouTube star for talent and charisma alone. And you don't stay there long without some mysterious skills and character. So what's the common thread?

Yesterday I sent a note to about 20 top YouTube stars… focusing mostly on the independent acts who didn’t have a large fan base until YouTube (that excluded offline “real” stars, musicians, and production companies). If you’re interested in my e-mail to them, select “more” below.

The key question I asked them is simply, “what keeps you going.”

Now I’d like to share 3 of the early responses (part 1 of a series), and ask you WillVideoForFood readers the same question in a different way. What do YOU think separates the leading YouTube creators from the rest of us? Is it talent, consistency, interaction with fan base, variety, adaptability, omni-presence? Or is the underlying currency, as Producer Fred Seibert observed to me, “narcissism”? I don’t think Fred meant that word to carry the negative baggage, rather he presented it as a base characteristic of enduring entertainers… it’s what allows them to overcome the many barriers and exert uncompromising effort.

Thanks to Brittani, Rhett and Charles for giving us some insights into how passion, teamwork and community serve them. Stay tuned for more from WheezyWaiter, Michael Buckley, VenetianPrincess, Hank Green, KipKay, Edbassmaster, and others. Their responses may surprise you!

1) BrittaniLouiseTaylor: Passion

“What keeps me going?  Simple, passion!! I am an actress, and I get to cast myself and play whatever role I want.  My creativity is not dependent on knowing the right person, being at the right place at the right time, I am in control of my destiny. You have to stay positive and keep the passion that you had when you first started making videos.  Being on Youtube is like being in a relationship, you have to put work into maintaining it and keeping your interest. You hit patches where you are like “Uhhhh what video should I do next.”  Most of the time I have some crazy idea, but if I have to do something last minute because I have had a busy week, I do it last minute.  I am determined to have a new video every Saturday and Sunday, if it means me staying up all night that is what I’ll do! Numbers shouldn’t matter, Youtube is always changing and things will go up and down.  You have to do it foryou.  At the end of the day, did you like the video?  Are you happy with it?  That is all that matters!


2) RhettandLink: Power of Two

RhettAndLink's Rhett were determined to support themselves from their passion, and attribute their persistence, in part, to the partnership
Thanks for asking! I think the reason is three-fold, and in no particular order.  The first reason is that once web video became our primary source of income (and I’m talking almost ALL of our income from 2007-2010), we developed a business model based on fairly consistent content.  So our time and energy were all focused on making videos.

The second reason is that we keep having new ideas.  We keep coming up with stuff that we want to create.  A related reason is that our success isn’t based on one genre.  We’ve tried a lot, and a fair amount has worked. The last reason is the fact that there are two of us. We are much less likely to quit because we can motivate one another. Thanks! -Rhett

3) CharlesTrippy: Community

Hey man!! Hows it going on your end?! Ive been watching your unclenalts videos and I am like “dude, when did the kids get so old!!” insane! (your fam is the original tards! haha). What keeps me going? Yah, you kind of nailed it with your points but I think there are a few reasons that keep me motivated.

I’d say the community plays a HUGE part – just when I get discouraged or frustrated I go back and read the comments and it seems to pop me back in place, you know? I also think about the future and I love the fact that i’ll have these videos/days documented. We’ve been lucky enough to pretty much film Alli and I’s entire relationship (we started like 5 monthsor less after dating) so to have that means a lot to us. Also, I don’t want to say it’s really motivation but the fact that Youtube/Google pays it’s creators keeps me motivated because I can invest all of my time in it and still make a life for myself and my family 🙂 Don’t get me wrong, it’s not easy I know you posted daily (sometimes twice) for a very long time so I know you can relate. I think above all the community is the #1 source of encouragement and motivation for me…. -Charles Trippy

CharlesTrippy had a large following, and grew it to a new level when he joined his fiance Alli in the daily "Internet Killed TV" series

Coming soon: Responses I’ve already received from YouTube’s most-subscribed: WheezyWaiter, Michael Buckley, VenetianPrincess, Hank Green, KipKay, Edbassmaster.

To see my note to these peeps, click more. And don’t forget to comment yourself: what do YOU think it takes?

My letter to the peeps: Dear X- (I began most notes with a reference to a recent video so they’d realize I wasn’t just slapping them with spam)….I know you get loads of e-mail, but I hope you might take 3 minutes to answer a simple question. What keeps you going?

Unlike me, in the marathon of YouTube you’re one of the Nigerian runners that continue to outpace other creators. I find this personally interesting, and something that might help other amateurs determine if they “have what it takes.”

I’m asking you this to inform a 5/12 blog post (willvideoforfood) and maybe a video on the subject of webstars and persistence. After you’re done answering (but not before) you may wish to read my own theories on the opposite… “what’s NOT kept me going.”

My own theories on why I’ve dropped:
-I started for fun, and when it became a significant income source I lost site of that.
-The community feedback was motivating, but ultimately made me feel dependent on external validation in the forms of #s and praise.
-I liked being a big fish in a small pond, but now the medium is more competitive and the talent is better.
-I am too thin skinned to handle the persistent criticism.
-It became “all consuming,” and I needed to refocus on family/career.
-I ran out of ideas.
-My dip is a natural part of the evolution of the medium as more talented people surfaced.

Anyway, your answer may give me clues to what’s really happening. More importantly, I hope it will help the future (used their name here again) as they consider if they have what it takes.


15 Replies to “Do YOU Have What It Takes to Become (and Stay) a YouTube Star?”

  1. hey nalts guess what i want to be knowen as a big time channel promoter out there i do so much promoteing for youtubers out there & i have fun doing it even thoe i do skits and funny or radom stupid things as in funny but still but really i have what it takes to be a youtube star seriously ! bcause when someone comes home has a bad day its me who i would like there eyes on just so they can smile and be like wow i like this guy he is promoteing my channel or my friends channel. and i change up what i do all the time i dont do the same thing over and over & when i dont have anything then my mind keeps on going good idea so to tell you the truth i never run out of ideas !! thanks for reading
    chris airwolf

  2. Interesting post Nalts, waiting for the rest of it.

    @Sukatra Straight to the point, well done.

  3. I’ve been watching the vlogasphere lately and there is this whole underground thing going on – course not one of these channel get the views of any of the guys above, but collectively, and doing the numbers… it’s quite large, and as a side note, the majority of the people who do these vlogs and watch them hate the people on the youtube front page – they see them as a dumbing down the masses and collectively refuse to click on the ads. Their chief complaint is lack of promotion by youtube.

    Now this or bitching about youtube content isn’t anything new, but they are a large group and it makes me wonder about the dirty little ad revenue secret.

    Youtube can spout its numbers of users, but if such a large group of people aren’t clicking on the ads…

    well, you do the math and the cajoling.

    I think Youtube/Google biggest fear should be if another video site (facebook?) came along and stole all the dumb and mundane on the front page and put it all on one site…

    In essence, youtube “stars” could collectively demand a lot more revenue – after all, it’s just business, nothing personal.

  4. Excellent post, Kevin. The narcissism part is what’s hardest for me. Creating videos about myself makes me nauseous, which is why I wish I had a partner to be “the face”. But I think the narcissism we see stems directly from the demand for quantity. There’s such pressure for weekly or even daily videos, many creators resort to simply making content about what they’re doing today (walking the dog, making a ham sandwich, etc.). For most creators, doing that would be a slow poisoning of their channel — but for the few who can do this and still make it entertaining… it’s a golden ticket.

  5. I think youtube is one of those things which is very hard to evaluate. At one point Smosh were the biggest youtubers and that was probably because they made funny videos which were of a good quality. Well though out scripts and all. Soon after, Fred and Nigahiga grew huge amount of followers.
    More recently RWJ has become a big powerhouse on youtube. His progression has been much quicker than anyone else’s. I think its so unpredictable what youtube audiences want or are looking for.

    I think its gonna be even harder to compete against these people who already have a huge following. But its not impossible. I think money is a huge factor creating content to make money will never get you anywhere. Creating content to get views probably won’t either.

    You’re still the coolest though.

    Nalts FTW

  6. Very interesting topic! Maybe you could interview another 20 people who went down in rankings due to inconsistency and see how their answers match with your own theories.

  7. The trick to getting big on YouTube is just posting videos and banging your head against a wall until you get views.

  8. Nalts,

    Thanks for the insightful research into the subject and the honest self analyzation. I have been working on a project that deals with the potential of YouTube and how it can be used to innovate the genera of web video. I am developing an interactive game that uses the YouTube mechanics to create a truly collaborative interactive narrative. The Project is called “The Viral Sockpuppets” please check it out when you get the chance and let me know what you think.

  9. That’s really cool that they messaged you back. But one key thing about the “YouTube Celeb”, they don;t think they are above anyone else and consider themselves as part of the community. They become part of the Audience & Community with Video Responses & Comments. You won’t find that anywhere else. Facebook is for mostly closest friends & Family. YouTube is about Global Community where strangers all commune.

    Hey Blight Productions, so no real SockPuppets? They are “Sock Accounts”, not really SockPUPPETS. LOL I am a SockPuppet.

    It get’s me down a bit the predicament that I am in. Not about the fame, but the Audience that I was growing. That was the benefit of the Partnership. It was such a thrill to see it grow and how many people’s lives that I was touching, entertaining and uplifting. I was so ready for more and stepping it up. I “Keep on YouTubin!”, but it is not the same. My Partnership was an Honor and I was inspired by you, nalts, and most of the Top Tubers.

    I think when the issue happened, They also cut off or limited my exposure. I went from thousands of views to double digits. THAT just seemed wrong. not getting out to subscriptions.

    I mean how could I go Whale Watching and not care about those watching me film myself. Oh WAit! That’s not out yet! I’ve even gone to gatherings.

  10. Interesting article Nalts- I think Rhett is right, having to be responsible to another person or having someone else to bounce ideas off or pick you up when you are down is helpful. (and Link seems to be such the optomist!) I know there are tons of great channels with great talent that don’t get the views- and then some dumb channel gets tons of views and subbies because they spam all day and night.
    I think for the big tubers the passion drives them, and I think you are right about the narcissism- you kinda have to think you are the shiz or noone else will.
    That being said ya gotta put the time into it- I have a young fam. right now, so am just making vids about going to a mother’s day tea for my daughters preschool etc. but try to make it fun and exciting (learning how to edit is key for that too which I am trying to learn)I can’t do daily vids without neglecting them- so it is a balance. I would like to be doing more vids with general scripts, or original funny songs etc…but they take longer so I just do what I can when I can.
    Oh to be young, single and have all the time in the world for vids lol! I wouldn’t trade it though because raising good kids is far more impt than pleasing a crowd ..maybe when the kids are in school I’ll rock it! lol:) Love you and your fam. Take care and tell Joey hi
    -Keek Narwhal 🙂

  11. I’ve tried it all – I was most successful when I just put up what I truly liked doing. I think the key is you have to truly enjoy it – be aware of trends but don’t always chase them. Also, the more you can do on your own, even filming, the more prolific you can be. Enthusiasm is key! 😀

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