On the anniversary of America’s Declaration of Independence from England, it’s a fitting time to ask a question about the relationship between YouTube “independent” stars and their country called YouTube. Are we an independent lot? Certainly… we create our own content without taxes or oppression. In fact we have just two “laws” that are, in fact, not imposed by YouTube but enforced by Google. “Though shall not steal” (copyrighted content that can get us and YouTube sued), and “Though shall not be too edgy,” (lest viewers and advertisers object).
But are we truly independent? No. We depend on the site not just for its platform but for its generous promotion of our content. I give you exhibit A: a visual chart that shows that the vast majority of my now approximately 300K daily views come not from a bunch of loyal subscribers but from YouTube’s promotion of my videos in the form of “spotlights” and “related videos.” While I’m independent to create content, I’m indisputably reliant on the San Bruno company to maintain an audience.
The blue area below represents the percent of my recent views that come from “related videos,” meaning the viewer discovered by video by either watching one of my most-viewed videos or a video that is similar to my own. Watch “Farting in Public” and you’ll find thumbnails of my own videos surrounding and following it. Watch a few cute cat videos, and you’ll invariably find my “I Are Cute Kitten,” which has been seen 30 million times.
Are my views coming from subscribers or search? Only a tiny percent. Most of my video views are thanks to YouTube’s algorithm. It rewards me for a) creating videos with consistency, b) making videos people watch and engage with, and c) having a library of top videos (the 5-10 that represent the majority of views).
So will YouTube lose audiences to an alternative site? If Facebook began sharing ad-revenue with creators, would they make an exodus like “The Great MySpace-to-Facebook Migration.” Unlikely… because YouTube rewards its content creators in terms of ad sharing, rotation, education and community. Furthermore, YouTube/Google has critical mass on video viewing, and a better capability to ensure advertisers get what they want.
So as an independent artist, how loyal am I to YouTube? More than you think. I initially “bit the hand that fed me” (by prank calling YouTube, sending its founders anchovy pizza (the nastiest kind), and mocking Google’s purchase of YouTube. I still taunt YouTube, but here are some examples of my own loyalty. In truth it’s only partially driven by my gratitude for views and my appreciation for some of its staffers. I’m also loyal because I see YouTube as the gracious host to a party, and I really like the people at the party.
Click “more” to read about my loyalty in action. Is it financially driven, or because of my appreciation of fellow YouTubers and staff members? I’m sure it’s both in varying degrees.
- Helping Noobs: I frequently speak to new YouTube partners at my own expense, traveling to NYC and California. I spoke at YouTube’s NYC HQ to the elite YouTube NextUp crowd (see YouTube Partner Advice on Slideshare.net). I returned a few weeks ago to speak to a larger audience of YouTube partners, and I’m hoping to address YouTube Partners in Chicago on July 7.
- Staying Put: I have been asked numerous times to move my content and audience off YouTube, and was offered significant guaranteed monthly income for doing it. I resisted, but was it loyalty? No it was because I knew (from my experience trying to migrate traffic to CubeBreak) that audiences are not portable. I also wanted no ceiling to my income, and I’ve since gone 10x higher than that “significant guaranteed monthly income.” While others were flocking to LiveVideo and other video-sharing sites, I stayed focused on YouTube.
- Almost Never Saying No: When YouTube peeps call me with a request, I almost never say no. Again I’m not sure that has as much to do with loyalty to YouTube as loyalty to the people themselves.
So will we stray for other social-media channels? I see them as complements to YouTube, and try to direct people from Facebook and Twitter to my videos. How about other video-sharing sites, like blip.tv, which has begun to showcase popular YouTubers? I used to post via TubeMogul to dozens of video-sharing websites, but have frankly fatigued of that extra step… and I felt that if I was going to post on a video site (from Blip.tv to Yahoo Video) I should actually devote myself to it. But given a scarcity of time, an hour spent on YouTube is better than five hours doing audience development on other sites.
Am I naive? Perhaps. But the loyalty has served me to date, and I can look at myself in the mirror without thinking I made a short-sighted or unethical move in the interest of a quick win. Remember- it’s not a sprint it’s a marathon.