Notable 2018 Behavioral Trends on YouTube

Going back to basics, searching for inspiration, looking for connection

Watch time of YouTube videos related to “relaxing” increased by more than 70 percent between July 2017 and June 2018
PhotoBylove/iStock

People watch more than 1 billion hours of video on YouTube every day and generate billions of views. While that sheer volume creates a lot of noise, when you look a little closer, patterns start to emerge—patterns that reveal a lot about viewer behavior.

Here are three of the most interesting ones that we saw play out on YouTube in 2018.

Going back to basics

Modern life can be hectic. In fact, according to the American Psychological Association, three out of four Americans say they’ve experienced at least one stress symptom in the past month.

It’s not surprising, then, that people are looking for ways to decompress, unwind and simplify their lives. But what is surprising is that they’re turning to technology to do that.

On YouTube, watch time of videos related to “relaxing” increased by more than 70 percent between July 2017 and June 2018.

Google Data, U.S., July 2017 through June 2018

We’ve seen this desire for simplicity play out in really interesting ways on YouTube this past year. For example, in 2018, subscriptions and viewership of “van life” channels and videos—which document people’s attempts to create alternative, minimalist lifestyles—reached an all-time high. Primitive technology and survival videos also hit an all-time high this past summer, with millions of viewers tuning in to learn how to do things like build a clean water-filter system in the wild or catch fish.

What should brands take away from this? We’ve been hearing for a while that a new generation of consumers is valuing experiences over possessions. The savviest of marketers are adapting to that shift, selling lifestyles rather than just products. For example, Ikea’s Home Tour Makeovers YouTube series shows how to transform a cluttered bedroom into a relaxing sanctuary.

Searching for inspiration

With so many options out there, people can feel overwhelmed. Increasingly, they’re turning to YouTube to look for advice and help narrow down their choices. For example, watch time for YouTube videos on “which product to buy” have doubled this past year.

The type of content these curious consumers have been seeking out is broad—everything from beauty to travel. For example, watch time for “morning routine” videos, where a YouTuber talks viewers through the makeup and skin care products they use, has more than tripled in the past two years. And this year, views of travel-related videos increased 41 percent in August and September 2018 compared with 2017.

Google/Magid Advisors, U.S., “The Role of Digital Video in People’s Lives,” n=2,000, 18–64 general online population, July 2018

Many viewers are gravitating toward YouTube influencers to provide them with inspiration, but that doesn’t mean brands can’t get involved. In fact, 70 percent of shoppers say they’re also open to learning about products on YouTube from brands.

Looking for connection

We’ve all seen people with their heads buried in their phones, oblivious to the world around them. But many online video viewers are actually looking for a social experience and want to interact with others. For example, seven out of 10 Generation Zers say watching videos with others helps them feel more connected.

Google/Ipsos Connect, U.S., Generation Z Media & Values study, n=1,000 people age 13–17, May 2018

That’s a video behavior we’ve seen on YouTube throughout 2018. This past year, there has been a plethora of videos that encourage viewers to do something—study, clean, read—at the same time as a YouTuber and other followers. For example, this year’s BookTubeAThon—an annual, weeklong readathon that brings together the international BookTube community—had 40 percent more views than in 2017.

Brands have also been getting in on the action. For example, Kate Spade created a YouTube series, Talking Shop, where fans can follow along as store associates reveal new products, share style tips and even answer viewer questions.

As Kate Spade chief marketing officer Mary Beech wrote, “It feels less like marketing and more like a conversation that customers actually look forward to having with us.”

Gina Shalavi is a content marketing manager at Google-owned video site YouTube.