We’re living in the era of digital video.
“If you’re not making online video, you’re missing out” is a widely accepted platitude across the board today. People on both sides of the digital divide agree that video is the way to go.
Last year was the biggest yet for online content globally, and it’s safe to say that the digital pie continues to expand at an unprecedented rate. YouTube, Netflix, Instagram, Hulu, Spotify: Every platform has doubled its efforts to attract the best creative talent. We’re seeing the biggest brands—from Rihanna to the NBA—leverage the reach of digital with content that feels authentic and exciting, which are both hallmarks of online video.
When Elle Mills, a 19-year-old YouTube comedian/vlogger, broke her silence on struggling with public expectations and what it means to grow up on the internet, she opened a floodgate of creator voices sharing their experiences of creative burnout and surviving to tell the tale. But how do you build a long-term, digital content business when the rules of the game are constantly changing?
As expected, there are no simple answers nor one definitive formula for success, but here’s something to help you get started. So, in true YouTube fashion, let’s jump into it.
Consistency is the key to make anything stick, and content stickiness is rewarded by algorithms above all. While sticking to a schedule is one piece of the puzzle, it takes a lot more to consistently deliver on your value proposition.
Rhett and Link, creators of Good Mythical Morning, a talk show in its 15th season on YouTube, have taken consistency to the next level. Their 15 million subscribers are assured a 12-15 minute video every weekday, filled with camaraderie and their deliciously dry brand of humor.
“Be you. Be authentic” is the rallying call of online content creation. Digital video has shattered the fourth wall, creating a more real relationship between creators and their audience. When we start from a place of passion, a real belief in our ideas vis-à-vis what market research or competitive analysis tells us, it translates authentically on screen.
Jenna Marbles is among the few original creators who continues to grow on YouTube a decade later. Her audience of almost 20 million is glued to her eclectic personality and her unapologetic love for all things weird. It’s all so distinctly her.
Nerdfighters, Mythical Beasts and Beard Lovers are just a few of the many incredible, online communities created and nurtured by standout creators.
In his book Primal Branding, Patrick Hanlon speaks about the idea of finding and building your “creed.” A creator’s community is his or her creed. It’s the most engaged group of viewers, who rally behind a creator and are integral to his or her evolution. Nerdfighteria, a community built by John and Hank Green, the creators of Crash Course, VlogBrothers, SciShow and many more, has raised millions of dollars for charities such as Partners in Health and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, showing the endless possibility of doing good.
The one thing all creators agree on is the constantly changing nature of the business. Algorithm tweaks, changing platforms and evolving audience expectations have resulted in transforming the shape of online content.
Shane Dawson made taste tests, conspiracy videos, challenges and every video you can think of before finally landing on his most successful format: long-form documentary pieces that use tropes of investigative journalism with a penchant for the dramatic. We’ve seen this time and again; there’s no linear path to digital success.
Finding your niche
From its inception, the internet has been a fertile ground for building niche communities, be it Harry Potter fanfiction or a shared love for World of Warcraft.
When Nisha Madhulika, a 55-year-old Indian homemaker, first started out, she had no idea she’d tapped into a largely underserved section of Indian millennials who were eager to learn the art of Indian cooking. With over 6 million subscribers, she is the largest individual food creator on YouTube today.
Diversification is essential to move toward a sustainable business model by reducing dependency on a singular stream of revenue. This can be done by creating a range of content types, leveraging multiple distribution platforms and building ecommerce opportunities.
For instance, Dear Hank & John, Ear Biscuits and Not Too Deep With Grace Helbig are all examples of creators branching from video to podcasts to find new audiences, simultaneously creating new ways to work with brands and diversifying their revenue streams.
We’re witnessing a seismic shift in how content is made and consumed today. Success looks different for each of us and to be able to define that is liberating. So take this as a guide while you write your own playbook.