ISSUE THREE: On YouTube
YouTube is, hands down, my favourite social media platform. An avid reader of blogs when I was younger (if someone could actually tell me where all the blogs have gone that would be great), I now spend the same amount of lost energy and time watching videos on YouTube.
My love for YouTube is so great that I dedicated two years of my live writing my thesis on the complicated yet intoxicating relationship between YouTubers, their audience and big business’. Whilst the result of this work was identifying strategies used by these three parties, the work began from a sense of secrecy and almost shame about my own YouTube viewing. I have very vivid memories of talking to someone at a wedding and it becoming apparent that we both watched the same content on YouTube. If that Dreamweaver song from Wayne’s World actually played when people were falling in love, that absolutely would’ve happened.
Since it’s simpler days, YouTube has gone through some notable shifts pertaining to the algorithm and as a result, the idea of hierarchy, providing greater behind-the-scenes access as a way to stay relevant and a return to form, with a certain level of awareness in tow.
What was once a grassroots platform has gone through the same process to commodify itself as many of the joys brought to us by the internet have. This meant a shift in content (more paid sponsorships and content to match), the algorithm changing who sees videos when, and an introduction of products such as YouTube Music and YouTube Premium. The final two meaning that it was not only the advertising subsidising the cost of the ‘free’ content but the audience too.
As this hummed along and became an accepted part of the platform for audiences, content makers had to adapt too. The communal calls for ‘likes’ and subscriptions were louder than ever. Some YouTubers even encouraging their followers to unsubscribe before resubscribing in a bid to stay on top of the feed. Followers were reminded to turn on their notifications so nothing could possibly be missed. This often meant that YouTuber’s who previously had multiple channels (which was once common practice) would group their subscribers together, a much more appealing deal for prospective collaborators. There were also a lot of rebrands and a general acknowledgement that these were business owners whose jobs it was to share their lives. And whilst they were self-employed (often represented by management during this stage) they were at the mercy of a whole host of platforms.
In response to this, and with the introduction of snapchat and later on Instagram stories, YouTubers appeared to take their role as a behind the scenes spokesperson to a once off-limits industry even more seriously. Unlike traditional celebrities, influencers (which YouTubers can now be categorised as) allow all facets of their lives to be shown. On YouTube this not only meant more vlog style content but an acknowledgment and documentation of the ‘work’ that goes into being a YouTuber. This often meant revealing a ‘team’ who would become characters or talking about strategy.
As a viewer I associate this time with a lot of YouTuber’s outgrowing and growing distant from the audience they had grown up with. It felt like the once applauded relatability had faded away. This coupled with the minimalism movement and a realisation that our lives looked vastly different to theirs (it was the opposite of this which assisted their success) appeared to leave audiences and YouTubers confused.
It seemed that in order for the strong to survive, authenticity (a key factor of their growth in the first place) was needed more than ever. Like a celebrity apologising for something that the public apparently needs an apology for, YouTubers used this time to show that surprise, surprise, they too are in fact humans who make mistakes and who learn. Often these are confessional style apology videos, ‘chats’ and ‘life updates’ in response to not sharing enough, buying clothes from unethical places, receiving gifts, buying sustainable clothes that are too expensive, not tackling racism head-on, using coffee pods that you throw away or not sharing if they’re pregnant. This process seems to be the way forward as audiences and the content makers redefine the boundaries.
What was interesting, is that after the air clearing process there seemed to be a greater acknowledgment of a need for the audience if these YouTuber’s businesses are going to survive. Especially post-pandemic.
Towards the end of Victoria Magrath aka In The Frow’s latest video, I can’t believe I found it! What I’ve been searching for, Magrath asks viewers to leave a certain emoji if they have reached this far. An increasingly common tactic that builds in her words, ‘community’, but can also be seen as a way to reinforce a following that can be viewed by other people in the comments, creating a desire for them to participate. Magrath also mentioned that these emoji’s make her so happy. It is in this moment we see the desire for connection and even confirmation that her viewers are still listening to her.
In opposition to this, the blogger turn entrepreneur Aimee Song, welcomes viewers to the ‘episode’ and even has a catchphrase to go with her introduction. Song has not been on YouTube long in comparison to Magrath and whilst she speaks directly to the camera it is reminiscent of a confessional in a reality TV show or some teen MTV show I’ve never seen where people are themselves, but not, aware they’re constantly being observed.
I like YouTube’s latest incarnation. A return to form that feels less lonely than it did after it went boom but more comfortable when it first began, and you would find someone to follow just as they were never seen again.
This week my main source of enjoyment has been rediscovering Raised by Wolves. A reimagining of writer Caitlin Moran’s childhood, not the new show that Ridley Scott is involved in. I’ve also watched Season 1 and almost all of Season 2 of Netflix’s Sex Education. I was planning on watching the final two episodes after I write this, but I don’t know if my heart can taka that pain twice, especially with an unclear return date.
Also, thank you to everyone was has subscribed and written back to me. I really appreciate it x