A Journey Begins - YouTube Observation Notes #1
YouTube Observation Notes #1
A journey begins. It's now been a little over 4 months since I started my YouTube channel. A professor of mine once said that she wished she could get her first few weeks on Twitter back, so that she could take notes about what it was like starting out on a new platform. When you're starting out on a new digital platform (new to you, that is) there are so many rules and practices that you might have been previously unaware of. Even on something like YouTube, where I'd been an observer and casual participant in the comment section, I quickly realized that being on the creator side of things it was far different from what I was expecting.
So I thought I'd start a series here on the blog, with my observations. I'm noticing so many things as I'm diving into this whole YouTube thing and I don't want to forget any of these initial/early observations and experiences.
The beginning was terrifying. No joke. Would people watch? Would they like my content? Would I get mean and nasty comments? It's the internet, anything could happen. But instead something amazing happened. It started slow. One comment on my second video (a Sephora haul), then eventually another comment. Then I got my first subscriber! Another YouTuber had recently followed me on Twitter and when I followed back she sent a message with a link to her channel, so I subscribed and sent her a link to my channel and asked if she'd check it out. And that's the story of how Bex Halling, a fabulous London based YouTuber became my first subscriber lol! And soon there were more. Usually one or two new subscribers with every new video. In the first couple months it felt like the number just kept doubling every week. First 5 subscribers, then 10, then 25, then 50. And I was getting more comments. A lot were "sub for sub?" (I'll get to that later) but a lot were really lovely, genuine comments. Including some other older/grad students. Like Kate, a PhD student in New Zealand, who somehow found my channel and has now become a great online friend. I recently (as of the beginning of August) passed 300 subscribers and 4,000 views, which for someone who thought that maybe....if I was really lucky...I might get 100 subscribers in a year. Oh my goodness. Now I don't even know what's possible with this channel. Fingers crossed, I might be able to get to 1000 by my first anniversary on YouTube?
One thing that became very apparent early on is how community functions on YouTube. There seem to be two main types of small YouTubers and for a new YouTuber starting out you have to learn how to balance those types, as well as decide which type you're going to be. Type One is what I'll call "Community Friendly Creator" or CFC. This is a content creator who loves making content, loves engaging with the community they're building within their own channel as well as the broader community their channel is situated within, such as the small Beauty YouTuber community (which is where I'd say my channel fits). They watch each other's videos, they leave comments on other channels, they engage in conversations in their comment section and the comment section of other channels, they don't just "shout out" a list of channel names but they share channels they love and why, they tag each other in videos because they genuinely want to know what that other YouTuber would say or do in their version of the tag.
Type Two is what I'll call the "Channel Building Creator" or CBC. This creator is entirely focused on their own channel. They tend to have higher subscriber numbers, or are on their way up (if I check back in a week they will likely have 100 or more subscribers than the week before, sometimes 1000 more). They leave "sub for sub" comments on your videos, usually without much more to the comment. Or they will leave a long and effusive comment about how amazing you are and how obsessed with your channel they are. But since, YouTube is a big community made up of small communities, you tend to see the exact same "lovely" comment, literally copy and pasted into the comment sections of at least a half dozen other channels you are subscribed to. CBCs also tend to not comment or watch any of your videos after that first one (and they probably didn't even watch the one they left a comment on). Once you subscribe to their channel you never hear from them again. Or if you do, it's a comment asking you to check out their most recent video. Honestly, I've had people ask me to subscribe and leave one of these "omg you're amazing" comments, a month after they did it the first time, after I've been watching and commenting on at least half of their videos. There's nothing wrong with being a CBC. Let me be clear on that. These YouTubers are generally very nice, but their focus is on their channel, not the community. So I take their comments with a grain of salt, tell them I'll check out their channel, and move on. Because I know I'm never going to hear from them again.
For new YouTubers you have to decide which type you'll be. You can be a slight combination of both, but one side will generally dominate. I've come across some CBCs who do leave genuine comments, come back a watch another of my videos every now and then, and engage in dialogue with me on their channels when I comment. I've also seen some CFCs with really high subscriber numbers, view counts, and comment numbers who are clearly succeeding at YouTube even though they have a very community focused perspective. Now, their numbers still aren't as high as some CBCs but I do think it points to an important observation. In the game and business of YouTube, if you really want a shot at being successful, slow and steady wins the race. Adopting a more CFC perspective and really engaging in the community helps to build a strong channel. A lot of CBCs I've observed have very high subscriber numbers but incredibly low view counts, sometimes as low as 5-10% of their subscribers. Whereas the ratio between subscriber number and view count is a lot more even on CFC channels. So, it's definitely a choice you have to make. It's also one you can change at any time. A CBC can decide to take a less aggressive approach to building their channel and start engaging in the community more. Likewise, a CFC can start seeing their numbers rise and get caught up in the excitement and start taking a more aggressive approach to building their channel. Also, let me clarify, by "aggressive" I don't mean verbally threatening or anything of that sort. I'm referring more to the practice of spamming as many channels as possible in a day with "sub for sub" comments or comments of a similar nature. Which leads to the next observation...
"Sub 4 sub": An annoyance or a useful tactic?
Anyone who's created a YouTube channel has had to deal with "sub for sub" comments. In theory it's a great idea. "Let's each subscribe to each other's channel and support one another as we grow." In practice it only works that way about 5% of the time, if even. Most of the time what happens is you sub to each other's channels and never hear from them again. I admit I did "sub for sub" a few times in the beginning. It definitely helps get your numbers up as a small YouTuber, which in turn makes it easier for your videos to be found and for people to subscribe to you. The more content you have and the more subscribers you have, the more likely someone is to subscribe to you. But after awhile it gets pretty discouraging, so I tend to thank people and tell them I'll check out their channels when I get those comments, but I rarely subscribe anymore. I'd rather grow my channel slowly but with subscribers who actually watch my videos, maybe not every single one, but at least a couple each month, which is fine since my content is so varied, I know not every video will appeal to every subscriber. My videos tend to get between 60-100 views, which to me is pretty good for 300 subscribers. Could I have more subscribers if I engaged in "sub for sub" practices? Definitely. Would my channel be a strong one? Not so much. There's a bit of a contentious debate among creators about "sub for sub"? Some really don't like it, others have seen how useful it can be to build your numbers. So, like the CFC vs. CBC choice, you have to make a choice for your own channel about "sub for sub".
So this is another big decision I had to make, what kind of content was I going to be creating. I find it very interesting that while "YouTuber" or "beauty vlogger" is a common designation used (don't get me started on my thoughts about "beauty guru"), YouTube technically considers us "content creators". I really like the emphasis on "creators" since this has definitely been an incredible creative outlet. So, deciding what kind of content I was going to focus on for my channel was a big decision. Initially I had two motivations for starting the channel, 1) to see what the experience of being a creator/vlogger was like after studying it and to actually live the process for myself and 2) to document my 35th year--I turned 35 the day I filmed my "welcome to my channel" video--and have it be a sort of video journal of what I did, what I was studying/doing at school, what I found interesting, what products I was using, what purchases did I make, etc. So I knew I needed a format that would be very flexible and allow for a lot of variety. I also had to decide what my uploading schedule would be and how many videos I would do each week.
I ultimately decided to upload twice a week, Tuesday and Friday. I felt that two videos was something I could manage with my schedule, and at the time I started those two days worked best with my teaching and school schedule. I had to work backwards to figure out when I'd have time to film and edit in order to determine when I could upload the final video. Little did I know this part would be fraught with many technical issues lol. But that's the next blog post. Once I had the days set, I made a decision on content. I knew I wanted to do beauty/fashion content, since the majority of YouTubers I watch are beauty vloggers and that's what I've been studying for my research. But I also wanted to talk about grad school, general college advice, my life in general, do daily vlogs, book reviews, etc. So I decided Tuesday videos would be "anything goes", as long as it was life related, and Friday would be typical beauty/fashion content. So far it seems to be working.
So yeah, I started filming and editing and uploading and the channel started to grow! It's hard work. But since I decided to do this purely as a hobby and it's definitely not a career ambition, I have to limit how much time and effort I put in to it. My quality could definitely be better but at this point I'm not willing to invest money in better equipment or more time to film and edit more creative videos. Because there's still the whole matter of me being a full time PhD student who really needs to focus on passing my comp exam. Life.
I'm going to wrap this post up here. But there's still lots more that I've observed and experienced. The next post will focus on the technical side of things and all the stuff that I was NOT prepared for. Seriously, when you just watch YouTube videos, they make it look so easy.
Until then, feel free to check out some of my recent videos. :) Or click here to see my channel, I hope you'll subscribe! xx