What Instagram Influencers Can Learn From YouTubers About Authenticity

Let’s talk about changes in content strategies. It’s something all digital creators face, regardless of their social platform of choice, and it usually happens for the same reasons. Each platform has a common aesthetic or acceptable content model. YouTube in the late 2000s, for example, was full of home movies, pre-rehearsed skits, and candidly captured video.  These formats were acceptable at the time because the platform was just emerging, and a very young audience was able to both consume this form of unpolished content and participate in its production.

Fast forward to 2019, and we see a much more polished content strategy has become the standard.  Rather than simply recording your screen during a ‘Let’s Play’ game broadcast, creators are using professional cameras, green screens, and custom set pieces.  Beauty vloggers have become master grips, incorporating the best lighting and film technology to give their videos a professional look.

Instagram, the younger sibling in the family of influencer platforms, is in the middle of an aesthetic change at the moment, as beautifully described by Taylor Lornez in The Instagram Aesthetic Is Over. Taylor observed that the old method of attracting followers is giving way to a more unique and unpolished look.  Previously, Instagram creators obsessed over the look of every photo, aiming to make it as high-class as possible. But after being subjected to innumerable iterations of glamorous lifestyle images (and realizing just how fake most of these images really are) audiences are craving something new.

@tabaskosweet is a great example of someone leading the new aesthetic:

The new aesthetic is much more based in reality. It’s no longer necessary to project perfection because no one has a perfect life. Tacky outfits, weird sunglasses, and nerdy shoes have replaced the shots of expensive beach houses, artistic lattes, and Instagram museum tours. It may even go as far to poke fun at the artifice of the previous style.  

In light of these changes, how can Instagrammers learn from YouTube creators who have similarly overcome shifts in audience taste?  I teamed up with Matt Gielen, Founder of Little Monster Media Co. and a master of the YouTube algorithm, to get his thoughts on the issue.

We started with a discussion of four approaches to creating appealing content:

  • Fans Love Format: This model is not dependent on a single talent, but rather the way a particular show comes together.  Think of late night talk shows or sketch comedies like SNL.  The host or cast changes, but the show goes on.  Smosh is a great example of a format-driven channel with multiple talent, as the cast and programming tends to include a wide range of characters.


  • Fans Love Personalities: This is the most common element that digital creators embrace, but it can also be the most challenging to maintain the audience’s attention. Will Smith and Casey Niestat may have an easy time creating personality-driven content, but can you?   


  • Fans Love the Style: Marques Brownlee makes tech review videos that typically target viewers interested in certain products, but he gets massive views across all videos because he constantly pushes the limits of visual appeal and produces beautifully stylized content.


  • Fans are Interested in the Topic or Subject Matter: This is the most difficult for creators who wish to have mass appeal. Shane Dawson, the master of this model, takes an in-depth look at the topics that drive conversations within the YouTube community.

Thinking about these four elements and exploring how your content strategy plays into each, is a thoughtful exercise that could help revamp content.  The goal, when ideating and implementing your content strategy, is to understand what will appeal most to your target audience.

During our strategy session, Matt highlighted Shane Dawson as an example that Instagrammers can learn from. Throughout the course of his career, Dawson has demonstrated how to incorporate all of the elements listed above.   

If you’re interested in watching this evolution, head over to Dawson’s YouTube channel and watch some of his earlier content.  Eight years ago, he was making reaction, challenge, and commentary videos. Today, this is an incredibly common and arguably overdone content format, but at the time he was one of the only creators doing this and helped define the genre as we know it. This format relies only on his personality (the second element of creating engaging content listed above).  

As the years go on and audience taste evolved, you see Dawson work on more collaborations and put more planning into his content. This shows that he understood the growing competition in his genre and worked to reinvent himself. This content can be classified under the third element, as Dawson expanded the style of his videos to make them more interesting to a wider audience.

I’m confident that Dawson will continue to break the mold as he applies his current strategy;  veering away from weekly uploads in favor of deep dives into YouTube community controversies and investigative journalism. His series Inside the Mind of Jake Paul brought together his personality, a unique style, and a very controversial topic which appealed to the broad community of YouTube viewers.

Instagrammers can learn so much from how Dawson and other pioneering creators have changed their content strategy over time to best serve changing audience tastes. As we’ve seen, you can find success by shifting the focus away from your own personality and pursuing a different style or leading the conversation around a specific topic. This makes for more compelling content and prevents the creator from complete burnout.  

Ultimately, building an audience is hard and it’s even more difficult to consistently produce content that your viewers enjoy. There’s nothing wrong with a content strategy that works today, but keep in mind that interests are constantly changing, so it’s best to keep these four elements in mind and experiment with new ways to engage your fanbase.


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