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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6 Ways Social Video Changed Forever in 2017

It’s that time of year, folks: the avalanche of year-in-review articles will be appearing on your favorite industry websites. Naturally, we decided to do our own roundup of the year in social video and platforms, content creation, and influencer marketing.

1. Adpocalypse

The story of the year in online video was the cleverly-named Adpocalypse (ironically, a term coined by disgraced creator PewDiePie), the period of controversy that saw major brands withdraw as YouTube advertisers after examples surfaced of their ads running against questionable or even hate-filled content. Around the same time, as we all remember, the aforementioned one-time top industry star PewDiePie was investigated by the Wall Street Journal for anti-Semitism in his stunts and was later dropped by Disney Digital Network.

The result? YouTube’s immediate response was to demonetize a wide swath of content while they honed in on the videos that were actually problematic. We watched as our colleagues and customers faced double-digit nosedives in monthly revenue during this period, and those that didn’t rely on four or five revenue streams had cause for panic. Some individual creators complained bitterly, asking YouTube for more information on the rationale behind demonetization.

In time monetization was restored to a significant amount of video content, and life (or business) went somewhat back to normal. However, reverberating concerns around brand safety continue as YouTube has recently cracked down on inappropriate children’s content (to the point of removing channels) and announced that it will add more human moderation of content going forward.

The bottom line: There is no going back after Adpocalypse. It shook those who rely on YouTube – from creators to talent networks – to their core. Industry players realized that the response of a large platform when dealing with a much-publicized crisis is to turn on a fire hose of crackdown initiatives. Ironically, brands (and agencies on their behalf) have long had the option of selecting the exact content their ads would run against, and we can’t help but feel that some of the crisis came from misunderstanding of or lack of familiarity with existing platform features. The whole experience was a signal that brand safety has become the main priority for platforms going forward, as the relationship with advertisers is paramount. Creators, networks, and agencies must all operate on multiple platforms and be prepared to react nimbly to future upheavals.

2. The Rise of Instagram Stories & the Decline of Snap

Image: TechCrunch

 

This was the year that one platform yanked a market out from under another by stealing (this part started in 2016), iterating on, and crushing user growth on a major product.

Yes, we’re talking about Instagram vs. Snapchat. 2017 was by all accounts a rough year for Snap (the parent “camera company”) behind the Snapchat app. Although it had started out looking promising with and an IPO early in the year, by late 2017 Instagram’s Stories had exponentially smoked Snap’s original version in user growth, reaching 500 million daily active users by September, and had been copied by Facebook and YouTube too (YouTube’s version is called Reels). The company’s Spectacles product didn’t live up to expectations. To boot, Snap’s stock declined (although it went up in early December over forecasts) and CEO Evan Spiegel effectively apologized for ignoring rank-and-file creators, admitting that his intention to re-boot the Snapchat platform in their favor would take time and cause a temporary delay in platform evolution.

The bottom line: There’s a theme here. Being a major platform whose products and features can be easily cribbed (and even improved upon) by competitors is risky. Snapchat’s ownership is said to have rebuffed a purchase offer of $30 billion from Google in 2016. Perhaps they should have taken it – time will tell.

3. Facebook Moves Toward YouTube-ness

Facebook made its much-anticipated move into video advertising and monetization, with its ability to be a serious YouTube competitor remaining unclear as of this writing. The platform launched mid-roll ads against some video content in the News Feed, and will soon be re-adding pre-roll ads, in this case to video outside the News Feed. Probably the biggest Facebook video news of the year was the launch of the Watch tab and Facebook Originals, with content partners including Tastemade, Univision, and MLB. Finally, a suite of creator tools is now available.

The bottom line: There remains a lot of debate around whether the Watch tab will become a significant destination for viewers. It’s unclear whether the quality or type of video content exhibited so far will have resonance or, related: longevity. Viewers may have a lower tolerance for ad placement than they do on YouTube, which is why pre-roll ads won’t be in the News Feed. And in spite of Facebook’s incredible user base, promotional feed, and profoundly useful (for audience-building) sharing features, there’s still no reliable way for most individual creators beyond a select few to monetize on Facebook.

4. Politically-motivated Platform Manipulation

The big reveal of Russia-based manipulation of social media platforms in the run-up to, during, and after the 2016 U.S. presidential election was the great shame of the digital media industry this year. Though the great vision of online platforms combines the democratization of content, the ability to form communities and connect people across borders (which Mark Zuckerberg frequently references), and the ability to express one’s views publicly or spread an important movement (think #MeToo) with relative ease, the downside is that the platform owners are very clearly not one step ahead of the bad guys.

Advertising mechanisms were exploited. People’s vulnerabilities, biases, and willingness to believe what’s put in front of them were abused to the nth degree. Bots revealed all their ugly influence, and the extent of their impact may not yet (or ever) be truly understood.

The bottom line: The big dream of the social platforms and what they can do for society took a big hit this year. The platforms (Facebook and Twitter in particular) still have a lot of ‘splainin to do around how they track advertisers and advertising funds, as well as how they account for activity from truly nefarious actors. Moreover, the more organic “echo chamber” effect of like-minded people constantly reinforcing each other’s views, and the ever-ugly troll culture, have become real societal factors and their impact must be better understood and mitigated (if we ever figure out how).

5. Platform Updates – Twitter 280 (also, RIP Vine)

Well, it finally happened. In November, Twitter rescinded the 140-character limit that had been in place for the entire life of the platform. The overall reaction appeared to be complaints that the new limit would destroy the joys of micro-blogging and make the platform more like Facebook. Numerous joke tweets ensued.

More seriously, the Twitter brand took hits from its user base and the media not only for cyber-bullying by trolls but also for what appeared to be inconsistent enforcement of Terms of Service violations. Some claimed that regular users received more scrutiny from Twitter than public figures or celebrities, with a regular smattering of @jack complaint tweets to CEO Jack Dorsey’s handle.

Speaking of Twitter, 2017 was the year that the platform actually shuttered micro-video app Vine to focus on Twitter Video. One bright spot to end the year for Vine enthusiasts: one of the app’s founders has recently teased that a new version of Vine might make a comeback.

The bottom line: The negative reaction to the increased character limit now seems like a tempest in a teapot, but the move toward a more algorithmic presentation may be what really impacts Twitter’s distinctiveness. Users who visit the platform for real-time updates, breaking news, and commentary may instead wade through 18-hour-old posts and tweets liked by their contacts. Twitter is taking a risk programming the feed in the direction of, well, every other social media platform.

6. Ecosystem Ups and Downs

Finally, 2017 was a significant year for ecosystem changes and painful signs of maturity in the digital space. Maker Studios underwent a re-branding (to Disney Digital Network) and restructuring process that saw the network keep only a small percentage of its talent. Fullscreen announced that its SVOD platform, at one point a flagship of the Fullscreen family, would cease to exist after January 2018. Both shifts carried HR implications for industry colleagues.

On the up side, this year marked more strategic partnerships between traditional and digital media companies, an incredible swath of major brand involvement in (and reliance on) the space, and the increasing importance of esports as a growth area.

The bottom line: The growing pains of a maturing ecosystem can be tough for talent, the kind in front of the camera and behind the scenes, and for entrepreneurs themselves. It’s difficult to watch colleagues, customers, and friends have to make tough choices and seek new opportunities. But we’re confident that in time, the industry will settle in a positive way. The incredible projected growth of the influencer marketing industry, the rising popularity of branded content, and the continuing dependence of advertisers on YouTube and Facebook (as TV declines), present opportunity for all of us who are active in the online video industry.


What do you think were the biggest digital media events of 2017? Share in the comments below!

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