I’ve had a strange relationship with the world’s largest video sharing site. Way back when it debuted in early 2005 I was still one of those unfortunate people who was rocking blazing fast 56k dial up, due to my remote location. If I wanted to watch any videos on the site I’d have to stop all browsing actions for a good 30 minutes while the darn thing loaded, so for the better part of 2 years I ignored the site completely. I only started using the site after I got a reasonable form of broadband after moving into Canberra, but even then I still wasn’t a big user of it. At the start of the year however I started to notice it’s market pull with a lot of media giants and startups, and I’ve been an avid user ever since.
Primarily what caught my eye was the YouTube Partner program which is basically Google Adsense for videos. If you’re successful in applying to be a partner you get a cut of the ad revenue that your videos generate. The caveat is of course that you have somewhat of a proven record in making videos that people actually watch so for the most part the partner program is free of spammers attempting to get in to make a quick buck and the quality of YouTube partners content remains fairly high. There’s also been some perks like most partners getting a free Nexus One if they did a video about it, which led to some very interesting clips. I guess it was also a bit of a paradigm shift for me as well since I didn’t really know that anyone could generate revenue from the site, save for sponsorships and external sales.
What really got me interested however was the common thread amongst the top YouTubers: they’re almost all just individuals or small independent groups. Really this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise as the YouTube grew on the backs of users who submitted content to it so it makes sense that the community creates its starlets from within its own ranks. Still the marketing power of viral videos has been known for quite some time so it still seems a bit odd that most corporations aren’t ranking too highly as you would think they’d try everything to break into this platform. There is one notable exception however in Universal Music Group who owes their success to their acquisition of VEVO and the two starlets they dug out of this social network (Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga).
So the question remains, do corporations actually understand YouTube?
From what I’ve seen on the various “news” channels that focus on YouTube events it would seem that as a whole the YouTube community is rather hostile to traditional corporate entities. This phenomena isn’t limited to YouTube either as other social networking sites like Twitter seem to shy away from the big organisations and gravitate more towards real people. Take for instance the (rather short lived) backlash that President Obama got hit with when he publicly admitted that he’d never used Twitter, despite the fact that he had a verified account in his name. It would seem then that corporations are doomed to flounder in these new social mediums because, to the communities, they’re not part of their social circle.
Taking a step back for a second though you can see why things like viral video marketing began to take off. Faced with the prospect that such large communities will actively reject any of their advances corporations began looking for more innovative ways to sneak their advertising under the community’s radar. Whilst sponsored videos from community starlets work to a point people are quick to label people sell-outs, thereby diminishing a starlets marketing potential over time. Developing a video that appeals to the community yet does not make reference to the product or service you’re attempting to market will hopefully help it sneak under it under the radar and if its good enough you’ll have a flurry of people searching to figure out what its all about, and there your product will be.
Realistically I think most corporations that are seeking to use YouTube understand it completely, and that’s why many of them are maintaining a presence there but don’t spend a lot of time trying to break into the community. There’s notable exceptions of course that have managed to strike the balance between being a community member and a corporation but for the most part the YouTube community remains dominated by people like you and me. Personally I like it that way as it gives people the opportunity to work on a global scale without having to have the resources of a global company, and history has shown just how powerful a large community like YouTube can be in propelling people from the unknown to the spotlight.
As for myself? I have some plans to start something on YouTube just for fun, but I’ve got a couple other projects to knock over before I do. Stay tuned 😀