Lessons from YouTube Stars

If you’ve never heard of Troye Sivan you’re not alone. In the comments section of the latest YouTube promotional video that features him, plenty of people had no idea who he was. Of course, if you asked any of his 2.7 million subscribers, they’d think you were a tad out of touch. And if you think 2.7 million’s a big number, how about over 126 million views?

You can hardly blame the team at YouTube for using him as a poster kid. I mean they were hardly going to use the Janoskians. They may be equally Australian, but they have just a little over 1.7 million followers, and their irresistibly juvenile prank videos are hardly on brand.

The list of YouTube stars whose viewcounts rate higher than most free-to-air television shows is pretty endless. And from a marketer’s perspective, it’s tempting to consider unpacking the secret strategies of their success and applying them to your own brand. But there’s an irony, best illustrated by the comment left by ‘AngryAussie’ on Sivan’s commercial for YouTube: “I think it’s funny how this video has far fewer views than it would if it was on Troye’s channel”.

He’s right: a video posted on Troye’s channel around about the same time a week before achieved over six times as many views (681,000 at the time of writing – enough to crack the top 10 TV ratings on some nights).

And while this has been going on longer than Justin Bieber has been annoying, it would appear even the masterminds at YouTube haven’t truly cracked what it takes to co-opt this trend in favour of your brand. Which means that maybe it’s actually impossible.

Here’s why: these sensations are authentic. They are shameless self-promoters of course, but they are who they are, with a point of view that remains fairly consistent. They expose their truth, over and over. That’s not as worthy as it sounds; while brands are scratching their heads for the right cause to support, the Janoskians are dropping sex toys on the pavement and filming the reactions of onlookers. It doesn’t have to be deep or clever, but it does have to be real.

We spend a lot of time these days considering ‘influencer’ marketing, and no doubt this is still a worthwhile thing to do. But if your product or service doesn’t have something worth following at its core, you’ll never become an influencer in your own right. You can spend as many millions on media as you like, you can change the logo, but it won’t come to much.

This is hardly fresh advice. After all, it was Shakespeare who wrote, ‘To thine own self be true’.

This article originally appeared on www.switzer.com.au