Why YouTube influencers deserve more scrutiny than traditional media.
Having been around YouTubers as a friend and as a business acquaintance for the best part of 8 years, I’ve seen first hand the rise of new media promotional campaigns and the increase in interest in relatable content creators online. It was initially a novelty for companies to be interested in online creators, giving people making their content in their spare time a bit of extra spending money to now having many of the big names pull in large amounts of money for brand deals.
Whilst this is an exciting time to be working in digital, at the same time there is an often overlooked aspect. These content creators are capable of doing quite substantial damage to a brand if not correctly vetted and anyone ignorant of the digital space should look into the following aspects of the online world.
The youtube community is a very switched on and educated audience who can and will scrutinise every aspect of a channels presence, Recently a number of members of the YouTube gamer community investigated some seemingly sponsored content by gaming channels TMartin and ProSyndicate and discovered it was in fact promotional content for a “skin gambling” site they both owned and operated. Video content created by the pair made it seem like the site was an easy way to earn money gambling skins on the popular Valve game CS:GO but noticed that the pairs content seemed to show them always winning. A number of allegations following this revelation make the case that they were promoting online gambling to minors. Court cases are ongoing.
There is also the current and ongoing media battle regarding YouTube megastar Felix ‘Pewdiepie’ Kjellberg. Felix currently has the most subscribed YouTube channel out there and was until recently represented by Maker Studios, A YouTube network owned in part by ABC/Disney who represent many of the worlds most popular creators. A few weeks ago, Felix posted a video containing footage created on micro-lancing website fiverr of several people holding a sign with an anti-semitic message on it. This message made international media and resulted in him losing his representation from Maker and is also said to have ended a number of long term sponsorship deals.
So, How does a brand avoid getting caught up in this? Well, It’s not easy. As these content creators aren’t like the massive media organisations who scrutinise web and television content like the good old days, it’s often hard to remember you are paying a free minded individual to be the face of your brand so it really pays off to do your due diligence.
When working with clients, I initially advise them to research their desired influencers on Tumblr. The Tumblr community is very vocal and active regarding problematic content creators online and even at the very lowest level will give you an idea about who you are looking to work with. There are numerous “Master Posts” about content creators who have had accusations and/or cases brought against them, including this one by unpleasantmyles. It also pays to look into their fanbases, There are many tools available which will allow you to map out keywords posted by followers and mentions of the influencer on social media. It will give you a fairly good idea of what kind of people are viewing the content and where your message is going and what kind of reaction people are having.
Whilst my post might seem a bit doom and gloom, There are some amazing creators out there who have made some amazing content for brands. Incorporating your brand into their content can be a wonderful way to bring in new customers. Some of the best brand integrations i’ve seen so far have been by Jack and Dean who, whilst getting the brand message across, have a lot of fun with the content and even joke with their audience about them being advertised to.
So, in summary, please please please do your research, find the best voice for your brand rather than finding someone with the biggest numbers. It’s amazing that I need to write this but I have seen first hand when brands pounce on creators based purely on subscriber and follower numbers without regard for the consequences. Most of all, have fun making the content, involve the influencer in the creative process as much as you can, they have an audience for a reason and they understand better than anyone how you can go about making something you can all be proud of.