Thought Leadership

This piece originally appeared on All Things D.

This past spring, at the 2013 YouTube Upfronts in New York City, Google vice president Robert Kyncl stood in front of a packed audience of brand marketers and made a seemingly simple, but revelatory, declaration: “TV is one-way. YouTube talks back.

What is happening on YouTube and on places like Vine (which is doubling monthly average users month over month) and Instagram, is something that many of us who study the social Web have known for some time: Video is the future of social.

Why video? Why not text or photos — permanent or ephemeral? Is it simply the combination of sight, sound and motion?

The clues to the answer are all around us. This past week, news of the tragic death of actor Paul Walker sparked tens of thousands of people to reach out on social media to express pain and sadness, and send prayers to his family and friends. For a 48-hour period, Twitter was trending with the news, and Facebook feeds were crowded with thoughts and condolences. As activity on Facebook and Twitter waned, the heartfelt vigils have continued to grow on YouTube, where more than 6,000 tribute videos had been uploaded within 100 hours of the tragedy. These beautiful videos, along with news videos of the tragedy found on YouTube, have touched more than 170 million people. Ultimately, the tribute videos will live forever, and will be added to the vast collection of images from the star’s “Fast & Furious” movie franchise, which an audience of more than six million fans enjoy monthly on the platform.

This social media outpouring on YouTube highlights the fact that the shelf life of a Tweet or a Facebook post is now vanishingly small, evidenced by the fact that a Facebook post gets half its reach within 30 minutes of being published. By comparison, more than half of YouTube videos’ lifetime views come after three weeks of uploading. Take a look at any popular video from any year, and you’ll find recent comments that continue the conversation well into the future.

Yes, Facebook and Twitter are driving some of the extended activity on YouTube videos. As of last year, Facebook is driving more than 500 years of YouTube viewing every day, and on Twitter, more than 700 YouTube videos are shared every minute.

But the fact is that one minute of watching, creating, sharing or commenting on a video is one minute less to engage in other social mediums. Alistair Croll and Benjamin Yoskovitz, of “Lean Analytics” fame, appropriately deem this concept of the digital world the “attention economy.” The power of video lies in the fact that it captures more of our “attention” because of three inherent truths — video is more revealing, more engaging and ultimately more entertaining than any other medium.

More Revealing

Video can be both physically and emotionally revealing. On Nov. 16, this video was uploaded to YouTube to exhibit the power of transformation with Jim Wolf, a homeless veteran. The video showcases a very physical event, but without giving away too much, the payoff at the end of the video reveals a very emotional truth that is difficult to describe with words:

Also, consider the videos of Jason Carpenter, who documented his cancer diagnosis, treatment and recovery. Not only were his doctors able to track his progress physically, but his family was able to stay in touch with Jason’s emotional state via his video posts. Again, would any other form of social connectivity be able to reveal as much as this video?

More Engaging and Emotional

A recent Kissmetrics study found that, with an average time of four minutes and 49 seconds spent on YouTube, and 5.13 pages viewed per visit, YouTube outperforms Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest for user attention and retention — all due to the power of video. Along those lines, Instagram videos are creating two times more engagement than Instagram photos. Perhaps a new saying should be coined: “If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a moving picture is worth much, much more.” For instance, what images and feelings come to mind with statements like the Apollo moon landing, Tiananmen Square or the Felix Baumgartner space jump? Video has the unique ability to depict emotion, elicit emotion and allow viewers to act — resulting in social stickiness.

The power of video engagement and sharing can be found in the genesis of the Khan Academy. Saul Khan began with a humble proposition to assist his cousin with her homework. Although his videos had a utilitarian use, they were highly engaging and shareable, which propelled his simple idea into a social and educational powerhouse.

On the other end of the spectrum, the emotional wallop of video is unparalleled, and crosses borders easily. Consider this Thai mobile company’s advertisement as an example of such impact:

I defy anyone to watch this video and not feel some type of emotion that will end up lingering well after viewing.

More Entertaining

Much has been written and discussed about the entertainment value of videos on the Internet. It is clearly a subjective issue, but over the last few years, it can’t be denied that video has birthed the largest viral entertainment events. Global pop culture moments like “Gangnam Style,” “Harlem Shake,” “Call Me Maybe,” and “What Does the Fox Say?” have all spawned popular parodies, which have all but eclipsed other media and social experiences.

The rise in popularity of video stars and “vloggers” is further proof that a very large audience finds video truly entertaining. Many find this new generation of personalities — think PewDiePie, Jenna Marbles and Ray William Johnson — sophomoric or just plain moronic, but one must consider that the Top 10 YouTube personalities have a combined subscriber base of 103.9 million — more than Netflix and HBO combined. Now that’s entertainment.

Ultimately, video is reshaping the social Web, where higher personal investment leads to greater longevity, where authentic content wins and where moving content builds thriving communities.

Now consider yourself, and if you had only one social outlet for your voice. Which would you choose to make your words and emotion count? Would you opt for 140 characters? Maybe a frozen image? Then ask yourself: Do I want to be revealing? Do I want to be engaging? Do I want to be entertaining? Do I want my words to last? If so, if you want to be true and meaningful, there’s one option. Only video can lead us into a social Web that’s truly social, more human and, yes, that will talk back.

If Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest are a part of Social 2.0, then video networks like YouTube aptly will be coined Social 3.0 — in other words, the future.


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YouTubers working with brands

photo by Craig Garner

YouTubers want to work with brands. Brands want to be on YouTube. YouTubers don’t always have the resources to initiate brand integration deals. Brands don’t always know what to do with YouTubers. In an effort to remedy this situation, YouTubers have been increasingly open as of late when talking about their experiences working with brands.

At VidCon 2013, YouTubers spoke on panels about working with brands. A couple of months ago, YouTuber Nikki Phillippi did a video titled, “What is a YouTuber?!” in which she took about 45 minutes, sponsored by Netflix, to answer questions about the business of being a full time YouTuber. Tyler Oakley was on PBS’s Frontline talking about what he has come to expect from good brand deals.

The through lines with every YouTuber are the same: they only work with brands they like, and they expect brands to be very flexible and receptive to the style in which the YouTubers work.

Brand Integration and Nikki Phillippi

With 500,000+ subscribers, Nikki Phillippi and her husband run a full time YouTube business. Brand integrations with Beauty Gurus, especially for her size and larger, seem like a no brainer.

Nikki, in her video, answers questions from Twitter and gives surprisingly thorough answers. She disclaims that what she talks about is true to her, but not all YouTubers are on the same monetization roadmap doing the same things.

NikkiPhillippi How do You Make Money?

From the above Twitter question, Nikki answers with both, mentioning that she was once given advice on how to make a living on the internet, with the key being diversity. There is almost no way a YouTuber can be full time on AdSense alone. Similarly, being part of Amazon Affiliates, or any other single revenue stream is not enough, but participating in all of them adds up to a full time job, making a living wage.

On the subject of product integration, Nikki says that it works well for her because, “I naturally create content that often, like, I often mention like products or clothes.” Because she already makes content about brands, she is a good fit for brand integration, but not all brand integrations are a good fit for her.

As she explains in her video about how branded content works, she talks about click through rates, implying that most of the brand integration she does include links in the description box to a brand, product or service.

The order of operations in terms of doing a brand integration with Nikki is as follows:

  • Step 1: Brand reaches out. This can be to her personally, or to her MCN, or management.
  • Step 2: Offer to pay her to mention a product in a video.
  • Step 3: Nikki decides if the brand is a good fit for her. If she already knows the brand and the product and thinks favorably about them and the price/rate is good, then move forward.
  • Step 3b: If she hasn’t heard of the product, but thinks she would like it, she asks to try it to see if she likes it. If the rate is good and she ends up liking the product, then move forward with negotiating a rate for cost-per-click, or other payment method.
  • Step 4: Figure out what kind of video will get made. Nikki, up until this point has only done videos where a product gets mentioned as part of a video.

Nikki, when thinking about why she doesn’t like doing videos about a single product, notes that it is a whole lot of attention to one product, when her normal videos feature multiple products. She would have to LOVE a product to devote a whole video to it. It isn’t that she says she is opposed to a single brand focused video, but the right match hasn’t come along.

In order for a deal to work, the price has to be right as well. On this subject, Nikki says, “This is something that is kinda like this awkward little teetering line that I think a lot of YouTubers are walking because I think everybody who was in to YouTube knows, or anything on the Internet realizes, that entertainment is going more towards the digital sides of things.” She goes on to detail that in comparison to traditional media and the cost of making a commercial then buying airtime, YouTube is inexpensive. She continues to say,

“And what is happening with YouTube is there is this weird line where I won’t rep a product I do not like, but, that being said, I don’t work with brands that don’t understand the value of YouTube either. I would rather not make as much and do stuff by myself, for free, with stuff I have picked up from the drugstore, than work with a company who either doesn’t understand the value of it, or does understand the value of it, but they think that we don’t, and are like here is $100, and I realize that that sounds really strange to people […] but it’s really what is going on in the industry and a matter of trying to elevate and help the entertainment industry kind of segue and understand the value of digital marketing.”

Nikki goes on to make the claim that most YouTubers turn down 90% of the things they are offered because everyone is really careful about the things they accept. Sometimes YouTubers get some hate for the brands that they work with, but it probably turns out that the YouTuber really does like the brand and that they turned down a bunch of other offers from brands that he or she feels less passionately about.

This tends to be true across the board. YouTubers, especially at the more professional levels, have a strong sense of their personal brands and what it means to be authentic to themselves and their channels. If brands are not a good fit, culturally, YouTubers are significantly less inclined to work with them.

Brand Integration and Tyler Oakley

Tyler Oakley is kind of a big deal. He is rapidly approaching 4 million subscribers. He is his MCN’s largest YouTuber. He has worked with brands like Pepsi, MTV, Taco Bell, E!, NBC, Warby Parker, Virgin Mobile, and Audible.

Once one brand got involved with him, others followed suit, but for Oakley, he won’t work with just any brand. He spent years building up his personal channel to what it is today and knows that the whole YouTube community has done the same.

On PBS’s Frontline, Oakley says:

“If you want to get involved, then you have to play by our rules. This is our platform. We have built this up in our own capacity, in our own way without you. So if you want to come on and if you want to get involved, you can’t just come in like a bully and kind of get your way. You may have to like, play by our rules a little bit. Which is FUN!”

The through line between the brands that Oakley chooses to work with are their understanding of his personal brand and message. The brands understand that Oakley is a direct line to fan interaction and not just a channel on which one distributes content. For him, in his own words, “it takes the creative teams that get what we are doing, for me to want to work with them.”

Some Best Practices

The keys that both Nikki Phillippi and Tyler Oakley mentioned in spades is that brands who want to work with YouTubers need to be receptive to working the way YouTubers work, rather than the way traditional media does. YouTubers make money off of their personal brands, so if they aren’t a fan of your brand, it is better to find a YouTuber that is, so that the brand and YouTuber mesh well together.

From a stylistic perspective it is important to not try and force a storyboard. Since YouTubers are involved in every step of the process from ideation to production to social engagement, they want to have a say in the creative process of crafting brand deal videos as well.

From the brand perspective, that means:

  1. Find YouTubers who already like your products.

  2. If you are a new brand/product, give YouTubers a chance to get to know your brand/product before trying to make content.

  3. Be receptive towards a collaborative development process.

  4. Open up the opportunity for YouTubers to be as involved as they want in production (which could be a lot or a little).

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Happy #FF! In no particular order, here are ten tweeters worth following to stay up to date – and get down to business – on YouTube.


1) @YouTube

This might seem obvious, but stick with us. The mother ship’s feed features cool videos worth checking out, which is reason enough to follow along.

But, for brands, @YouTube is a milestone marker – get your brand mentioned here, and it’s a sign that you’ve finally arrived on YouTube’s ecosystem radar.

Note: getting your product blended up in a Blendtec always helps…

2) Mark @MSuster Suster

An entrepreneur that sold two startups before turning to “the Dark Side of VC,” as he puts it. A partner at Upfront Ventures, the largest venture capital firm in Southern California, Mark is invested in YouTube network Maker Studios, and is an active tweeter with plenty to say on a range of topics.


3) @YouTubeTrends

Pretty straightforward here. Find out what’s trending, straight from the source, so you can try and stay ahead of them. As of late, the insurance industry may want to keep an eye on this one:

4) Kevin @shockallocca Allocca

Speaking of trends, Kevin is Head of Culture & Trends at YouTube. He once gave an amazing TED Talk on why videos go viral. Need we say more?

5) @Tubefilter

Self described as “online video’s daily must-read,” taking a look at their Twitter feed would be a good substitute for those “I just can’t read anymore than 140 characters today or else my eyeballs are gonna fall out” days.

6) Adam @ALilling Lilling

Last year, Adam was listed by Forbes as one of 12 entreprenuers who are changing LA forever. He’s an investor at YouTube MCN Big Frame and a long time friend of ZEFR’s. Most recently, Adam is acting founder and managing partner at Plus Capital, which had some exciting news to share this week…


7) @ReelSEO

Calling itself the “Online Video Marketer’s Guide,” ReelSEO is simply a must follow. Their team of “videologists” and columnists not only keep you up to date and offer insight into the trending news and commentaries around the web, but they also feature plenty of “how tos” and other guides that will help you make the most out of your online video strategy.

8) @MarkTerbeek

Though Mark is still young in the Twitter game with just over 100 tweets to his name, he is very well regarded in the online video space and should not be overlooked. Mark made big waves during his time at MK Capital, where he bet on Machinima, Dramafever, AwesomenessTV, and the nice folks here at ZEFR :).  Expect more big things from Mark in the future after his recent move to Greycroft Partners.

9) @Jason Calacanis

Internet entrepreneur Jason Calacanis doesn’t shy away from speaking his mind. Earlier this year, Jason wrote a blog piece titled “I ain’t gonna work on YouTube’s farm no more,” followed up by “A YouTube Creators’ Bill of Rights (Or ‘A Roadmap for Building a Better YouTube’).” Thus, agree or disagree with him, when it comes to thought leadership and talking about the future of YouTube, @Jason is definitely worth a follow.

10) @MashableVideo

Mashable’s reputation as a leading source for all things Internet easily carries over to their online video based feed, where they just posted one of our favorite articles of the week

Of course, no YouTube tweeter list would be complete without mentioning @ZEFRinc‘s very own co-founder duo, @ZachJames and @RichRaddon. Who else are we missing? Let us know in the comments below!


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