Read This If You Want To Be YouTube Famous
A former YouTube employee unveils the secrets of how to strike it lucky on the platform
I worked for many years at YouTube as a brand strategist, a role where the job is to deeply understand both the business and marketing needs of Google’s top spending advertising clients, and the intricacies of the platform itself. Understanding creators on the platform was part of the remit, as clients often asked what it took to be successful as a YouTuber.
Sure, I always had a selection of answers on hand that satisfied the people I was presenting to, but it wasn’t until I had the opportunity to write Read This if You Want to Be YouTube Famous that I was able to really truly feel like I knew what it took, because I got to ask over 45 successful YouTubers to tell me their secrets directly. I also spoke with six top industry executives to get their take.
The goal with the book, for me, was simple: inspire people to get started on YouTube. YouTube is more complex and requires harder work than, say, Instagram, where posting a photo is easier than making a more polished video. I’d meet people all the time who would tell me they wanted to be a YouTuber. I remember one woman, a nurse, excitedly tell me that she wants to be a YouTuber and when I asked her what she’d make videos about, she said “I’d probably do makeup tutorials like everyone else.” I kept her in mind when writing; someone who has the spark to do something, but needs some direction in order to take the first step in the right direction.
There’s a ton of advice in the book, but I’ve picked what I consider the five most important things to consider if you want to be YouTube famous.
Know that it’s hard work
The resounding message that came through in every person I interviewed was that being a YouTuber is hard work. Coming up with ideas, writing scripts, recording and editing the videos, posting, managing comments, and repeating the process time and time again is no small feat. One interviewee even suggested people start on Instagram first, graduating to YouTube later. The key here is to know what’s involved before getting started, as that’ll help avoid failure. One friend said once “I tried the YouTube thing” and I bit my tongue so I didn’t say “Well, no, you didn’t…. Posting one half-assed video doesn’t count as trying to be successful on YouTube.” The joke at Google used to be that YouTube is an excellent place to put a video to be found, but an even better place to put a video to be lost! Despite the hard work, and the challenge as to how to get your videos found, everyone I spoke to felt deeply that it was worth it. No doubt it’s due to the joy from creating, but perhaps all the money they earn from their channel has something to do with it.
Find a niche you’re passionate about
Every single person I interviewed at some point spoke about the need to be passionate for what you’re making videos about. In fact, most people started our conversations there. But passion is only one part of the answer. In the book, Sam Sutherland from his channel This Exists, talks about finding a niche. He finds bizarre and interesting things in the far-flung corners of the Internet and makes detailed explanation videos that explore these oddities. And finding a niche that you’re passionate about makes sense — if you’re going to spend all that time and effort making videos, it’s better if you are interested in and care about the topic. The key nuance here, however, is that the more niche your focus, the better. YouTube is so massive that even a niche, which suggests small, has a huge audience available. Finding and owning a niche will get your more audience than trying to be all things to everyone.
You’ll have no doubt read a lot about YouTuber burnout. It’s real. YouTube is an algorithm-based platform, which makes it a hungry beast demanding to be fed. That’s not unique to YouTube, that’s true, in my opinion, of almost all algorithm-based platforms, which are intent on voraciously optimising for consumption. Consistency in content, frequency of uploading, and engagement such as in the comments, are all crucial to ensuring what I would call ‘buoyancy’ in the eyes of the algorithm. Consistently create for the platform, and YouTube won’t put your channel in a corner.
It was about 14 interviews in before anyone even mentioned what I consider to be the single most important piece of advice in the whole book. Laurie Shannon, who runs the channel The Icing Artist told me that she tests everything. Laurie makes about a cake a week for her channel, and each time she’ll test titles, designs of cakes, colours of icing, and really any relevant variable she can experiment with. It’s this approach to testing that has driven Laurie’s growth, reaching nearly four million subscribers, and over 870 million video views. Imagine having nearly one billion video views?
Just get started
My very first interview was with Matt Santoro and appropriately his advice was to ‘just get started.’ Matt says that it’s easy to overthink things, when really all you need to do is grab your phone, hit record, and start there. Combine this with Molly Burke’s advice to “Delete your first 15 videos” and the message is clear. Start recording yourself, don’t expect to get it right immediately, and as you practice, you’ll develop and hone your craft.
There are many more tips, tricks and insights into just what it takes to become YouTube famous, which you can find in Read This if You Want to Be YouTube Famous here. My big takeaway from this project is that if you think this is something you would like to do, there’s literally nothing stopping you from becoming the next big thing. It’s all there for the taking, just hit record.