Since its humble launch in 2005, YouTube has taken the world by storm. It is now the third most visited site on the internet (after Google and Facebook) and the second largest search engine. According to YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki, four hundred hours of video content is uploaded to YouTube every minute and, as consumers, we watch one billion hours of YouTube per day. Its popularity is staggering.
If you work with children in upper primary or secondary, it is likely that some of your students dream of being YouTubers. I have heard many young people express these aspirations, even in Year Four. As Jennifer Casa-Todd states in Social LEADia, young people often idolise famous YouTubers. They are role models to our students and can even reach celebrity status (Madame Tussauds has a YouTube themed area featuring waxworks of successful YouTubers). When students express these aspirations, how do we respond? How should we respond?
Childhood ambitions of being a YouTuber are new to this generation and many teachers, therefore, lack understanding. However, we should be encouraging any ideas that involve content creation over consumption (as long as the ideas are positive and well-meaning). With dedication, hard work and quality content, it is even possible to make a career from YouTube. It should not be dismissed as an unreachable pipe dream. Instead, let’s support these ambitions and promote the necessary attributes.
Creating a YouTube channel is surprisingly easy. With parental permission, students can start at the age of thirteen. Creating a channel is simple, but the challenge lies in making a success of it. So, what attributes are needed to maintain a successful YouTube channel?
Very few YouTube channels (if any) were overnight successes. Much like blogging, the audience will start small and will probably be made up mostly of family and friends. It takes time to attract a wider audience and a loyal following. The start of the journey is a challenge because content creators have to persevere even when few people are noticing. This can be extremely demoralising considering the time and effort that goes in. Even YouTubers who are now rich and famous once started from scratch. Their successes have been built over years of effort, grit and determination.
Most successful YouTubers collaborate with other channels. There are many benefits to this. Zoe Sugg, better known as Zoella (one of the YouTubers on display at Madame Tussauds), explains how YouTubers perceive each other as community partners rather than competition, and that supporting other channels is mutually beneficial (click here to read more). Furthermore, established YouTubers often collaborate with other companies. As influencers, YouTubers can make money through advertising, shout-outs and promotions. Collaboration is a huge part of being a YouTuber even if a channel is maintained by an individual.
Through blogging, it has become apparent that every idea can be challenged. Even ideas that are widely accepted or seemingly common sense will have critics. This surprised me at first. As long as the opposing viewpoints are shared politely and respectfully, this is a positive thing. As a blogger, this encourages me to constantly consider different viewpoints. Likewise, YouTubers will face opposition, arguments and debates. These open our minds to new ideas and perspectives and should, therefore, be approached with a positive mindset (again, as long as they are expressed respectfully).
YouTube has a dark side: the comments section. Although this space is often used positively and collaboratively, it is undeniable that the comments section is also a platform for trolls. This isn’t unique to YouTube. Again, I have personal experience of this through my blog. It is almost guaranteed that YouTubers, after reaching a certain level of success, will face negativity and nastiness. This is obviously undesirable but, on the positive side, it also develops resiliency and a thick skin.
As I said, being a YouTuber is about content creation. The process is highly creative. YouTubers must generate ideas and present them in interesting, original and engaging ways. We develop our creativity by practising it. YouTubers who regularly and consistently create new content are undoubtedly very creative.
It takes confidence to share ideas and opinions online, especially knowing that you open yourself up to disagreements and even make yourself vulnerable to trolling. This is true for all content creators but YouTubers face an additional challenge beyond that: the confidence to speak and be seen on camera. This is very intimidating to some people, myself included. I would like to develop my YouTube channel one day and I have considered creating technology tutorials, for example, but I would much rather express myself in writing than in front of a camera! YouTubers not only need the confidence to do this, but they also need the ability to act comfortably and naturally on camera, which is a lot harder than it sounds.
YouTubers put masses of time and effort into their channels because they are passionate about their content area. YouTube is a platform that allows anyone to follow their passions and express themselves. Over time, a passion can even develop into a career. For example, I subscribe to several channels about movies and movie reviews. These YouTubers are passionate about movies and knowledgeable enough to review them with credibility. YouTube offers them a self-managed platform to express their ideas and follow their passions.
The process of creating and sharing high-quality video content requires a knowledge of how both hardware and software works. After reaching a certain level of success, most YouTubers invest in professional equipment in order to provide the best viewing experience for their audience. This might include cameras, microphones, lighting equipment, green screens, etc. Their use of this equipment is often advanced and sophisticated. Likewise, they need to develop a knowledge of video editing. Furthermore, to help viewers to find their videos, YouTubers must also develop an understanding of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO). This is a key skill for marketers. SEO is about utilising features, such as tags and keywords, that will help content to be found through search engines. An understanding of SEO is essential across many contexts and careers.
YouTubers, especially those who create content as a full-time job, understand how media works, its purpose and its biases. As Julie Smith states in Master the Media, media literacy is a key survival skill in the twenty-first century. For example, professional YouTubers understand that “all media exists to connect buyers to advertisers” (Smith, 2016). This is supported by Corey Martell: “The business of YouTube is not producing videos. It’s advertising.” After a channel reaches one thousand subscribers and four thousand hours of watch time per year, it can be monetised through YouTube’s advertising service. YouTubers can also make money through brand affiliation, sponsorship, etc. YouTubers have a strong understanding of how all of this works and how other media outlets similarly rely on advertising.
Though money is made through advertising, YouTubers understand that their success depends entirely on their audience. They are committed to their viewers and genuinely appreciate their input and engagement. Successful YouTubers understand that, first and foremost, they serve their audience. Everything else follows.
It’s important to acknowledge that lots of YouTube content is negative and can even have an undesirable impact on our kids. This reminds us that YouTube, like all technology, is just a tool. The user decides whether the tool is used for good or bad. Therefore, we need to continually promote digital citizenship and leadership. Having said that, YouTubers generally demonstrate many positive and highly desirable attributes that can be applied across different contexts. There is huge value in being a YouTuber, so let’s take it seriously when our students express this ambition.
This post was inspired by my friends Katie and Ryan who have recently started a YouTube channel for teachers (aptly named ‘For Teachers’). Their enthusiasm is what prompted my thinking. Please follow this link to check them out and consider subscribing.