How to Become a YouTube Influencer

Photo Source: Caitlin Watkins

So you have a talent you are passionate about pursuing and are looking to increase your visibility by putting your skills in front of a larger audience. The cheapest and easiest way to do this may very well be from the comfort of your own home. With your computer, internet, and some simple equipment (hello, smartphone), you may just be on your way to being the next big YouTube influencer.

What exactly is a YouTube influencer?

You may have heard this term thrown around on social media or in conversations with friends, but aren’t quite sure what it really means. To put it simply, a YouTube influencer is someone who builds a substantial following on the video platform of YouTube, thereby helping to set trends and provide information for others looking to purchase a specific product or service, for example. Some of the most popular YouTube influencers are a mix of performing artists, visual artists (including makeup artists), or athletes of some kind. Creating videos on YouTube allows them to share their skills and make them easily accessible.

As Backstage Expert Denise Simon writes in her article, How to Become a YouTube Sensation, “You love to perform and you love to <fill in your interest here>. Do both at the same time by turning the camera on and including the audience in your project.”

What should my first steps be?

First, and foremost, you need to create a YouTube account, which will allow you to add photographs, leave comments, and explore other accounts.

To get started on your content once you have your account and are logged in, you’ll need to create a new channel. You may also be asked to verify your account.

Be sure to make your name memorable and consistent with your brand. You need it to be quickly searchable, so nothing too complex.

In terms of branding your channel, think carefully of what skill you are showcasing and what vibe you want to give off. As Simon writes in How to Become a YouTube Sensation, “This is an opportunity to be creative and show your personality.

Additionally, Backstage Expert Heidi Dean advocates for specificity, in her article How to Get Your First 100 YouTube Subscribers: “A lot of novice content creators create random videos that they think everyone will like. What usually happens is because they’re trying desperately to appeal to everyone, they end up appealing to no one. Think hard about who you’re creating content for. Are they TV actors, “Game of Thrones” fans, Harry Potter fans, or horror film lovers? Be specific.”

The content should be reflective of your skill set and brand. “Come up with a theme for each show, or for a whole series, and keep producing content,” suggests Simon. Some of the most popular types of YouTube videos encompass genres including funny animals, video game walkthroughs, product reviews, how-to guides, gossip videos, comedy or sketch routines, pranks, parodies, educational videos, at-home-shopping or unboxing videos (often done with expensive gadgets or toys), shopping sprees and hauls, and vlogs. You’ll notice that certain genres lend themselves well to successful YouTube influencers, while others are more for sharing a specific moment someone thinks that a larger audience might be touched by, such as a cute video of their pet or a soldier being reunited with their family.

In terms of the actual video quality of recording your projects, check out our article Your Guide to a Perfect Self-Tape—even though it’s geared to people creating audition self-tapes, it’s filled with tips on technique, and the right video equipment to make your content look professional. However, if you are looking to create a film-specific project (i.e. a full-fledged web series or film short, instead of, say, a video of you cooking), you might need more serious film equipment than just your smartphone. As for genre-specific tools, that depends on the content you create. For example, if you are filming a makeup tutorial you will need the correct makeup kit, for sports videos you will need sports equipment, etc.

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How often should I be creating videos?

Ideally, to truly build a fanbase you should be adding a video with quality content every day. If this is not possible, as some types of videos take much more production time than others—and paying your rent is, you know, a thing—don’t add content just for the sake of content. Quality over quantity is important. Find a routine that you can stick to and advertise to your audience (i.e. a new video every Friday, two posts a week, etc.)

Who are successful YouTubers I can model my approach after?

A good way to create a plan for your own YouTube success is to take a look at the path of those who have come before you, and see what worked for them. Some successful YouTubers include:

  • Todrick Hall
    Hallis an actor, singer, dancer, director, choreographer, songwriter, drag queen, and YouTuber who was also on the singing talent show “American Idol” in 2009. His first YouTube video was a performance of “It’s Hard to Say Goodbye.” His channel is a mix of covers and original works, and as of June 2018 has nearly 3 million subscribers. Since he’s hit internet fame, he’s appeared on “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and toured the world.

  • Bo Burnham
    Burnham (born Robert Burnham) is a comedian, singer-songwriter, musician, actor, director, poet, and screenwriter, who started with YouTube in 2006. Since then, he’s released several comedy specials, including “Make Happy” on Netflix, and “Eighth Grade,” his first feature-length film, which he wrote and directed, premieres summer 2018. As of June 2018, his videos have been viewed over 228 million times.
  • King Bach
    King Bach (born Andrew Bachelor) is an actor, internet personality, and comedian who is best known for his Vines—a social media platform that no longer exists where six-second videos played on loop. However, Vine compilations of his are still accessible on YouTube. Bach often collaborates with other internet comedians on various sketches and has found success on TV series including “The Mindy Project” and films such as “The Babysitter” on Netflix.
  • Liza Koshy
    Koshy (born Elizabeth Koshy) is an actor, television host, and YouTube comedian. As of June 2018 her two YouTube channels have received more than 2 billion views, with her primary YouTube channel reaching 14 million subscribers. In addition to providing humorous social commentary, she also completes challenges such as dressing herself using only things she found at the dollar store. She also appeared in Tyler Perry’s horror comedy film “Boo!” and has her own series on YouTube Originals, “Liza on Demand.”

  • Jenna Marbles
    Jenna Marbles (born Jenna Mourey) is a vlogger, comedian, actor, and YouTube personality. She has the 32nd most popular YouTube channel with 18 million subscribers and has the second most popular channel operated by a woman. She first rose to fame doing comedic makeup tutorials, and various comedy sketches pertaining to women’s dating experiences. More recently, she’s begun vlogging about her personal life.

  • Colleen Ballinger
    Ballinger is an actor, singer, comedian, and YouTuber. She is known for the character she created, Miranda Sings, who inspires her YouTube videos, as well as her touring shows in theatres worldwide. She had her own series on Netflix, but it has since been cancelled.

  • Lilly Singh
    Lilly Singh is a Canadianvlogger, author, actor, and YouTuber known on YouTube as “IISuperwomanII.” Her content often includes references to American and Punjabi culture, collaborations with actors like Justin Baldoni and Will Smith, as well as satirical takes on everyday life and people’s favorite complaints. Since her rise to fame, she was named one of Time’s 30 most influential people on the internet, voiced characters in “Ice Age: Collision Course,” and is set to appear in HBO’s “Fahrenheit 451.”

  • Issa Rae
    Rae (born Jo-Issa Rae Diop) is a writer, actor, producer, director, and web series creator. She first received attention for her series “The Mis-Adventures of Awkward Black Girl,” which she posted on YouTube. She has since received two Golden Globe nominations for her work on her HBO series, “Insecure,” and mostly uses her YouTube channel to promote her content creation company, Issa Rae Productions.

  • Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer
    Together this duo created the independently produced web series “Broad City,” which was eventually was picked up by Comedy Central with Amy Poehler attached as a producer. The two write, star, and produce the show entering its fifth and final season. Read how they did it in our 2016 cover story interview with the creative pair.

  • Justin Bieber
    Bieber is a Canadian singer, actor, and songwriter. He may be the most well-known singer who started on YouTube. He was only 12 years old when he began posting his videos to the platform (with the help of his mom no less). Overtime, his channel accumulated a large following, at which point he was noticed by a big record label that asked him to record a demo tape.

  • Ed Sheeran
    Sheeran is an English singer, songwriter, record producer, guitarist, and actor who started recording music in 2004. But it wasn’t until he started using YouTube in 2010 that his career really skyrocketed. He was discovered by Jamie Foxx while playing open mic nights, but this coincided with his online video sharing.

You’ll notice that a lot of these YouTubers are described as having overlapping pursuits (ie. actor, writer, and producer, or, singer, songwriter, and producer), illustrating the different types of skills that YouTuber influencers bring to the table, and how one type of creative pursuit can help to broaden the scope of another.

How can I promote my channel?

Backstage Expert Heidi Dean has 10 main steps for those trying to promote their YouTube channel in her article, How to Get Your First 100 YouTube Subscribers:

  1. Narrow your audience.
    Decide on your specific audience and then create content for them, instead of trying to please everyone at once.
  1. Create a trailer for your channel.
    Create a trailer that will automatically play for those who are not subscribed to your channel, with a call to action to have them subscribe.
  1. Create an interesting profile.
    Make sure your “About” section on your channel is interesting. This is where you can really make yourself stand out and sell your product to try to gain subscribers.
  1. Choose searchable titles.
    Think about what people actually type while searching for something and keep your keywords contained to the first 45 characters, as that is all that is seen when searching.
  1. Create better thumbnails.
    A lot of people are visually stimulated and a boring thumbnail will not help to catch anyone’s attention. Try changing your thumbnails to be more interesting and eye-catching for increased traffic and subscribers. Also, keep in mind the old adage “less is more.”
  1. Add a watermark.
    You can add a branding a watermark to your videos to have people become subscribers to your channel in one click.
  1. Use YouTube’s free analytics.
    YouTube’s analytics will help you learn how to improve your videos by letting you know what your audience likes. You can then tailor future videos to your audience’s preferences to get them to watch more videos for longer.
  1. Create consistent content.
    Build a schedule that works for you and then be diligent with sticking to it. Subscribers will then be more reliable when they know when to expect something.
  1. Create playlists.
    Playlists show up in YouTube searches the same way videos do. If you have a certain order that is important to your videos (i.e for a web series, etc.) this ensures that your audience watches it in the correct order while also “advertising” for your other content.

  2. Just ask.
    Don’t assume just because someone enjoyed your video they will automatically subscribe or even know how to do so. With this in mind, be sure to invite them to subscribe at the end of your video.

Also, while YouTube is one specific type of social media, don’t forget the power of other social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest to promote your YouTube channel by driving traffic and subscribers to your page.

What questions should I be asking myself throughout the process?

There are a few things you should ask yourself along your journey to becoming a YouTube influencer:

  • What are my short-term goals?
  • What are my long-term goals?
  • Am I achieving them?
  • If not, what can I change to improve my chances?
  • What works well and what needs improvement?
  • Is my content professional and of high-quality?

This list of questions will help you to stay-on-track and provide a consistent way to evaluate how far you’ve come and where you are looking to go in terms of number of subscribers, money earned, and how your channel is helping you with your career outside of YouTube. (If that is a goal of yours).

Will I still be taken seriously as an actor?

If you are looking to promote your acting career on YouTube, it all comes down to branding and professionalism. YouTube is a great platform for promoting your demo reel, individual clips from projects, or entire web series online, and is accessible to a vast number of people worldwide. If you want to develop your acting career, YouTube shouldn’t be your only platform for work, but creating quality content and sharing it over YouTube won’t stop you from being taken seriously as an actor either, as long as you are a consummate professional about the level of material you put out there. Think of YouTube as just one of the many tools in your toolbox to help your career.

What are the perks of being successful on YouTube?

YouTube has launched quite a few people’s careers. As Backstage Expert Denise Simon writes, “The more popular your videos become, the more industry exposure you are likely to garner. If you have a web page to promote yourself as a performer, you can drive traffic to that page from your videos. Alternately, casting directors or other show business insiders will gain greater insight into who you are by going to your YouTube channel after looking at your web page. Driving traffic from one page to the other should be one of your goals to increase your visibility and promote your talents.” Those whose careers have been catapulted by YouTube not only make a pretty penny on advertisers for their YouTube channels, but also have procured work outside of YouTube as a result, on wider-reaching platforms like Netflix, cable and network TV series, and mainstream films.

If you decide to use your winning personality to review products (and you garner a worthy following), there are hundreds of companies out there willing to send you free or sample products to promote on your channel.

As with any platform, your voice will be magnified. You’ll be able to shine a light on causes or issues you believe in, highlight and connect with people you admire, plus, you’ll prove you’re watchable and sellable as an on-camera performer.

What are the cons to being successful on YouTube?

As with any type of social media, there are some issues of which to be aware.

One is, of course, internet trolls. The reality is that no matter how good a product you put online, not everyone will like it. This in and of itself is not really the big issue, as we all know different people have different tastes. However, the downside of the internet is that anonymity creates a fearlessness that people do not have speaking to your face, allowing for the possibility of nasty remarks being left in comments section for your videos. As the saying goes, “Haters gonna hate.”

The other downside of making your content free and easily accessible on the web is that there are people out there who might take your intellectual property and try to pass it off as their own—but that is a reality all content creators live with.

Overall, YouTube success requires dedication and consistency. Time management is by no means a con, but being aware of how much time you have and how much time you need to make this endeavor worth your while is absolutely something to consider before choosing this as your main way to connect with your audience.

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How do I know I’ve become successful?

The idea of success, no matter what platform or field, all has to do with perspective and goal-setting. Like with anything, think of becoming a YouTube influencer in terms of short-term and long-term goals. These goals are, of course, different for different people, and should be based on the type of YouTube content you produce.

If you have a monetary goal with your YouTube work, you are looking to build up a channel to attract advertisers and bring in income. This could mean making a little extra cash on the side, or being able to pay your rent, or perhaps even getting enough money from a web series to be able to produce it on a larger scale.

Increased exposure can perhaps get you opportunities in your chosen path outside of YouTube, like it did for many of the successful YouTubers listed earlier.

How can I take my YouTube “influence” to the next level?

Once you have mastered the art of being a YouTube influencer you may want to use the audience you’ve built to show you’re able to move your talent off of YouTube and on to a larger platform. For example, if you are a singer and can get a record label interested, if you are actor and can get noticed by a casting director, or if you are a makeup artist and can book a job for the particular techniques you promote on YouTube, those are all examples of transcending the platform from whence you came. While some people can make a decent chunk of change off of advertising from YouTube, taking that influence and applying it to your career goals means that YouTube can be a vehicle, rather than a focus.

Always remember that you have to start somewhere. Create a YouTube account, get a channel going, start making quality content, and cross-advertise on other social media. YouTube influencers show how creating your own work can really make a difference in your career. With consistency, hard work, and talent you may just be the next YouTube influencer, and who knows where that might take you.

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