Posts Taged brands

The Difficult Relationship Between Brands & YouTube Creators

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Every day, YouTube users watch nearly 5 billion videos. Since its inception in 2005, YouTube has become a culture-shaping video mecca that has created a new category of “celebrity.” Brands have jumped into the YouTube pool with both feet, taking advantage of those 5 billion daily views with ad buys on the videos of popular YouTube Creators and branded content of their own. From gaming “Let’s Plays” to beauty tutorials to snarky commentary on politics to the latest viral meme, influencers are creating content that brands want to be a part of. And YouTube creators have made lucrative careers from the brands’ ad dollars: in 2016, the highest earning personality was PewDiePie, who brought in $15 million last year.

But in 2017, all has not been well in the YouTube land. Due to several controversies (including one surrounding the aforementioned PewDiePie), the relationship between advertisers and creators (and the relationship between both of those parties and YouTube itself) has become strained. The issues could have far-reaching implications for net neutrality, influencer marketing, and the future of video on social media. Both creators and brands need each other to win the YouTube game, but struggle to define who is truly in charge.

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The “Adpocalypse:” Creators need brands

In March of this year, YouTube and parent company Google had a full blown crisis on their hands: major brands were pulling their advertising due to Google’s inability to ensure that their ads didn’t end up playing in front of racist and offensive content. However, the issue wasn’t as cut -and-dry as advertisers wanted it to be; part of the issue is how Google can define and label offensive content.

Some videos are obviously offensive – those that contain extreme violence, gore, harassment, and blatant racist content are videos that advertisers (and probably the general public) don’t want to see monetized. However, in YouTube’s efforts to soothe brands’ fears, some of their most popular creators suddenly found their ad revenue tanking. Creators complained that the new “hate speech” algorithm was blocking their content unfairly, and taking video titles and content out of context. Several also pointed out that while their videos were being demonetized for things like violent content in a video game or “jokes” they said were taken out of context, the YouTube channels of news outlets that often show violent imagery and music videos with overtly sexual content still had ads attached.

YouTube creators are most successful when they create and share content with authenticity and connection to their audience. Sometimes, this includes content that isn’t “PG-13,” and brands may not want their logo and name associated with it. Staying true to their audience can come at a cost for creators, especially those who rely on YouTube for their livelihood.

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Cutting the cable cord: Brand need creators

According to a survey in 2016, younger generations watch 2.5 time more internet video than cable TV. In fact, YouTube is the most viewed platform among this demographic – also beating out Netflix, Facebook, and Hulu. Millennials and Generation Z are spending their time with their favorite influencers on YouTube, who are more likely to personally connect with them on social media than an A-list celebrity in the newest show on AMC. They trust these YouTube creators because they can connect with them on a personal level.

As Generation Z comes of age and begins wielding more purchasing power, brands are realizing they need to reach these consumers where they live. Consumers aren’t seeking out brands anymore, and they don’t like traditional advertising. Longer ads on YouTube often come with the option to skip them, but most users will still see a few seconds of an ad before skipping it to get to their video. A well-made ad can still make an impact in those few seconds, and potentially be seen by millions of users when played in front of videos by YouTube’s most popular personalities.

For brands looking to build an even stronger connection, product placements are alive and well on YouTube. Influencer partnerships can take time to build, and creators are often picky about the brands they work with – the products need to be authentic to their persona on YouTube. Not every popular YouTuber is a fit for this type of promotion, either. Those who don’t focus lifestyle content may not have audiences that expect or even accept product promotion.

Companies who pull regular advertising due to concerns about the content on YouTube can run into a new challenge as well if they want to work with these influencers directly. Creators affected by a lack of ad revenue due to brands pulling their campaigns might not be inclined to partner with brands in other capacities – why would they support the brands that don’t support the platform their career is based on? If ad revenues continue to dip or stay stagnant, many popular creators will be seeking greener pastures, and diversifying their careers. There may not be creators for brands to partner with at all in the future.

The balance

Google and YouTube have the difficult task of balancing the authenticity and creativity that made YouTube so popular with the need to assure brands that their reputation isn’t at risk by purchasing ad space. The second half of 2017 will likely define YouTube’s future, as well as the future of influencer relations in marketing. The current situation is sticky – all three parties (creators, brands, and YouTube) need each other, but also need to put their own interests first. Internet video is still a bit Wild West – and YouTube will have to find a way to balance the creators’ desire to keep it that way and brands’ desire to reign it in.

 

Let it go: don’t worry about control on social media

brand voice social media

Brands put a lot of work into fine tuning their voice, and can understandably be protective of their image. Companies want their audience to talk about them a certain way, and marketing, advertising, and public relations all work together in the hopes of achieving positive buzz and brand loyalty. However, brands often have trouble getting their social media platforms to “play nice” and stay in control. The conversation on social media is tough to control, but brands should embrace this fact rather than fear it.

Social media channels don’t function the same way an advertising piece does, where the content is tightly controlled and distributed. You can put in hours of work into a piece of content, just to have it turn into an unflattering, viral meme. Social media moves quickly, and brands can struggle to keep up. However, companies shouldn’t bail on social media entirely or resort to a corporate, sterile voice on these platforms. Instead, brands should jump into the deep end with both feet and utilize social media platforms for what they are – customer experience tools, not a brand megaphone.

Plan, and then let it go

Social media still requires planning and knowing your brand voice inside and out before starting to post. Companies should make sure their brand voice and image is unified across all the channels they’ll be using, and have a set of guidelines in place for tone and style for whoever will be posting on their behalf. Know what your brand would say and would never dream of saying before beginning. Make sure posts are edited before going live.

Once the content is out there, it’s in the hands of your audience. Brands must be ready to “let it go” to a certain extent after this point, as the engagement that happens may not be what you expect. Whatever the response is, take it and run with it rather than try to change it. It’s bad practice to delete negative comments; instead, use them as a customer service opportunity (or a humor opportunity, if it’s right for your brand and the complaint being made). Engage with the positive responses too, and shine a spotlight on the users responding. In some cases, you can even take advantage of user generated content in response to what you post. It might not be the quality or style your marketing department would have chosen, but it makes an authentic connection with your audience, something an ad rarely does.

Choose transparency over control

The days of “no comment” in response to a crisis are long gone thanks to social media. Social media users have no tolerance for slow responses, no response, or robotic corporate responses. When a brand crisis arises, it will be talked about on social media. No matter how appealing it can be to state “no response” or stay quiet until you’ve had ample time to come up with a polished statement, this is rarely the right choice.

While having a few days to think and present a response spears to give a company the chance to get a handle on the situation, they’re losing valuable time with an audience that is already discussing it. Transparency is far more important than an illusion of control on social media. Sometimes it’s even fine for a company to say “we’re aware, and we’re taking some time to collect our thoughts” rather than avoid posting for a few days and then attempt to look like they were always in control. Honesty with your audience (and even admitting you were blindsided) can go a long way with social media users.

Social media is a PR tool, not a marketing one

Marketing and public relations departments must work together to achieve success for the brand, and social media is no different. However, given the inherent lack of control with social media, PR professionals are better positioned to drive these efforts. Public relations is a two-way conversation, as is social media. Marketing is a brand megaphone; great in certain circumstances, but not really a fit for social media. Social media users have an extremely low tolerance for ads, and have high expectations for authentic communication from the brands they follow.

Public relations should work with marketing to ensure that the brand voice on social media is up to par, but marketing should be comfortable with PR leading social and communicating with their audience without several rounds of content approval. Conversations on social happen at the speed of light, and the key to success on these channels is listening and jumping in quickly. When a brand remembers that social is more about their audience than their company, they’ll be able to stay on top of conversations while getting comfortable with letting go of control. The rewards of social media can be numerous when brands let go – for both companies and their audience.