In my elementary and middle school years, my friends and I would spend hours on end on YouTube watching video after video, jumping from singers to dance groups to entertainers like Jenna Marbles. We even claim to have discovered Justin Bieber because we would watch his initial performances and earliest videos that he posted on YouTube and then post them in our AIM buddy profiles. This may seem irrelevant, but I think it goes under the radar how influential YouTube really was in Justin Bieber’s rise to fame around 2008. Justin Bieber is only one extreme example of the many, many creators who have become famous thanks to YouTube, but his journey is telling of the power of YouTube as a social network and entity promoter.
Last month, YouTube was ranked 2nd globally, just behind Facebook, for number of active users among social networks with 1.5 billion users. While most people in the US probably think of Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter as the major social network players, I would like to discuss how YouTube is an extremely effective social network for businesses in particular. The largest video-sharing network has come a long, long way since its first ever video, “Me at the zoo.” It became much more than just a platform for sharing silly, personal videos. It grew to become the go-to source of viral videos and the home of vlogs, tutorials, product reviews and an easy platform for showcasing talents and spreading ideas. Since its inception, YouTube has inadvertently helped businesses, big corporations and small mom and pop stores, find easy ways to market and brand. While there is a lot of emphasis for small businesses to capitalize on networks like Facebook and Instagram, I think people underestimate just how powerful YouTube’s network is, especially in collaboration with networks like Facebook and Instagram. YouTube videos, no matter the content, do not usually become viral or popular from the site itself, but through the ability to share the videos on other networks and through email or messaging. In 2015 and 2016 especially, there was about a 40% increase in views of product-related videos. YouTube recognized an opportunity in the gap between this increase in views of product-related videos and the actual purchasing of the products and decided to enter the e-commerce market. Businesses can leverage YouTube as an e-commerce social network in the following ways:
(1) YouTube Influencers
Even in its earliest days, people who posted to YouTube had a strong influence over creating social trends. Eventually businesses began to realize the value and opportunity in these “YouTube famous” content creators and there was born the idea of YouTube influencers. As YouTube states, “creators are more than a new generation of celebrity—they are writers, producers and distributors of content to a large and already engaged audience.” Businesses engage with influencers by sponsoring an influencer’s video, subtly plugging their product into an influencer’s video, or hiring an influencer to appear in the business’s video. A major reason influencers are effective is because consumers trust their favorite YouTube stars; they are people who they can relate to more than traditional celebrities or brands.
YouTube recognizes the value of influencers or “creators,” too. In the past few years, they have created pimped out spaces in major cities across the globe equipped with all the technology to easily make high quality videos where YouTube creators can go to create higher quality or more involved videos or collaborate with other creators in the YouTube community. YouTube wants to foster community and the creation of high quality content because the greater value that influencers are able to create, the greater value of YouTube as a social network.
(2) Small Business Opportunities
Last year, in an effort to encourage small businesses to take advantage of ecommerce on YouTube, they rolled out the “YouTube Director” app. This app has 130 ready-to-go templates, step-by-step instructions, and easy-to-use editing tools. YouTube created this free app for every type of business owner, from every level of experience and every demographic. The business owners can then post the video to YouTube and share it on their social media channels, or use it for paid advertising. Because Google acquired YouTube in 2006, all YouTube features can leverage Google tools like Google Small Business, Google Adwords, and Google Analytics. With the YouTube Director app, business owners can use all of these Google features in collaboration to create brand personality and market their business.
(3) Google Shopping Integration
In May of 2015, YouTube integrated Google shopping into their platform in an effort to close the gap between viewing product-related videos and actually purchasing the product. This new feature allows influencers and business owners to embed a pop up in their video that, when clicked, will lead the viewer directly to the website where the product can be purchased. As shown below, an information icon pops up in the right hand corner and when it is clicked, a scrolling panel of cards with information and pictures of the product shows up and can be clicked. This feature makes influencer product videos even more powerful and effective.
This feature has been popular for makeup businesses in particular. In the example below, Sephora hired celebrity tattoo artist, Kat Von D, to make a how-to video using their brand of eyeliner.
With all of the tools mentioned above, YouTube is certainly an easy and cheap social network platform for business owners to take their marketing and brand awareness to the next level.