Celebrity is just another way of saying “personal brand” and there’s no more powerful way to build a personal brand than on YouTube–at least for regular folk. Hollywood stars might have giant movie screens, red carpet premieres and chat show interviews to build their brand, but for people who never went to acting school, YouTube now provides one way to the top.
It doesn’t come easily. YouTube stars all have two vital characteristics in common. First, their videos always appear professional. They plan them and shoot them carefully, often using special props and multiple cameras. They then spend time editing them so that they feel natural. Successful videos are rarely made using mobile phones on point-and-shoot.
Second, they’re promoted. Even viral videos take effort to seed, and YouTube stars will put effort into sharing audiences with other stars and looking for ways to build their subscribers. A following doesn’t build itself.
Here are five regular folks who have made it big on YouTube, and how they did it.
When YouTube began to promote its most popular video creators back in 2014, one of the first celebrities it chose to place on New York billboards was Bethany Mota. A young woman from northern California, Mota was reported to be earning as much as $40,000 a month in ad revenue, and more from brand promotions.
Mota’s output falls neatly into the tradition of “haul” videos, in which people show off their purchases, and beauty videos, in which they give make-up and makeover advice. She’s since appeared on Dancing with the Stars and has made her own music. But her inspiration for making videos was as an escape from the cyber-bullying she had suffered. The video in which she talked about cyber-bullying is notable not just for its honesty but also for mentioning that it forms part of a campaign launched by another YouTuber. It’s a great example of video stars working together to strengthen each other.
It helps to have a motivation to get big on YouTube, and few things motivate more than fat checks from big brands. The parents of “Ryan” of RyansToyReview understood that they were on to a good thing when they filmed their child opening toys. Parents got to see which toys got kids most excited. Brands got to put their products in front of an audience that now numbers more than ten million subscribers and has racked up around 17 billion views. The first videos were fairly simple but as the audience and the checks grew, you can see the videos becoming smoother, more professional… and less natural too.
You can build a large and profitable YouTube brand by promoting lots of different products, but you can also do it by specializing in one particular kind of product. Karina Garcia’s videos look like most other beauty and make up videos. But her clips focus on creating slime. That’s a niche market, and she also gives it other DIY videos. But it’s given her a book deal and according to the New York Times, an income through sponsorship of six figures per month working three or four days a week.
The examples we’ve seen so far are closely tied to products. But it’s also possible to build a following in the same way that any talented entertainer can build a following . Rhett James Loughlin and Charles Lincoln used to be engineers until their social media “Internetainment” took off. They’re now said to have earned more than $15 million. Look at the effort they put into the videos. Those are clips good enough to be on commercial television… but as long as they’re pocketing all the sponsorship money without a middle man, why would they bother?
Sometimes, you can start on one social media platform before bringing your audience to a different platform with more potential. Jake Paul was the most popular person on Vine before Vine closed. The success that he kept when he moved to YouTube won him a spot in a Disney Channel sitcom.
What all of these YouTube stars have in common is that none of them started as stars. They created entertaining content. They built their audiences. And they kept engaging with their followers. They did it themselves using nothing but their talent and the opportunity that YouTube gave them.