Illustration by Katie Beasley
"If this fucking thing tells my digital legion of fans and haters to buy Frito Lay products without my consent I'm gonna fucking kill myself."
YouTube celebrities, in spite of the meritocracy your parents raised you to believe exists, have become actual celebrities, with the same endorsement deals and high-powered agents as people who don't make their livings vlogging about lip stains from their San Fernando Valley apartments. But what are the secrets to their success? How could a simple, non-Yas-Kween like myself "build my brand," amass a rabid squad of Pinterested fans of my snackable content, and get rich as fuck in the process?
The answer was (seemingly) simple—by taking a Sunday afternoon class at The Grove, an LA shopping mall that formerly served as the shooting location for Extra. "Who says you can't be the next YouTube sensation?" the class description saucily teased. "Learn all about what goes into making your favorite YouTube videos in this 3-hour crash course. A blogger extraordinaire will take you through the basics of content creation, shooting, editing and so much more!"
The class took place above an Italian restaurant; complimentary rose water drinks with the tagline "Drink and Be Beautiful," sitting next to branded notebooks and cards with inspirational phrases like "Your future is created by what you do today" and "Never stop reaching for your dreams" acted as our place settings. In the corner, a table filled with pastries languished, neglected. The frilled edge of a woman's bootleg Burberry poncho fell into her coffee.
My fellow attendees were comprised of a group of about thirty women, generally in their thirties and twenties with a smattering of middle aged people. There was one man.
If we followed her exhaustive list of tips, we were told we'd eventually reach the peak of the mountain, the dream every tween kindles in heart while living in these tainted times —the dream of creating branded content.
An ineffably chipper woman named Tiffany pushed a baby carriage containing her dog, a Pomeranian wearing a bedazzled hair (fur?) clip, into the makeshift classroom. The dog, we soon learned, was named Sophia Loren. "She just happens to be a dog," Tiffany told no one in particular, "but she's into fashion."
Our instructor described herself a "celebrity stylist," having styled "everyone from Kristie Alley to Jimmy Kimmel," who "made the transition to YouTube" a few years ago and quickly amassed 130,000 subscribers. "I hate saying YouTuber because it sounds so young," she told us. She preferred the phrase "content creator."
"I'm here to share my secrets—I'm taking them out of the vault—on YouTube content creation" she informed us; she did so while being filmed by another content creator on an iPhone 6s. True to form, she immediately began sharing glistening pearls of glamorous wisdom. Like:
When it comes to choosing your YouTube channel's identity, specificity is key. You need to pick two or three things to be your focus, like "design and fashion" or "design and fashion and beauty," and stick to them. "You don't want people to come to your page and be, like, 'Why is she talking about science? I want design and fashion and beauty!'" she offered as a harrowing cautionary tale.
"Decent lighting" and "snappy editing" keeps people engaged; you're not making Citizen Kane, you're making a vlog about mascara. Natural lighting is ideal, but she doesn't use it because she has a "YouTube studio" she bought on Amazon for $300, the centerpiece of which is a circular Diva Ring light. "I know, it sounds like birth control," she laughed. "It's the weirdest name."
"Network, network, network," as video collaborations can be "paramount to growing your channel." LIKE and SUBSCRIBE to other channels—when bigger, more established YouTubers like or comment or your channel, that helps garner you exposure. By saying something in the comments of their videos, their fans might be inclined to look up your own hot take on hair care.
When it comes to "collabs," you should create a "call to action" within the first 30 seconds wherein you push the audience to subscribe to both of your channels, because that's when people are the most engaged. You should do it in the middle of the video as well, but organically. She said this in spite of the fact that YouTube stars are the GMOs of celebrities.
"Titles are so important," she told us. "People love listicle titles," herself included. "Top 10 best places?" she, acting as a phantom viewer, asked. "Where is that?!?" Be uncreative and to the point—even if you come up with a cute word, as she did, with "hairccessory." The title and first three sentences of the video's description should all be similar, which essentially means you should repeat the same fucking sentiment four times. Redundancy rules, as YouTube isn't exactly known for its subtlety.
If we followed her exhaustive list of tips, we were told we'd eventually reach the peak of the mountain, the dream every tween living in these tainted times hopes to one day achieve—the dream of creating branded content. Then, perhaps, we could one day scale the financial heights as Forbes' ten highest grossing YouTube stars of 2015, like Swedish video game blogger PewPewDie ($12 million)<, beauty blogger Michelle Phan ($3 million) or Rhett & Link ($4.5 million), a comedy duo who describe themselves as "Internetainers.
Tiffany told us about companies that offer trade opportunities, wherein a YouTubber gets money or free products in exchange for brand promotion. "Oh my God, there are so many companies you guys," she said, as we sat and watched her scroll through her phone, struggling to find examples. Even if we only had a few thousand subscribes, she encouraged us to reach out these companies so we could become YouTube Influence Marketers.
A video of "stars" on Grapevine's roster, all of whom had interchangeably beachy waves—with the exception of the African-American influencer, until it was revealed the video she created was about turning her natural curls into beachy waves—twirled for the camera and showed off the merchandise (cosmetics, hand balm, disposable clothing). It was the consumerist equivalent of a porn compilation, one I felt I would never get a liquid foundation money shot in.
I took her advice and attempted to sign up for Grapevine, one of the biggest dogs in the content fight for influence; I quickly learned that, as someone with less than 1,000 YouTube subscribers (I have a pitiful 102 and according to one subscriber's comments I should "just facking [sic] kill" myself), I was barred from doing so.
I moved on to Revfluence, "the Leading Influencer Platform for Brands & Agencies," which claimed it had made 10,000 "creator to brand connections." One such creator, a woman named Dani Austin, gushed, "Authenticity is so important to me, and that means connecting with products that truly inspire me. Revfluence allows for me to connect directly with new, trending, and upcoming products that I am able to collaborate with to fuel my passion for fashion, beauty, and wellness."
Her passion, it seemed, was fueled in one-cent increments. Revfluence gets companies to pay between one to four cents per YouTube view for "mention" videos, and five to eight cents per view for "dedicated" ones. While mention videos can contain references to multiple products, dedicated ones contain "shout outs" to only a single brand. Which means, were one to somehow acquire a million hits on a dedicated video, they'd earn between $50,000 and $80,000.
Grapevine is less straightforward about their pricing system, writing, "Due to confidentiality, we can't disclose the average amount that we pay each individual per campaign. But it's substantial."
I received no opportunities from the platform, presumably because all the videos I currently have posted on my YouTube channel entail me yelling about 9/11 being an inside job.
Barred from Grapevine and Revfluence, I tried my luck with IZEA, which boasted "550k+ Creators...ranging from Celebrities and YouTube Stars to Mommy Bloggers and Instagrammers." I squirmed as I gave their app permission to post tweets for me and follow people without my permission. "If this fucking thing tells my digital legion of fans and haters to buy Frito Lay products without my consent I'm gonna fucking kill myself," I muttered under my breath.
IZEA was a bust, as the only options their platform provided me were the opportunity to tweet about things like Amazon Fire Sticks and mediocre SEO articles for $1 a pop. My self-respect, apparently, was worth $1 a tweet, but how much per video? To this question, I am answerless. Until, of course, I pick myself up by the bedazzled bootstraps, bathe myself in light and lip gloss, and, as my instructor suggested, "be the best, most engaging version of [myself]." Then, and only then, will I be allowed the opportunity to be the best brand ambassador Tampax has ever seen.
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