Social Media platforms are constantly being developed and improved to enhance online communication and social interaction.Youtube provides micro-celebrities with a diverse range of affordances, through the content and presentation of their videos, which, enhance the process and attainment of social capital and promote self-branding. A micro-celebrity who expertly utilises these affordances to enhance their brand and increase social capital is Zoella Sugg.
Graham Meikle describes Social Media as “networked database platforms that combine public with personal communication” (7). While it may be overlooked in the realm of Social Media, YouTube does, in fact, operate for this purpose and is known as a hub of user-generated content (Meikle 14). YouTube combines the public and personal through video sharing, and interactive features including liking, commenting and subscribing. Social Media platforms afford users the possibility to interact, communicate and even monetize their content or sell products (Gillespie 351). During initial release, individual platforms often have a core purpose, Snapchat, for example, was created for instantaneous yet temporary photo exchange. However, it also affords various other options for usage from private messaging and public ‘stories’ to the recent introduction of the ‘Snap map’ allowing fellow Snapchat friends to view your location in real time. Similarly, YouTube may appear to simply exist as a video library but it actually offers users with a variety of opportunities from entertainment to public interaction. Youtube’s content can be categorized with 3 primary purposes; entertainment (in the form of music videos or movie clips), business promotion (advertisements and interviews) and the social media aspect, content creators known as ‘YouTubers’. These creators are essentially “self-branding entrepreneurs” (Meikle 13). A prime example is British YouTuber, Zoe “Zoella” Sugg who, with over 12 Million subscribers is one of the top 100 most subscribed channels on the website (Vidstatsx.com, 2017). Her channel’s heading and subscriber count are pictured below.
Affordances are functional and relational aspects which frame and determine opportunities in relation to an object. YouTube has “inherent properties” that afford different possibilities for usage (Hutchby, “Technologies”: 443). The ‘Like’ button, for example, can be used to both affirm support or enjoyment of a video. Also, YouTube has an algorithm in place that analyses what videos someone has ‘liked’ and consequently suggests other videos of a similar nature/style that might also appeal to that user (Meikle, 3). Likewise with disliked videos; it informs the creator that you didn’t enjoy their content and as a result, YouTube will filter out videos of a similar nature from your suggestions. Here is an example of a video that was suggested for me as I have viewed and liked Zoella’s content and am now being recommended to watch a similar video, that Zoella coincidentally features in, as pictured below.
Aforementioned YouTuber Zoella, utilizes an array of the affordances available to her through YouTube, ultimately improving her ‘brand’. A relatively underrated affordance is the description bar, below the video. Zoella is an avid user of the down bar often telling viewers to check it out after the video. Zoella not only describes the content of her video in the description box but she also includes hyperlinks to any stores or products she mentioned as well as linking all of her other social media accounts. While seemingly simple, the links to other accounts encourage users to go and follow her, ultimately improving Zoella’s holistic fanbase and consequential self-branding. On top of Zoella’s various social networking platforms, her success from YouTube has extended to a blog, a beauty and lifestyle collection as well as the release of three books, the first of which was the UK’s fastest-selling book of 2014. It’s safe to say that Zoella is an expert example of a micro-celebrity who understands self-branding and has effectively crafted an empire simply from her bedroom. Pictured below is an example of one of Zoella’s recent videos with some of the regular content she includes in the description box.
Affordances, however, can be both enabling and constraining, for example in the case of Sponsored advertisements. It is not uncommon for YouTubers to talk about their favourite products be it beauty/clothing related or homeware. Although, some of the products they rave about were actually sent to them by the company itself, essentially paying YouTubers to advertise and promote on the company’s behalf. As of 2014, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) made a rule whereby sponsored products had to be declared as such, by including “Ad” somewhere in the video or description (Tait, 2016). This is enabling both for the creator and audience; YouTubers receive free products and payment for a quick advertisement and viewers know what exciting new items their favourite YouTubers are using and where they can go to get it for themselves. This affordance can also be restricting, in that, it projects a somewhat fake image in that it is often questioned whether YouTubers truly like the products they promote or whether they are saying what their ‘employer’ wants to hear… Zoella doesn’t promote products often but here is an example whereby she is clearly complying with the ASA’s rule and has even declared that the promotion was sponsored, hyperlinking the product in the description.
The ways in which YouTubers utilise the affordances of YouTube is for the purpose of monetizing and promoting their brand. This is achieved by uploading frequent, fun and fresh content, keeping active on other social media and requesting Subscribers, likes and comments. Viewers on the other hand typically seek entertainment, enjoyment and often advice from these influential online role models. Typically they interact most via the comment section, whether communicating with other fans or responding/trying to catch the attention of the YouTuber themselves. In relation to YouTube’s content, production and consumption are essentially merged in that they each inform and influence the other (Bruns, 2). Zoella makes videos that she thinks will best appeal to the viewers, who then can give feedback in the comments or in the form of likes/dislikes. This is likely how Zoella plans some of her content as ‘Monthly Favourites’, shopping hauls and beauty tutorials have been prominent and frequent features on her channel for years which indicates high popularity amongst viewers.
There are also processes on YouTube that afford creators such as Zoella with the ability to earn social capital. The main form of income for YouTubers is their subscriber count. Once a YouTube users gain 10,000 subscribers they start getting paid for their videos, consequently, the more subscribers you have the more money you’re paid (Julian, 2017). As of mid-2017 Zoella’s channel reached 1 billion views and on a daily basis, the channel gets 300,000 views which equate to an average of $600 per day which is $220,000 per year (Julian, 2017). Zoella’s livelihood is somewhat dependant on maintaining her currently following while working to advance it further. For the sake of her ‘brand’ and social capital, it’s imperative that Zoella caters to her fans providing frequent, entertaining content. With over 12 million people subscribed to her channel so far, it’s clear that she is doing something right.
YouTube, YouTubers and Social Media, in general, were once fresh-faced concepts and technology but over time and in conjunction with development and usage they have established a set of ‘norms’. Meikle explains how the convergence of public and private has formed an alternate (web) universe, “the public space of the media industries and the personal space of the individual response can now occupy the same space – social media” (7). Within the realm of YouTube, there are some commonplace norms that exist; a sort of unspoken social conduct. This is especially prominent amongst YouTubers and the often weekly content they produce for their viewers with Girls commonly uploading beauty tutorials, shopping hauls and ‘Tags’ with friends/boyfriends. While boys often film challenges, games, ‘Tags’ or regular piece to camera videos. All of this varied content is in the interest of crafting an appealing image for viewers.
Back in the earlier days of YouTube, there used to be a handful of popular YouTubers, such as Zoella. However, more people have seemingly grasped YouTube’s potential to launch people from being unknown to becoming a micro-celebrity. Due to the possibility of creating social capital purely from your image, there are now countless channels available to watch. The vast quantity of creators has seemingly not altered the material or style being produced. It’s common that once YouTubers gain notoriety they eventually start vlogging (video-blogging) their everyday lives and attend the YouTube fan convention, ‘Vidcon’. While some viewers may seemingly prefer some YouTubers to others, ultimately at their core they all produce very similar content of a very similar style. This is due to the “pulse of the public” (Gilespie 2016) and the videos they seek. This all stems back to norms created by micro-celebrities such as Zoella whose content has been immensely successful and thus there is a lot of ‘following in the footsteps before you’ rather than originality. Which I think is actually a mistake on behalf of up and coming creators as this could, in fact, be what sets them apart. Here are some examples of well-known YouTubers.
Another aforementioned ‘norm’ is the essence of an online community, this hub of social interaction and communication and YouTube affords its users with this possibility. YouTubers use their platforms to engage with their fans and encourage them to interact with one another. The videos in which YouTubers directly speak to the camera are in fact very engaging as it feels like you really know the person talking to you as they’re essentially looking right at you and continually upload more information about their lives every week. While Zoella may have an image as a beauty guru she also posts videos of advice for her viewers. Zoella has been very open previously about her experiences with Anxiety and Panic Disorder as shares her story to encourage and support others who may be experiencing similar issues her videos act as advice, a “To whom it may concern” message essentially (Meikle, 3). This kind of content is just as important as funny videos on YouTube and it’s great to see such influential people, micro-celebrities such as Zoella, bravely speaking out.
In conclusion, YouTube affords micro-celebrities such as Zoella the opportunity to craft a self-oriented brand and essentially monetise their day to day life. Youtube along with other social media sites can essentially be described as “celebrity societies” (Sauter, 14) due to the magnitude and notoriety of the creators; afforded to them by loyal fans. YouTube is a very influential platform and while it may contain some aversive content this is outweighed by funny and uplifting content, enhanced by the ‘YouTuber’ community who aim to entertain and promote online communication and interaction.
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Julian (2017). How Much Money Zoella Makes From YouTube – Net Worth 2017. [online] Available at: http://naibuzz.com/2016/03/15/much-money-zoella-makes-youtube/
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Tait, A. (2017). How YouTubers really make their millions. [online] Available at:https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/business/2016/03/how-youtubers-really-make-their-millions.