At a time when it's becoming easier than ever for influencers to 'sellout,' it is crucial to remember that authenticity remains the key to success online.
Opinions expressed in this piece belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or beliefs of AMEinfo.
In an age where it's becoming easier than ever to become an influencer, standing out among the crowd is becoming harder than ever before. As internet speeds and our smartphones improve, the ability to enter the world of content creation becomes much easier, at least from a technical perspective. Sure, it helps to have background in photo and video editing software like Adobe Photoshop and Sony Vegas Pro, but that's nothing a few YouTube instruction videos and a few days of tinkering won't remedy.
From a content perspective, more and more niches that were once neglected are now being served by up-and-coming online personalities. Any possible hobby or kind of content you can possibly imagine is most probably out there. Last month, and much to my dismay, I stumbled upon a YouTube channel that specializes in destroying brand new technology on camera - everything from iPhone 12s to PS5s and beyond. Yes, you read that correctly. I'm familiar with this kind of content, but I had yet to find a YouTube channel dedicated to it. I'm sure that channel (which I won't be naming) is just one of many like it, and there must be an allure to this kind of content, one that I'm clearly not in tune with.
To return to my original point, the internet and social media have given individuals an outlet to express themselves like never before. A niche hobby or skill that no one would have ever paid attention to can possibly find fame in the right circles, thanks to massive exposure the web provides. Even in the most competitive niches and categories, such as online gaming, creators can find success if their content is solid and if they themselves, often the brand that a viewer/follower subscribes to/follows is interesting enough.
Which brings us to our next point: monetization. During the early days of the internet, when someone would start a film blog or create a site to list the latest scores of UEFA's Champion's League matches, they often did so out of pure passion. The costs of hosting a site as well as maintaining it were seen by these individuals as just another cost of sustaining their hobbies. More often than not, it would be a passion project, and would remain so, purely devoid of any monetary gain.
Today, this is rarely the case anymore. With the growing advent of influencer marketing, the YouTube Partner Program (YPP), brand deals, and sponsored posts, content creation has become another job. Passion is certainly still prevalent across all niches and fanbases - that's something that will never change. However, it's becoming easier for content creators to 'sellout,' so to speak, disregarding passion and quality in favor of the influencer 'grind.' Controversial YouTube influencer Logan Paul is one example often cited in forums.
I think that anyone that is familiar with the world of influencers and content creators has at one point or another stumbled across one of these so-called 'sellouts,' myself included. I had been following a particular YouTuber since their early days, slowly seeing the quality of their videos decrease over the years as they sought to churn out content more occasionally, to improve their chances with YouTube's fickle algorithm. Sure, the camera and mic they were using now were both better, and the edits were better, but the content itself was generic and lackluster. Even the creator's unique personality and opinions which he'd usually interject more often his videos were more muted in favor of being more politically correct.
I've seen this happen with more than one creator, to varying degrees. Some people are able to withstand the grind, managing to produce enjoyable content without losing their original passion for their topic.
Take PewDiePie (the online handle of content creator Felix Kjellberg), YouTube's most popular personality. With 108 million subscribers, he still remains his usual, comical self. Sure, he's had some bumps along the way with some controversies, as is often the case, but he's managed to remain genuine. When you have such a wide following, it's only natural you will upset some demographic or the other, especially if you're somewhat of a controversial personality yourself. Still, PewDiePie never committed a blunder as big as that of Logan Paul's Suicide Forest video (link to article, not video), so he's been able to stay in the good graces of the internet, while producing content that both he and his followers enjoy. (Side note: He even donated $100,000 to the Lebanese Red Cross following the explosion that devastated the Lebanese capital back in August.)
And this is what's often lacking today: authenticity. Gone are the aforementioned early days of the internet, with many today out for the biggest ad revenue payout or brand deal.
While it's completely understandable for content creators to seek compensation for their efforts, especially given the grueling hours that some of them have to put in to stay relevant and popular, be it due to competition or merciless algorithms, it can be so easy for some to lose themselves in the money.
One 'Yu-Gi-Oh!' card game YouTuber I personally follow suffered from this, feeling he had to churn out content he doesn't enjoy just to stay relevant. This dispassion was on clear display in his videos, even if he was trying hard to put on the usual overhyped YouTuber 'mask', a style of presentation that sits well with children, who are among YouTube's greatest benefactors. Eventually, he took a two-year break and returned fresh with enthusiasm, producing content much less than before, but at a higher quality. While's he not the most popular YouTuber in his niche, he's still certainly got a dedicated following who love his character, and he's much happier in what he's doing.
90% of the time (an estimate, don't quote me), authenticity is often what takes you the distance as an influencer or content creator, especially given that in many cases the online personality in question is often the brand.
If the nearly 1000-word argument above did not convince you still of the importance of authenticity, then I'll leave it to YouTube itself to settle this debate once and for all:
"One common thread that I've seen be successful through a variety of different channels…and that's authenticity," Andy Stack, a then YouTube Head, said in 2015. "If you're really authentic about what you're trying to create that is what wins, and that's what's won over the past few years and that is what's still winning. If the audience and the fans see that what you're creating is truly authentic, then you can have channels that are wildly successful."
From my end, I'll leave you with an adage that will never fail you: "Only produce what you yourself would follow/read/watch." Anything else and you'd often be lying to yourself about your content.