Success in the online video world is often seen as a race to gain as large of a following as possible. However, success on YouTube isn’t always defined by subscriber-count alone.
So you love making videos. You shoot some footage of your town, or your friends or a rant on your webcam. You edit the video and post it on YouTube where the internet-dwelling world can see it. A week passes and you find that your video has garnered 12 views and a single comment; “Nice video!” You feel dejected. You keep at it anyway, shooting things and editing. You have fun with the creative process, and you learn a few tricks along the way — how to adjust the lighting on a dark shot, how to compose better shots, how to add transitions that look smooth. Most important, you keep uploading.
Slowly, your videos gain some views, although that one cover of a popular song you did seems to be getting the bulk of the attention while all your other more original endeavors get overlooked. Is your YouTube channel a success?
Once synonymous with outcomes or results, success has come to be associated with fame and fortune. A quick web-search of the word will turn up scads of results in the form of motivational speeches, how-to guides and secret formulas. This means that if you, in our hypothetical scenario, find that you do indeed desire to gain wealth, favor, and/or eminence, then there are hundreds of hours of video and text for you to peruse in pursuit of this goal.
But while many on YouTube seek fame, maybe that’s not what you want from your YouTube channel. Maybe it’s a simple matter of personal enjoyment. Maybe it’s a way for you to share a piece of your life with relatives or friends. Maybe you make videos to educate. Maybe you started out creating as a hobby, but got interested in monetization along the way.
Success, by definition, means obtaining a favorable outcome. It follows that the terms of success are dependent on what you consider to be favorable. There are ideals of success handed to us every day, every hour. These often have to do with numbers like subscriber count, advertising revenue or views. While these measurements of success can be appealing, how real are they to you? No one can define what success means to you, except perhaps yourself.
What’s the most interesting video you’ve seen on YouTube recently? If it’s something you watched more than a week ago, what about the video made it stick in your mind? There’s something to be said for content that leaves a lasting impression, but that’s easy to overlook in the sea of prank videos and best-of Vine compilations.
There are pitfalls to formulating your projects around the subscriber-count model of success, as well. While there is no doubt that a large following can give you motivation and support, having that number looming can also restrict your independence as a creator. In addition, there are other ways of getting support and feedback without staking everything on view counts. Finding a niche audience within a small but vibrant community can be just as rewarding as getting likes from thousands of anonymous fans. You can also make it less of a virtual affair, showing your videos to your real-world dwellers or having group screenings of your creations.
YouTube is a communal experience. There’s no other place where you can find such a jaw-dropping array of videos from so many different sources. The experimental movie “Life in a Day” set out to harness this sea of voices by editing together footage shot across the globe in a 24-hour period. YouTube reaction videos garner great attention and show that we are interested in one another’s responses and in being part of a larger social conversation. Although Google has done away with the unpopular video response feature, there’s nothing stopping you from riffing on videos from other creators.
Try writing down a list of things that you, as a YouTube creator, consider the marks of success. Go through your list and trace the origin of each item. Where did that idea of success come from? Is it still relevant for you? Are there ways in which you can reach that outcome that you haven’t considered?
If you need inspiration, get it from your fellow creators. Subscriptions and recommendations are wonderful, but you can also find new and offbeat videos by searching YouTube channels. It’s a vast landscape to explore if you know how to look.
Arthur Lance is an avid writer and film enthusiast.
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