I always get asked the question, what do you actually do for work? I then say, I make Youtube videos. A confused look usually follows. If I'm in a good mood, I'll go into the details. If I'm not, I sometimes just say I am a video editor (which was one of my old jobs so not a total lie). The truth is, there are thousands of creators who make a living on Youtube. Since 2008, creators have been able to monetise their content under the Youtube partner programme. Since we only have 12 years worth of 'job' history and with the platform moving and changing so much, it's hard to know whether this is a future-proof way of making money.
My main channel, Joel & Lia, has over 300,000 followers and generates enough through ad-revenue and brand partnerships to pay both myself and Joel, our manager, our video editor, our business coach, our accountant and the tax man. This wasn't an overnighter, it took years of uploading for fun and 0 money before we saw lift off. Whilst we've been creators in the digital space, we have seen people come and go and also, seen people grow an audience online and then use that as leverage to break into other industries like music or acting.
More often than not, I have enjoyed observing the lifecycle of a youtube channel. As a channel gains popularity, the creator is rewarded with more money, brand partnerships and career opportunities. The channel has it's 'moment' and then after a while, things level out. From seeing someone all the time on our homepage, we stop seeing their videos. Half of the time we don't even know it's happening until we think "wait a second, what happened to (insert Youtuber here)?"
Most creators are under no illusion that nothing lasts forever, especially in the entertainment space where there is an abundance of talent. So as interest in a Youtube channel fades, so do the perks and money that come with it. An example of a creator who had a re birth of their channel lifecycle and their content is lifestyle and beauty creator, Louise Pentland. She was once known as "Sprinkle of Glitter" amongst her teenage fans, but as she and her audience grew up, she wanted to focus more on being a mother so she doubled down on parenting has her niche on youtube and rebranded her channel. She decided to stop addressing her audience as "Sprinkelerinos" which was a great idea, since most are in their 20's now and the video she made outlining the start of a new style and saying goodbye to the old. She is now is one of the most successful "mummy vloggers" in the UK youtube scene and well known and respected on the platform.
The main bulk of my income stems from Youtube, but lots of creators also make money on Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, Twitch, and lots of other social media platforms every day. I have made money on Instagram but it is not regular, repetitive income. Every creator I know has a main platform or 2 main platforms. This is usually where the majority of their followers are and usually the platform they started posting on first. Youtube and Instagram tend to be the apps I show up on because I enjoy them the most and my community is on here. However, there is an expectation to be present and create content on all platforms at a high frequency, this usually leads to burnout, and can sometime drive creators away from creating.
With any job, nothing is guaranteed. In the same sense that someone could be made redundant from a 'reliable' office job they've had for years; social media creators can be made 'redundant' by viewers due to a shift of interest. Something that protects creators from becoming irrelevant is a subject or a theme. This theme is bigger than the creator and bigger than their personalty, therefore it takes the personal element out of the game.
From what I've seen, specific themes/niche subjects seem to perform well and will remain evergreen. By evergreen, I mean that it will continue to make passive income for the creator months or years after it has been posted. For example, my friend Lucy of the "English with Lucy" channel has created a content library on Youtube which will (likely) never die. There will always be people that want to learn English. This kind of content is called evergreen. Comparing 'evergreen' content to 'trending' content might help shed light on why some creators end up losing momentum, views and money on Youtube. For example, a 'what I eat in a day' from an influencer who is popular right now may generate a lot of views and income in the immediate 48 hours after it is released. However, in 6 weeks, 6 months or even 6 years, this kind of content is unlikely to make any more money therefore it is back to the hamster wheel of making more content and posting more videos in what might feel like a desperate attempt to stay relevant.
For longevity and in order to maintain a steady income, I have been told that it's a great combination to post both evergreen and trending content. You want the trending content to send traffic your way and prevent the channel from drying up and you want the evergreen content for long term search-ability. I made a (now embarrassing) video on the Birmingham accent about 4 years ago with Joel on our channel and still to this day the video gets views, comments and continues to pay us. However a "life update" video on our channel will be relevant for a week and then it's usually had it's time. On top of trending and evergreen, you also need to create content that you actually like making, for personal reasons, otherwise you'll definitely burn out. Making those kind of videos is often not a money move, it could be to spark the joy back. If they happen to take off and get viewed and shared then it's a bonus.
Expert / Niche content
If you're somebody who is an expert in any field, then Youtube will welcome you with open arms. If you are qualified to give information about a subject that people are searching for, and you can deliver that content in an entertaining and engaging way, then you have everything it takes make a lot of money on Youtube. We can see how lucrative it is for experts that use Youtube as platform to cast their net, find their audience and then sell them something of value. They use the platform to share their knowledge, they give away just enough to get people hooked, and if you want the rest, you have to pay. These creators have diversified their income by selling courses and online products, again creating more passive income.
With the rise of short form content, especially on Tiktok and Instagram Reels, Youtube now faces a dilemma. If it does not succeed in bringing the attention of audiences back to it's platform then it risks losing people to other apps. Youtube has rolled out "Youtube shorts" as a result. Where does this leave the long form Youtube creator? Personally, I believe you have two options. You either do nothing, and carry on creating what you've always created (and risk slower growth) or you diversify and move with the platform. To do this, you must plan, strategise, and be willing to adjust where necessary with changing trends. For creators that have been adapting and changing with the trends for years, it might feel exhausting. You could be someone who makes 30 minute videos but now all the data shows that making 15 to 30 second content is the way to grow.
The question I ask myself and any other creators I have this conversation with is, what is your end goal? and why? If someone wants a million followers I ask them why. What will that do for you? By asking yourself the right questions you can start with the end in mind and plan your steps accordingly. I started working with a life coach last year and I actually discovered that many of my actions were not aligned with my life goals. Lots of creators don't know where to focus their energy, they also feel as if they are not the ones in control, the algorithm is. It's definitely one thing to consider if you are thinking long term, you have to be prepared to 'play the game' for a long time and enjoy platying. Ali Abdaal talks about this concept in his 'How it feels to reach 1million subscribers video', which you can watch here.
Similar to any job, ever, it can be hard to have the same excitement about turning up for work after you've been doing the same thing for years and years. I'll never forget a wedding photographer I saw at a family friend's wedding. He looked like he'd been to about a thousand weddings, clock watching, exhausted and done with it all. Done with the chaos, the mother-in laws, he genuinely looked like he was finished. Compare this to someone who is new, (often younger), excited about delivering amazing photos, challenged, stretched, buzzing to be working with new equipment and lenses. It's a totally different vibe. The reason I wanted to include being bored of work is because we can't always blame the audience for switching off, when the creator themselves might have had enough. You have to spice up your job somehow, like anything, it needs to stay exciting for both the audience and the creator otherwise it will slowly die.
Fresh Talent from Other Platforms
Often someone younger, prettier, hungrier is about to have their moment online. Which is why I wanted to include the "will it last?" as part of this discussion. We have seen TikTok stars grow audiences in the millions in less than a year. The D'Amelio sisters have gained over 125 million followers and are set to replace the Kardashians as they embark on a reality tv with their parents. I know that neither the Kardashian's or the D'Amelio's are youtubers, but I think it all ties into the same narrative that we have the new replacing the old. It's not to say the Kardashians haven't and won't continue to make money because they certainly will, but it was bound to happen sometime. The public needed a new aspirational family to obsess over.
We see the same on Youtube, and it all goes back to the lifecycle of a channel or celebrity. It's not to say that someone can't make enough money to last a lifetime, maybe they can, if they invest what they make whilst they have it and get their money working for them.
I am really interested in creators that carry on diversifying and working after their 'moment'. I like this video Jim Chapman posted recently, addressing his hay-day on Youtube and his coming to terms with becoming irrelevant.
In my opinion, Youtube as a job is slightly less future proof than your ordinary 9-5. However, it can be extremely lucrative if you gain momentum, subscribers and followers and have something of value to offer to people. Youtube can provide you with amazing platform to reach people globally, make money doing what you love and build the life of your dreams. I truly believe that it is extremely powerful, even though the lifecycle effect of every channel I described earlier can sound like doom and gloom. It doesn't have to be.
In the nicest way possible, I don't think many of Gen Z on Youtube worry about their next 10 years on the internet. I see some buying Tesla's and I wonder if they've ever had a minimum wage job or if they'll have to go and get one when they eventually become irrelevant. It sounds harsh and judgemental, since I don't know their financial situation, they could be making some great money moves and investing wisely.
Let me know your thoughts on Youtube and social media as a long lasting job by commenting below or tweeting me @LiaHatz because I'd love to hear your thoughts too.