On Wednesday, July 26, 2017 I released a YouTube video. I do this every Wednesday and I’ve found that I can usually expect to get around 40 to 50 views for an average vlog. A vlog (if you’re not familiar), is a journal video, often shot in the handheld “selfie” style. My particular vlog series is called “To My Future Self” and features me, talking to my future self (get it?) about what life was like today. So this Wednesday morning I check to make sure the video is released, and then I head off to work.
Eight hours later I check and it has… 8 views. Seriously. That is hilariously poor engagement, even for my small channel.
I try not to let the numbers get to me, but sometimes they do. There’s not much value in wallowing in that kind of attitude, so I decided to either do something about it or move on. I considered my options. My next video was done and uploaded. It was set to release on Friday morning and I thought it had potential. Should I release it early? Nah. The gap between Friday and Monday was long enough without adding an extra two days. Should I try to promote my vlog in more places? Well, other than asking for a shout-out, there isn’t a great place to promote that kind of vlog on the Internet. My best option was just to change the video title and leaving it be.
But then I came across a meme. I’d been this meme over and over for the last week. I had about an hour before I needed to be somewhere so I ran downstairs recorded a quick video that was not in my usual format, edited out some of the gaps, hit upload. If I wanted more views on my channel, and nobody was interested in my latest video, then the best solution is to upload another video, right? I uploaded the video to YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram and left the house.
By the time I got home, something very interesting happened. I was getting views. Like a LOT of views (at least for me). Somewhere in all of this, I got a text from a family member asking if my post was “viral” and I wasn’t quite sure how to answer that.
First off, let’s talk about the definition of “viral.” There seems to be a common misconception that viral just means popular. Well, this is kind of an “all squares are rectangles” kind of thing. If everybody has seen something, does that make it viral? Not necessarily. We all know who the President is, but would you call that information viral? Probably not. But, if somebody told you that pressing a certain sequence of buttons during the startup sequence of Contra for the NES got you 50 extra lives, is that viral? If it came from the programmers at Konami, then probably not, but what if that information was something that was shared over and over again, and you had no relationship with the person who started it? Would that be considered viral? I think so.
The true definition of viral media is “a piece of content that is shared exponentially beyond the normal social reach of the originator.” With that, going from 40-50 views on average to over a quarter million probably qualifies as viral.
So here’s what it’s like to have a viral video.
I got a lot of insults. The first place I was aware that my video had been posted was r/videos on Reddit. An Internet friend of mine pointed me over in that direction and I wasn’t sure what to think. If you know anything about Reddit, you know that the users of Reddit consider themselves very… “discerning.” So I took a deep breath and dove in, ready to hear what people were saying about my content.
Believe it or not, most people made no comments about the content of the video. They did have lots to say about me personally though. Did you know I have a mole on my face? Reddit does, and they have reported back: it’s huge. Hideous even. Also, I need to clean my house. I was a loser, because only a loser would have sat there for hours fiddling with an iPad. I obviously stole the content. I was a gay virgin living in my mother’s basement. High school all over again.
My favorite critique was the insistence that Apple, the most popular technology company in the world, had obviously paid me, the host of a YouTube channel with less than 1,000 subscribers, to produce this video. The worst thing about that critique is that I wished it was true. As much as I love Apple, they would have had to pay me a lot more money than the views would get me in order for me to make this video.
In a way, it’s flattering. All I can say is this: the best way to never be insulted is to never do anything. None of them knew who I was, so their opinions didn’t really matter. The ones that really mattered were the people who I interacted with on a regular basis.
My coworkers found out I’m a YouTuber. That Friday, I started to get emails. Someone from my company’s IT department “wanted to follow up on an issue and BY THE WAY did you see this?” A coworker who had moved out of town told me I was showing up on wimp.com. People from my hometown of Tampa let me know that AM 970 WFLA was telling people all about my video. By the way, did I mention that I don’t mention my name on my YouTube channel? I’ve definitely never told anyone that I work with about my YouTube hijinks, so it was an awkward conversation to explain to people who think YouTube is just the modern equivalent to American’s Funniest Home Videos that there’s a thriving social community there, and I’m putting in the hours to develop my presence.
“Okay, Jon. Suuuuure thing. Just get me the numbers for the Europe entity as soon as you can.”
I got “freebooted.” (Someone stole my content). By far the favorite link I’ve been sent is from my YouTube comment section, which (as reported by Emanuele Borsellino) is from the “Italian famous television program TgCom24.” Sticking the link into Google Translate reveals interesting results. This was the first place I saw where they actually ripped the video and reposted it directly to their website. This isn’t the most kosher practice, since it detaches the content creator from their creation, but I’m not really worried about it. I wasn’t the first person to talk about Siri having this feature, I wasn’t even the first person to post a video about it. They still said my channel name. They proved to me that people across the ocean are talking about my stuff. Also, it made me laugh. Much more important.
My phone blew up. I mentioned earlier that I didn’t just upload my video to YouTube. I also uploaded to Twitter. To many people, this is a counter-intuitive move since YouTube pays people for views and Twitter does not. My justification for this is that I’d rather have my name out there instead of the $1 per 1,000 views (on average) you get from a monetized YouTube video. Guess what. I got my wish. The tweet containing my video got placed into a “Moment” by the Twitter curation team and then my phone went nuts.
Every time someone retweeted, commented on, or favorited that tweet, my phone buzzed. Again And Again. As of the writing of this article, that tweet has over 1,500 retweets, 3,000 favorites, and has been view over a quarter of a million times. Okay, maybe I’d rather have the money than the views, but there’s no point looking backwards. So, how does one move forward?
You try to do it again. With all that buzzing, it’s been pretty difficult to keep my mind off of the idea of my viral content. Again, I’m left with a decision. Should I follow up with more of the same thing? I did that, even though I probably shouldn’t have.
Should I do it again? Probably not. I have the feeling that Siri Easter Eggs can only generate so much interest, plus, that’s not what my channel is about! My channel is about leaving messages for my future self about what life was like today. Would I throw that all away for a few dollars? No! If I want a Siri channel, I should make a Siri channel. I’m left with the inevitable and only choice that works for me.
I moved on. I got some advice from a much more established YouTuber named Tim Schmoyer over on Anchor about what he’s done when a piece of content was popular, but not much like his regular content. You follow up with content that is in your more regular format, but still has something that might interest the people who were just stopping by. So that’s what I did. Check out the intro, I think it was clever:
In conclusion, that’s it. Bookmark RevengeMethod.com for more articles every Tuesday and Wednesday.
If you’re interested in how YouTubers make money, you should click here.