This article is part of an ongoing series on the business of YouTube. For practical tips on how to make money on YouTube, click here.
Everybody's always looking for shortcut to success, especially on YouTube. If you've been on the site for any length of time, you've seen the inevitable comment: "sub4sub." If you don't know what that means, it's an offer to subscribe to your channel in exchange for subscribing to the commenters channel.
Let's say you're looking for the right path to becoming the next big YouTube star and somehow you stumble across the horrible advice that this is the best way to get subscribers. Unbelievable. You type it in the comment box and, if by some miracle of technology you don't get caught by the spam filter, you convince some random person with a channel to subscribe to you.
Congratulations, you've just damaged your channel.
You are now farther away from earning a living on YouTube. Any content you create is now less likely to be seen. To paraphrase that guy from Billy Madison: "I award you no points, and we are all dumber for having listened to you. May Google have mercy on your channel."
So, you've increased your subscriber count. How could that be a problem?
YouTube Pays You For Views, Not Subscribers. This should be the end of the conversation, really. Cue the Ferris Bueller post-credits wave off. When advertisers come to YouTube, they are paying for the brief amount of time people will wait before they watch the content they actually came to see. While there may be a few times advertisers deviate from the cold hard math of view count, these people want their products where the eyeballs are. YouTube gets paid for views, so there's nothing for them to share with you if nobody's watching.
YouTube Will Punish You. Have you ever heard anybody talk about the YouTube algorithm? Due to its basis in machine learning, nobody (even YouTube) knows exactly what it will recommend. Despite the mystery, the only clear input that gets YouTube to recommend a video is watch time. You can only get watch time if people watch your videos. If people are subscribing to your channel but neglect to watch your videos, it pushes your content down in the algorithm. Tell me truthfully, do you watch every video of every channel you've "sub4subbed" to?
MatPat from Game Theory did an excellent video explaining why PewDiePie, the most subscribed YouTuber ever, seems to have trouble with the algorithm. Apparently, even though millions of people are subscribed to his channel, PewDiePie's video's don't always show up in their subscription feed. When YouTube sees that people don't watch a new video, YouTube becomes less likely to show that video to a subscriber, despite them signing up to hear about every single one. The lower your watch time compared to your subscriber count, the lower your video goes in the eyes of the YouTube algorithm.
It's Unsustainable. Still here? Are you still somehow convinced that going one-by-one to every YouTube channel you can find, asking them personally to exchange your subscription for theirs is a good idea? Doing this one hundred times doesn't sound too bad, but what about one thousand times? Ten thousand times? Are you going to do that ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND times? Then it sounds like you're finally living that YouTube dream… of watching and commenting on other people's videos instead of making content.
It's Tacky. Let's say you put your heart and soul into creating something new to inspire people. You've reached deep within yourself, creating something that really says something about both yourself and the world we live in. You've worked hard and you've set up your installation. You wait patiently for people to arrive and your first customer walks in the door. You begin to explain the subtle nuances of your piece when they raise an eyebrow, clear their throat and take a breath, only to say "I'll trade you my art for your art. What do you think?"
Really that's the point. People put a lot into making videos on YouTube. I know as a content creator that I love it when people watch and comment on my videos. The thought that my work has inspired communication is an honor. When someone comments on my videos, my phone lights up and I raise it to my face, hopeful to continue the conversation and I get "sub4sub, bro." Seriously?
No. The answer is no. I will not sub4sub. If you would have asked, I'd be happy to check out your content. I'm ecstatic you came by to see my work. If you want to connect on Twitter, that's great. But this idea that anybody gains anything by ignoring each others videos in their subscription feed is beyond me.
If you want people to subscribe to your channel, make engaging content. Keep working hard. If you love making videos, make videos. If nobody's watching, make another one and see if that one works better. If you want to market your videos through the comment section, go comment, but talk about their content. You can even mention that you have a channel yourself. Just remember, respect others. Respect yourself.
Keep it real.