How to Be a Good YouTuber
It's not just for content creators.
One of the great things about the Internet is the anonymity it provides. We can be who we want to be. We can create new identities with all of our good traits and none of the bad. Of course, the bad thing about the Internet is the anonymity it provides. We’ve all heard about the 400 lb guy sitting in his underwear in his parent’s basement pretending to be some bombshell damsel in distress that needs you to send her money. The interwebs are full of scams, hoaxes, fake news, and really dark places no person should go. I don’t want to even think about some of the things my kids may have seen. As responsible, mature adults (seriously?), we need to be responsible, mature YouTubers. For the purpose of this article, I’d like to define a YouTuber as one who uses YouTube, not necessarily a content creator. If you watch YouTube videos, you have a responsibility to be a good YouTuber. Read on and I’ll tell you what I think that means.
As a side note, I’ll talk a little about having a successful YouTube channel, but if you’ve seen my channel, you’ll know I don’t know what I’m doing (but I still have strong opinions).
On YouTube, we have the ability to edit out the mistakes, change the camera angle and lighting to make even the worst project look pretty good. Let’s be honest, we want everyone that watches to think we know what we’re doing. I want to show the perfect dovetail, not the footage of me using a chisel left-handed while not getting my right hand out of the way (the result of which was four stitches at the Urgent Care Center). Even though I may not be a good content creator, I think I know how to be a good YouTuber, and by that I mean a good contributor to and a good consumer of the Maker community on YouTube. YouTube rankings and search engine results are the product of a complex algorithm based on several factors, most of which I’m too ignorant to comment on. However, I do know a few things that I’d like to pass on.
Subscribe. This is especially frustrating when trying to explain this to friends and family. I get it that you know I have a channel. I get it that you will dutifully watch my video even though you're not really interested. But could you please subscribe? Seriously, if you watch a Maker's video and you liked what you saw, subscribe to the channel. Subscriptions are one of the measures a YouTuber (and YouTube) uses to determine how the channel is progressing. With some viral exceptions, videos are not going to be seen until the subscriber numbers get into a certain range. Subscribing is the first and most important way to show your support for a Maker.
Leave Evidence You Were There. If you took the time to watch a video on YouTube, take one more second and give the video a thumbs up or down. Watching a video is great, and the number of views a video gets is the first thing most of us look at in terms of our own videos, but there’s much more to it than that. Believe it or not, a thumbs down is a positive entry into the complex algorithm, just like a thumbs up. Although the two may not be equal, it’s still like the “bad press is still good press” saying. That being said, think long and hard before giving a thumbs down (more on that a little later).
Comment. One way we can be a successful YouTuber is to comment often, and make those comments meaningful. Criticism is much easier to swallow if you add a little sugar to it. And why not ask why? For example;
“The finish on that table is beautiful. But I have to ask, why did you use dowels instead of mortise and tenons? Don’t you feel like that’s cheating?”
This kind of comment accomplishes several things. First, it’s a comment. Second, you’ve made your opinion known in a nice way. Third, you have encouraged a reply that might just change your mind about dowels. Fourth, you have increased the YouTubers standing in the unknown equation of ranking. And finally, you and many others may actually learn something (or the YouTuber may see the error of his ways). It’s a win for everyone. Comments go a long way toward the algorithm. And to you content creators, “liking” and replying to the comments goes even further. Not only are you building your own gravitas in the equation that is YouTube, but you’re building community. I mean, you want people to like you, right?
Full disclosure, I don’t “like” when I go on Fail Army binges, and I don’t comment when I watch UFC’s greatest knockouts for the month. If I feel a YouTuber wasted five minutes of my life I’ll never get back, I probably will not take the time to do either. However, our community is worth building and making it stronger. We should take care of our own, just like we do on our Southern Woodworkers Facebook page. The support and encouragement we give each other there is amazing. I’d like for everyone to take that same attitude to YouTube. “Likes” and comments are what the content creator deserves, and is a factor in how his channel will grow.
Don't Be a Troll. The subject of commenting is a very personal one for me. Yes, being a troll is technically commenting, but is it really necessary? I recently had an exchange with an individual that really got under my skin. I’ll paraphrase the exchange:
Troll: “That sucked.”
Me: “Thank you for your well thought-out and constructive comment.”
Troll: “Well, I didn’t read the notes for your video, and I commented before I really knew what was going on, but I don’t think that it was really any good.”
Me: “Maybe this isn’t the kind of thing that should be hashed out in public, but I really think you should ask yourself if your comments are going to help make things better. Are you offering a better solution, or just tearing someone down? What happened in the video I did absolutely on purpose and I explained why I did it that way in the notes AND in the video.”
Troll: Freedom of speech man! It still sucks!
I have to admit, when a troll gets under my skin, and I feel like responding in a particularly nasty manner, the first thing I do is go to their YouTube channel, since they have to have one to comment. Many times I'll find that they have no videos and no subscribers, and sometimes they'll have small channels with poor content or content unrelated to Making. I'm ashamed to tell you this, but one time I responded to an especially nasty commenter with four subscribers and who had only one video with 10 views. I told him I should have watched his video before I made mine and I should have subscribed to his channel, but I didn't want to increase his subscriptions by 20%. Again, I'm ashamed and I deleted the exchange shortly after. My point is that although there is some anonymity on YouTube, folks can find out something about you if they put their mind to it. My actions in the past have not always been entirely Christian, and for that I offer a blanket apology (but I still blame him because he started it). Don't start it.
Avoid the "Thumbs Down." The "thumbs down" is something I don't fully understand. I get it that if there is an option to "thumbs up," there should probably be the option to do the opposite. But what does it really accomplish? Is it a thumbs down because I did something dangerous, because I was wearing flip flops in the shop, because the project turned out ugly, because you hated my music, or because you thought the whole project was stupid? Without an exchange with the individual, I'll never know and I can never improve. Yet another reason responsible commenting is so important.
I know for me personally, it’s easy for me to be really supportive of everyone in our group, primarily because I’m not a professional woodworker, and I don’t get any income from it. None of you are my competitors, so I’m happy to send you business or do what I can to make your business better. I’m in my happy place of building only what I want to, not having to worry about whether or not it will generate income. Maybe one day I’ll fulfill my fantasy of building only what I want, with folks are lining up to buy it. I guess we all can dream.
But YouTube is different. It’s not a zero-sum game. Jimmy Diresta is not taking any subscribers or views away from me. Jimmy and I can both be successful at the same time (although that is a theory I have yet to prove). But at a minimum, I want Jimmy to have a tremendous income from YouTube so he can make more videos. I’m just selfish that way. His success means I get more of what I want.
I hate to sound like a Diresta fanboy, but since he is probably the most successful Maker on YouTube, he’s easy to use as an example. I listen to his podcast “Making It,” and I am amazed that he knows some of his subscribers even though he has never met them. I’ve heard him comment several times about certain people that consistently comment on his videos in a positive way. Seriously, Jimmy Diresta notices certain subscribers and he has millions of views! I’m sure he’s developed thick skin when it comes to trolls, but most of us haven’t got the callouses yet. I’m still thankful to get a comment at all, but when it’s just stupidly negative, unnecessarily mean, and totally void of value, it just makes me mad. It’s a struggle to ignore it.
Be Yourself. And to you content creators, be yourself - boldly, unapologetically yourself. That means if you want to talk to the camera, do it. If you like voice-overs, do it. If you like bone crushing heavy metal music as your soundtrack, then use it. You can’t please everyone, and if you think you are, then you might not be growing to your full potential. I mentioned the podcast “Making It” before, and the three guys on the podcast are all very successful content creators. But they are very different. One hates voiceovers, one loves them. One pays a guy to do slick editing, one does it all himself. One has a professional intro, one has no intro. What I’m trying to say is that other than great content, there is no set formula for a good video, in spite of what you might read on the subject. One of these guys I know has to chuckle to himself every time he see something on how to build your YouTube channel, because he does none of what they suggest. He's laughing all the way to the bank. I’ve heard other podcasts where guys are waiting for some new camera equipment, or some new tool before they start making videos. They're always waiting for some thing that will be the magic to give them YouTube success. My suspicion is that they are worried about the content, not the equipment. The best lighting and camera equipment will only highlight your content. If the content is good, I guess those things will make it better. If the content is not good, those things will expose it as bad. In my humble opinion, the most successful YouTubers out there have a personality. Since you have one too, put it on display. You’d be surprised how many folks will like it.
YouTube is no different than Facebook or Instagram in the sense that it’s a battle for views, likes, and comments, but we don't have to battle each other. We just have to make our channel better. I encourage you to support your YouTube subscriptions by commenting, and make those comments questions. If you don’t have a question, then say something encouraging. I feel like we are experiencing a revival of sorts, reclaiming dying skills that the vast majority don’t have and feel they don’t need. I, for one, need those skills for many reasons, one of which is that Making has become part of who I am. It’s necessary for my sanity and my family’s sanity to sometimes have me out of the way.
To be a good YouTuber you have to participate in a positive way, and that means so much more than merely viewing. Content creators spend many hours in the production of a video, and the majority of those hours have nothing to do with the thing they made. If we watch them, we owe them. It’s time we all paid up.