Collaborations are an integral part of the YouTuber community and it is via this joint exposure that both parties have the opportunity to grow their audience at an impressive rate. "Collabs", as they are more commonly known, is a cross-over appearance on someone else's YouTube channel, which is exposure enough, but may also come with added social media coverage which is always a bonus. And while some of us (aged over 18) may wonder what is so exciting about PewDiePie playing videogames with Zoella and Alfie, it is unquestionably an effective tool for all concerned, including viewers.
We talked with two experts on video collaboration who tell us why YouTube collabs often don't work for businesses, even though they are a great opportunity for them, and explain how to overcome the challenges. John Quilter is an online video personality known as 'The Food Busker', often seen on Jamie Oliver's FoodTube channel, and LondonLive. Tom Martin of FaqTube has managed the YouTube channels of some of TV's biggest brands.
The Need for Collaborations - from Brands, Viewers and YouTube
Tom Martin states that: "YouTube pushes hard for collaborations" which is also a key recommendation of the YouTube Creator Playbook. The effect on the onscreen collaborators' channels is cumulative and although the novelty has worn off, it seems like there still is a huge appetite for watching others interacting on screen in a personable way.
For John Quilter, it comes down to the fact that "people like to share" and he feels the audience enjoys watching the act of sharing whether it is through playing a video game or viewing one of his tasty 'duck taquitos' recipes, like the one he prepared for John Newman.
The Challenge For Brands
Big brands often leverage the power of a celebrity figure or ambassador to deliver their marketing message. This tends to work very well in traditional media, but not so much on YouTube. The first challenge is that the traditional approach ignores that fact. YouTube creators, on the other hand have a ready built audience who are engaged with the platform, and the huge influence of the creator over their followers.
The second challenge is about the format and the content of the video itself. "Younger audiences have zero tolerance for content that is heavily formatted and disingenuous" confirms John. No matter how hard you try to make it look the part, if it is not authentic they will see right through it and will let you know immediately.
On YouTube it is all about cooperating and sharing. "There is a waking up process for business" says John, and it is "a massive opportunity that will continue to grow", but brands have to adapt to seize it.
How Brands Should Approach Collaborations
YouTubers are becoming increasingly business savvy and many of the top stars on that platform often have an agent. That makes it easier for them to initiate a business conversation, and also means that the bargaining power of the creator has increased. The key elements for a brand to initiate the conversation according to Tom are:
- Offer a clear benefit such as exposure, audience or money (generally brands can offer that easily)
- Start the conversation with specific creative ideas, don't just say "let's talk"
How Do You Make a Brand/Creator Collab Work?
- Rule number one: be genuine and offer great content to your audience - delivering a marketing message should not be a priority
- Create a relationship. Produce videos with people you already know or conduct comprehensive research before each shoot. John, who as the Food Busker has cooked on YouTube for some of the world's most popular musicians, always finds out what they like to eat.
- "Go all in" - don't just dip your toes with one video, plan a series. A successful collaboration will offer a temporary boost but it won't be meaningful unless you provide related content soon after
How to Make the Most of Your Video Collaboration
The content that you post following the 'collab' should be carefully thought through. This partnership is a great way to launch a channel but too often brands still see YouTube as simply a place to upload videos. If a company follows the non-traditional route when utilizing YouTube it can provide a great opportunity to create unique content and a real bond with the customer.
Brands should also be listening carefully to their audience, responding to their comments and questions, and making sure it becomes a 2-way conversation. Also make the most of the interactive options available on YouTube or other players. Annotations and playlists for example can make a big difference.
Collaborations are an underused, yet effective way to maximize traffic and exposure in an otherwise cluttered digital arena. There exists a real opportunity to grow an audience fast and also to create a longer-lasting bond. The end goal may still be to 'sell' but businesses must address consumers differently, transform them first into an audience, then ask permission to distill your marketing message into meaningful content. The approach in the digital world is very different from traditional media and can be more rewarding.