Since social media platforms officially began back in 1997 (Six Degrees is credited as the first large-scale social network), there have been countless attempts and a handful of monumental successes within the landscape.
Despite the great examples of social media platforms history has given us, one channel has really stood out in particular. The definition of social media success may be different for everyone, so I’ll define how I am measuring it here:
A successful social media platform is a thriving ecosystem where brands, content creators, and users all benefit from leveraging the platform.
By this definition, the most effective social media platform channel yet is YouTube.
I’m not writing this article to speak ill of other platforms. In fact, this post should be viewed as a case study as opposed to a critique. All social media channels can learn from what YouTube has created. Medium, Facebook, Instagram, Periscope, Snapchat, and more.
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If you are a founder of a social media startup, use this piece as potential insight to tactics and techniques you can integrate into your strategy and product.
Here are some of the biggest reasons why YouTube is king…
1. Compen$ation for Creators
If you want fresh content consistently being pumped through a platform, success or failure will always come down to compensation for creators (either monetary or another form).
At this moment in time, platforms like Instagram and Facebook don’t directly pay influencers at all. Instead, influencers must look to third parties in order to get compensated for their work.
Without some sort of incentive for creators to keep posting on a platform, the content will eventually be either low-quality or plain non-existent.
Without great content, users will leave. When users leave, brands will also leave, and you’re left with nothing.
Creator Compensation Flow Charts:
Compensation→ Quality Content→ Even higher quality content→ Users engaged→ Brands get involved→ Even higher compensation→ Platform thrives.
No compensation→ Low quality content→ Users leave→ Brands leave→ Creators leave→ Platform dies.
Compensation make creators happy and increases their loyalty to a platform. Additionally, it buys back time for creators to construct the best content they possibly can. Lastly, it facilitates a healthy amount of competition by providing newer, smaller-scale creators something to strive for.
Again, the compensation does not necessarily have to be monetary. It can be networking, linking top creators up with industry professionals, and more. A hypothetical example of this would be if Medium connected book publishers with top writers on the site.
Of course, compensation for creators can’t appear out of thin air. The money has to come from somewhere. In some cases, companies need to get their finances/revenue in order internally before they begin to shell out cash to creators. This is completely understandable for young platforms.
But just know this much: if compensation is one of the last rungs on a platform’s ladder of priorities, please take the time to prioritize things differently. If you don’t, you might not have a platform to monetize at all 6 months from now.
Honorable mention: LinkedIn; influencers on LinkedIn Pulse were featured on LinkedIn Top Voices, which helped to elevate the personal brands and opportunities for these contributors.
I would argue compensation plays an enormous role in building community on social media. The creators on YouTube are professionally considered YouTube creators. They are a part of something bigger than themselves. Hell, they may even write “YouTuber” on their taxes. YouTubers take care of YouTube, and as a result, YouTube takes care of them.
As YouTubers begin to identify as such, natural human tendencies set in. They start to hang out with each other, causing a community to form.
From a user’s perspective, community is taken care of almost exclusively by the creators themselves, easing the workload for YouTube itself. When a platform has millions of dedicated fans who will watch creator’s videos and buy their t-shirts and products, community for the most part takes care of itself.
Honorable mention: Reddit.
3. Mobilizing underrepresented talent
Unless Zuck can turn water into wine, Facebook will never have the creative firepower YouTube does because it doesn’t pay it’s influencers and does not yet have a standalone product for users to create on (although the latter point changing in the near future is highly likely). Instead, Facebook is an aggregation of an insurmountable amount of content from third parties across the web.
YouTube is home to aspiring filmmakers who might not be fortunate enough to have comparable industry connections like the son of a producer does. Instagram is home to photographers who may not be able to afford $5,000 worth of equipment at this moment in time. Medium is home to writers who are hungry for their first book deal and may have gotten to the blogosphere too late to be competitive.
Without mobilizing underrepresented creative talent, you will never have a content creation platform, only an aggregation platform.
This doesn’t mean social media channels should intentionally design a platform around underrepresented creatives, but it would certainly help. Always put the user first, and the creative elements should soon follow.
The main reason it’s so critical to mobilize this talent is simple: creatives keep users on platforms. Without creatives, no social media channel would thrive enough for brands to invest their dollars into, and no user to invest their time and attention into.
Without the Daquans and the Casey Neistats, social media platforms would devolve into a heaping mess of YouTube comments and pet photos.
Side Note: If you are the founder or aspiring founder of a social media network, be sure to reach out and try to appeal to artists and other creatives. They may be your biggest asset.
Honorable mention: Instagram.
4. Gamification and Recognition
Yet again, YouTube gets it right for it’s creators through gamification and recognition of effort.
YouTube currently offer three awards for their creators for reaching certain milestones: a Silver Play Button (100,000 Subscribers), a Gold Play Button (1 million Subscribers), and a Diamond Play Button (10 million Subscribers).
For users and creators, continually using a platform should be fun! Rewarding their hard work and effort will result in higher usage and brand loyalty. Reddit does a spectacular job at this via their karma reward system.
Honorable mention: Reddit.
5. Welcoming competition
Social media platforms, like all businesses, should welcome healthy competition in order to facilitate a healthy ecosystem.
“I think you are seeing tremendous validation of the market … and we are just happy to be part of it,” Robert Kyncl, YouTube’s Chief Business Officer. Kyncl has also been on record saying the online video market has room for more than one company.
The marketplace described here is much different than the landscape other social media giants, such as Facebook, would like to see if they had it their way.
You could make the argument that Facebook is the true king of social media, and from a different scope, that may be true. Yet, I think Facebook’s strategy of either shamelessly cloning or acquiring competing products is not the most fruitful approach to setting precedence for the next generation of social media platforms.
Looking to the future…
It is clear from YouTube’s recent moves that it is trying to develop a more [real-time, intimate] product for it’s users, which may be a reaction to competitors such as Facebook having their users’ almost 24/7 attention.
Moves such as Push notifications enable YouTube to alert its users on mobile when their favorite creators have posted new content or are live streaming. Moves such as making users tap the bell in order to enable alerts will pave the way for the refinement of their search algorithm, and thus eventual monetization (much like Facebook’s EdgeRank algorithm paves the way for “pay-to-play” via Boosting posts and running Ads). Moves like testing instant chat and messaging in Canadian markets to enable peer-to-peer community building.
Youtube is becoming a much more real-time platform with these added features, which will better position it to fend off Facebook and other competitors.
So what does it all mean?
I know not all social media platforms are created equal. I know that compensating influencers comes a little easier for YouTube, given they have a stranglehold on video content and the attention of over 1 billion users.
What I am saying is this: YouTube’s history of prioritizing creators, their key decisions, design, and more can be a terrific guide for any social media platform to learn from. YouTube has put the winning ingredients together to make a kick-ass product which users, creators, and brands all love.
In the comment section: What do you think about all of this? Based on your priorities, do you think YouTube is the greatest example of social media success, or would you give the crown to someone else