Behind the Camera: YouTube Culture and the reality of making a career online

Throughout our lives, we are constantly asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”; a never-changing question with an ever-changing answer.

As young children, we dreamed of becoming princesses and superheroes; as we grew older, we were more realistic as we aspired to be teachers and firefighters. Now in adulthood we’ve finally found the courage to tell the truth, that we have absolutely no idea.

Over the years, the development of technology has meant that the number of job opportunities has dramatically increased compared to those available 40 years ago. With so many new choices, it’s understandable why so many of us do not have a definitive career plan. However, it’s safe to say, given the opportunity, most of us would jump at the chance to swap a mundane ‘nine til five’ job for a chance at acheiving online stardom.

Whilst anyone can create a YouTube channel, a “YouTuber” – also referred to as a YouTube personality or celebrity- is someone who has gained popularity and subscribers by producing and uploading videos through YouTube; eventually using their success to make money.

Although the idea of developing a career online may sound like a dream job, it isn’t as easy as it sounds. Research shows, just as with traditional cinematic stardom, the chances of achieving enough YouTube success to sustain a career is a mere 3.5 percent. 

Megan Cashmore, 20, has been a fan of YouTube since she began watching videos at just 10-years-old. After creating her own channel in 2012, Megan’s witty humour and creative videos have gained her an impressive 11,796 subscribers as well as paid partnerships with companies such as ‘Borrow my Puppy’ and ‘Unibox’. Speaking of her experience with YouTube success and the prospect of a career online, she said:

“I started watching YouTube videos when I was 10 but really got into it around age 13.  I was so inspired by YouTubers like Jenna Mourey as she got me through some rough times with her sense of humour and how relatable she is. So I thought maybe I could do that too.”

“My friends were so supportive from the beginning. My family didn’t – and still don’t- really understand it and they don’t watch; but they’re always impressed and supportive when I tell them about sponsorships I’ve gained and talks or events I’ve participated in.”

Despite her passion for YouTube, Megan realises the platform may not offer the stable career and financial support she needs and so she is currently studying Graphic Design in her second year at Brighton University.

“I would never drop out of university to pursue a YouTube career as I really value my education; I feel it’d be taking the educational opportunities we get in the UK for granted. Even if my channel skyrockets who knows how long YouTube will be around. I’ll have my degree to fall back on for life.”

With around 30-million daily visitors, YouTube has become one of the most influential social media websites available; yet ask anyone aged 60+ what a ‘YouTuber’ is and all you will receive is a blank stare. This is mainly because “YouTube Culture” has only developed over the last few years as Millennials have become the main consumers of online media.

Widely described as the “generation of entitlement,” a Millennial refers to anyone born between 1982 and 2002; all of whom are now old enough to utilise the internet as well as the opportunities it offers. However, over the last few years, YouTube has also become popular amongst younger children.

A primary school teacher for the past eight years, Lyndsey Clay,30, has watched many fads come and go including: Pokémon, Fidget-Spinners and Loom Bands. However, YouTube seems to be a craze which has out-lived them all as it continues to grow in popularity. She said:

“YouTube is becoming ever more popular with Primary School children who use it for gaming advice, to listen to pop songs and to watch funny videos. Children will often ask if they can go on YouTube during their free time but it isn’t accessible to them in school.  Instead, they’ll talk excitedly about what they’ve been watching or can’t wait to watch. Recently, I’ve even heard of our children using YouTube to make videos about their toys.”

Ms Clay also recognises the positive influence ‘YouTube Culture’ is starting to have on young children; having seen quieter members of her class beam with confidence when asked to talk about YouTube.

Along with this popularity, studies show children are also starting to shrug off conventional career paths for a chance at online success. A recent survey conducted by travel firm ‘First Choice’ found that of the 1,000 children involved, only 11.9% said they would like to be a teacher whereas 75% said they would consider a career as a YouTuber.

After hearing the results found by the ‘First Choice’ survey, Ms Clay was not surprised by their findings as she too has had students who dream of being YouTubers. She said:

“I think becoming a YouTuber is a very similar aim to those children that aspire to be professional footballers. I think many of them see it as a quick way of becoming famous and earning lots of money without thinking about the reality of it; that there are many YouTubers who aren’t successful just like there are many non-professional footballers.”

“Although I don’t see any harm in children aspiring to be a YouTuber, I would always encourage them to consider other, maybe more achievable, career choices too.”

Whilst it may not offer long term security or a definite salary, there is potential to earn a significant amount of through YouTube. So just how do YouTubers afford their lavish lifestyles and is it a career we should be pursuing and encouraging amongst the younger generation?

Traditionally, YouTubers make money in five main ways. First is through ‘Adsense’, those pesky adverts shown at the beginning of each video generate YouTuber income for each thousanth time the ad is viewed. Some YouTubers also earn money using Patreons. This is a type of paid subscription service which gives fans access to exclusive content for a small monthly fee of around one pound.

Another way is through ‘Affiliate Links’; a method where YouTubers post links to products -which they have used in their videos- to encourage fans to purchase them. YouTubers’ then earn between five and twenty per-cent of the profits from any products purchased through their link. ‘Brand-Ad’s’ accumulate the majority of YouTubers’ earnings as companies pay significant amounts of money for them to promote their products or services within their videos.

Finally, popular YouTubers also make money through official merchandise; a method expertly used by YouTube royalty ‘Zoella’ who has an estimated net worth of £2.5 million. In 2016, Zoella became one of the most influential online figures in the UK. Her vlogs and beauty tutorials earned her channel 10million subscribers which has risen to over 12million in the last two years.

Since creating her channel back in 2007, Zoella – real name Zoe Sugg- has expanded her brand to create an incredibly successful range of merchandise. ‘Zoella Beauty’ and ‘Zoella Lifestyle’ have both since become bestsellers on national store shelves such as Superdrug, Boots and WHSmith. This shows the huge financial potential YouTubers have beyond YouTube itself.

Finances aside, it’s easy to understand why so many people are drawn in by the prospect of an online career. It’s no secret that becoming a YouTuber offers many other benefits, including: being your own boss, following your passion and being able to work from just about anywhere. However, many people are so blind-sided by the positive elements of the opportunity they overlook the potential negative aspects of publishing public content.

YouTube is renowned for having the most toxic comment section of any social networking site. The reality of a career online is, for every single supporter you have, there are potentially going to be multiple ‘haters’. Unlike other sites- such as Facebook, Reddit and Instagram- YouTube does not filter or regulate its comments, allowing anyone to write anything.

Although you can ‘thumbs down’ a comment, this does not hold any repercussions for whoever wrote it. Unfortunately, regardless of how harsh it may seem, developing a ‘thick skin’ and learning to ignore negative opinions is just another essential part of the YouTuber lifestyle.

Despite the risks, MMU Third Year Student Bryony Ainley,20, recently started her own YouTube channel here in Manchester. When asked about the reasons for creating her channel, she said:

“I’ve always watched YouTube videos and thought all the ideas people came up with and the things they got to do just looked really fun, so I decided I’d try it out to see if I enjoyed it.”

“I wouldn’t really say it’s my “plan” to become a YouTuber but once I posted my first couple of videos my friends and family were really encouraging. Right now, I’m just enjoying making and editing the videos with no expectation of having something come from it.”

Her first video, ‘50 Things You Need to know About Bry’, which she posted last month has already achieved 1,000 views and gained the channel almost 100 subscribers.