The rules below are from my own experience and although the lens I look through is limited, I believe many can benefit by adapting these to fit their own purpose.
A few years ago, I finally got the nerve to buy my first motorcycle. I had ridden dirt bikes as a kid but the fire breathing monster I bought bore little resemblance to anything of my childhood. After a year of riding, I found myself increasingly frustrated when trying to describe what it felt like to “split the mustard n’ mayo” with my bike. So I decided to buy a few cameras and try my hand at shooting my own motorcycle videos.
Admittedly, at the beginning I had no idea what I was doing. Being a film nerd and making a film were entirely different endeavors. But I persevered through the learning curve. I wanted to share my feelings about riding. The best place to do so was YouTube. Facebook might be the buzz word of the day, but here, the sheer volume of content would be both a challenge and an advantage for me. I was utterly amazed to discover that YouTube users as a whole, upload 35 hours of video every minute of every day! If I were to find a captive audience, I would find it there. Considering the unimaginable amount of footage I would be competing against could easily drown me out – I would have to learn from the mistakes of others who had gone before me. The biggest mistake I saw was what happens when people were seen as inauthentic. I decided to make a list of rules I would live by when navigating the fickle waters of social media. So far, they have served me very well, and have garnered me a very loyal following.
1. Create by my own compass.
I wanted to make content for myself and no one else. I saw how the motivation to spend countless hours in front of a computer faded once one started feeling like they were fulfilling other people’s requests rather than their own. No matter much I appreciate each and every subscription, its about the work – not the subs.
2. Answer every comment and thank every subscription.
Being seen as responsive and active in the community is crucial. People are immensely appreciative when you do simple things like answer their questions and thank them for subbing. Also, it has the added benefit of creating free advertising for yourself when other people see your comment on that person’s page.
3. Watch, comment, and subscribe to others in the community.
It can get difficult to constantly keep up to date with other producers of similar content, but it creates authenticity for your online persona and secures you a place as a leader in the group. With so many people creating content, I made the choice to subscribe to only those I thought had truly stellar work. This way my list was kept to something manageable. Also, when I added someone new, they knew I was sincere.
4. Avoid showing any personal information.
Luckily, the particular YouTube community I joined was perfectly comfortable with online personas. So it did not affect my authenticity. Primarily I wanted to remain anonymous for security reasons. The last thing I wanted was to have someone showing up at my house in the middle of the night. I hide my license plate as well in my videos for this reason.
5. Treat every single person the same way you’d treat them in real life – even trolls.
Feeling anonymous can be a double-edged sword. People sometimes forget they are addressing real people, therefore it can be easy to be rude or harsher than you would be in person. It’s also difficult to anticipate people’s reactions to your work, let alone your comments. So to be safe, I try to imagine my grandmother watching and/or reading everything I produce and/or write. If she would be offended, I try another tactic. It’s important to note, she wouldn’t have to be interested in the subject, just not offended by how it was approached.
6. Treat my YouTube persona like a brand.
Just like a company or product, I tried to give myself, my channel, and my videos a look and feel that was consistent, but not repetitive. This was especially challenging for me in the beginning since I was still learning how to create content and my goals didn’t always match my abilities. Just by going back to the first couple of flicks, it’s easy to see how my brand evolved along with my skills.
7. Put my faith in the word of mouth.
Being that most of my job is about pushing out a message to others, I wanted to allow for the organic process of social media to take root and grow without my interference. I continue to do this today by letting each video I create stand on it’s own merit. If it fails to connect with the audience, the number of views will show it. One should note, that doing it this way means you need patience, but it is absolutely worth it in the end.
8. Constantly push myself to build on what I have learned.
As much as this was a way to share my passions, it was also an exercise in learning a new skill that I hoped one day I could capitalize on with my work in the Design industry. The more I learned here, the better off I would be down the road.
9. Have fun and not try to take myself too seriously.
This one seems to be obvious, but surprisingly, many people forget about it. Keeping it fun means I would keep doing it.
10. Never censor my detractors.
Part of being authentic is letting people hate you. You can’t please everyone and it is useless to ever try. Whether you are a company or a just a one-man-army like myself, it is notoriously tempting to keep the good stuff and erase the bad to keep your image pure and sparkling. But it’s so important to keep the whole mess. When people made disparaging remarks about my work, I thanked them for their input, defended my choices if applicable, and kept their comment as part of the public record of that video. My hopes are that when other people read them and my responses, they appreciate my confidence in allowing both sides of the conversation. Unlike push media, social media at it’s root, is a conversation. Limiting it in any way is defeating its purpose. Don’t forget, trolls need love too.