These days, when we think of the community creator economy, we often think of a newsletter’s slack channel, a private invite-only community, or a paid insider community. It seems like everyone these days is tapping into community in some form as part of their empires.
I believe we should give credit where credit is due: the community world wouldn’t be anywhere without the significant contributions of this arena. YouTubers, Streamers, and Gamers drove the original community-first model through public, online collaborations, driving business partnerships, and creating the foundation for the modern community industry.
When we think of Youtubers, we often lump them in groups of topics filled to the brim with different personalities. You have the make-up tutorial YouTubers… the gamer YouTubers… the tech review YouTubers… these different topics each carry a plethora of people who have almost single-handedly generated their own spotlight, based on their personalities.
The rise of niche YouTuber communities
Take Shane Dawson, for example. Nowadays, Shane is followed by episodes of drama, backlash from racist comments (rightfully so), and is more or less an example of a personality gone wrong. But rewind twelve or thirteen years and he was nearly synonymous with the platform he vlogged on.
Forming a YouTube career based on sketch comedy, 2008 Shane Dawson was the definition of user-generated content YouTube thought itself famous for. Nearly anyone with an internet connection in that era can recall having seen a video or two of his. And over the following decade, Shane went from making short sketch videos to growing a massive following in media: television pilots, music singles (and obviously, music videos), podcasting, a controversial movie, books, merch, and more.
His most recent endeavors were a case study in how creators can serve their communities in different ways to make a living: a make-up collaboration with Morphe alongside another YouTube personality, Jeffree Star, with whom he had a two-year-long public beef battle. Those familiar with all the latest drama can recount how short-lived this collaboration was. In 2020, the make-up brand ended the relationship with both Shane Dawson and Jeffree Star due to controversy (a topic we’ll dive into on another day).
While, on the surface, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the individuals (and the different beef - whether manufactured or not - behind these individuals), we’re quick to overlook the communities behind the creators. Platforms such as Patreon, Youtube, Twitch, OnlyFans, and Discord have driven new monetization methods for creators to tap into their own growth.
YouTube, in many ways a playground for community growth. The company was (and in some cases, still is) a pioneer of what video content can accomplish. It brought home videos into the limelight, showing that anyone can be the star of their own show. It allowed people to explore their interests in new ways, gather feedback in new ways, and grow alongside their community (you guessed it) in new ways.
YouTube walked so Twitch could run
Streaming is a bit newer. Sure, video game gameplay has been a mainstay of the internet for twenty-some-odd years. Rooster Teeth’s massively popular Red vs Blue web series predates YouTube but was an early example of what video games can offer in content besides just playing them.
Much in the same way we get enjoyment from watching people play sports, there’s an enjoyment in watching people play video games. It strikes the same satisfaction, watching people do something that you love or appreciate. YouTube has been a great way for several gamers (and video game media companies like Rooster Teeth) to share their gameplay with their audience. But platforms like Twitch took it to a new level, live-streaming the content directly.
If you directly compare the two, twitch is like this strange, big-brother-esque sibling to YouTube. It’s not solely for gaming, though that’s their biggest draw. As a public-facing streaming platform, there are people who live stream their knitting sessions, or cooking and eating, or even sleeping. Gaming aside, it strikes a voyeuristic fascination. But that’s not really the point. The point is: throughout the entire experience, there’s a constant direct connection with a community that’s tuning in. People who watch these streamers can comment, buy subscriptions, even add in streamer-specific memes and emojis in the chat, just to name a few actions.
Twitch ran so the Community Industry could go to the Moon.
Much of what we herald and hold to a high bar in the community industry came from these original niche communities. And rightfully so -- they’re people that were gathering, together for a common cause, interest, and ultimately -- connection. While many folks were forced to think about online gatherings for the first time in the midst of a pandemic, this just became an additional skill to showcase for some.
The way we approach gathering, connection, or even shared interests has been impacted by these early online creators. From new internet friends to embracing new methods of getting to know the people (and the world) around us, this year has been an explosion in the community industry. While yes, you could argue that this was inevitable in many ways -- we can’t go without acknowledging the influence YouTubers, Gamers, and Streamers have had along the way.
The upmost prioritization in thinking about connection and conversations first in these formats -- whether it’s through simply sharing your day-to-day, gathering to hang out on virtual islands, in the fantasy world of Gielinor or Azeroth, hanging out to chat Star Wars, playing Dungeons and Dragon together, or in the case of one of the most prolific YouTubers -- instant oatmeal.
How the heck does it relate to my community?
First and foremost -- those folks who think of things just a little bit differently, listen up. It’s highly unlikely that these platforms are going anywhere anytime soon -- just being looked at in new ways. From learn-to-code communities, beauty tutorials, and influencers taking the stage, or even the cute avalanche stream of… you guessed it cute cats, connecting with your community regardless of the platform goes a long way.
- Don’t be afraid of new formats — they can be new ways for your community to experience with one another.
- Your community isn’t limited to one platform -- if it is you’ve just got yourself an audience. Think of these platforms as a new way to facilitate connection with your community.
- Thinking of monetization first won’t cut it — the folks who are now considered superstars of streaming started simply as a way to share something new with friends. Monetization came later.
- There’s a niche for EVERYTHING.
- What you put out in the world will come back to you -- for better or for worse. Be kind, tell the truth, own up to your mistakes, and lift those around you up.