When you have a project you visualize who you think your target audience is and then you build your product around assumptions based on who you’re targeting. When I started the video project in 2009 my target audience was technology professionals. The idea was to show Sys Admins how to deal with Phone Systems, and Digital PBX Administrators how to deal with VoIP. As someone who has spent countless hours, days, weeks, and even months in rigorous training I had personally never had deep connections with my instructors. They were good people, but I would have never imagined to believe I knew them in anymore than the most superficial of ways.
As a 41 year old I realize I may have come to view YouTube in a way that younger folks do not. Although I have watched countless hours of Vlog Brothers, Ze Frank, Phillip DeFranco and Drama Alert I would in no way believe that I had a relationship with these creators, nor would I care much about anything they do off screen. I watch their content because I am entertained, or educated. Who they are as people is relatively insignificant.
After 8 years on YouTube I have been forced to realize that this is not how many viewers perceive their relationship with content creators. I fear in this ever more isolated world that too many viewers have come to the dysfunctional belief that they have a relationship with the person on the screen.
When I envisioned my viewers I thought of people watching a few hours a week or month, the reality is that many people watch for hours upon hours day in and day out. I figured I was talking to adults who would take my words with a grain of salt and that they would know to go and verify information on their own. The thought that viewer were looking for “truth” even now seems bizarre.
When you create one, ten or a hundred videos this disconnect doesn’t become much of a problem. When you create thousands of videos spanning years this difference between who you think you are creating content for vs who is actually watching becomes an ever larger issue. Light hearted off hand comments that should be forgotten a minute after said are diligently catalogued. Good days and bad days that have more to do with whether its sunny or cold outside are analyzed for meaning. The little remarks made about off screen life are noted and stored away.
Beyond this if a picture says a thousand words than a video must say a million. So many of those million words are not necessarily even meant. In text you have the ability to communicate in a specificity that does not exist in video. The inflection of your voice. Your mannerisms, and specific speech habits have something to say about you that goes beyond anything that you’d want to discuss. On YouTube this is compounded by the inability to edit old videos. You can upload new versions, but cannot deal with what already exists other than to pull it down. Laugh at the wrong moment? Do you delete an entire video over one misspeak..?
As a YouTube creator there is a nakedness. People create one sided relationships with a person showing only one color out of their prism of a personality. So many desperately seek in these avatars what they are missing in their real lives, and so read far more into what is said on a video than was ever planned by the creators. They then reach out in email, messaging, Skype and even the real world to create a connection with a person they have no right to think cares about them. If they are offended in this upside down world doxing, hacking and harassment is considered an appropriate response.
The monkeys on the screen need to dance to please the viewers, but how do you dance for hundreds of thousands of viewers…?
This is a real problem for content creators that YouTube as an organization barely notices. The daily onslaught from viewers demanding that they be recognized. The pervasive inappropriate communications. The subtle threats. What can you do as a creator? YouTube offers no adequate support. If you modify what you say you risk either turning away viewers, or making matters worse with viewers jumping in to attack. You’re left staring into a camera. Trying to convey what you find valuable without handing over a piece of your soul. You’re just an idiot with a webcam, why does anyone demand anything else?
This nakedness is a large reason for taking a step back not just from YouTube, but from video creation in general. Creators are not protected by anything other than the locks on our doors, and whatever we have the permits to carry. In the #RESIST world being concerned about the crazies watching the videos is not an irrational reaction. How long until the pepper spray at the the protests finds it way to creator’s homes?
There is an imagined barrier between the creator and the viewer that is melting away in too many people’s minds. As creators we have to think if this is really the situation we though we were getting into. I want to share information and wisdom, but our connection ends with the final sentence. This new and increasing push for emotional support and connection is something that I can’t see how it ends well. If .001% of your viewers are bat crap crazy then that means for 10,000 subscribers you have at least one compete nut, and at 1 million subscribers you have 100 certifiable lunatics following you. When you realize to YouTube you’re just yet another disposable dancing monkey is this comforting?
For me going back to hiding behind a keyboard seems like the best way to go…