The Case for YouTube as a Social Media Channel

Stephen Tornetta
September 20, 2019

Over the last month, our team conducted a variety of interviews to find our latest group of interns. During these interviews, we often ask candidates what their favorite social media platform is and why. Lately, several have responded with YouTube, and I can’t lie: It surprised me.

If you’re like me, you don’t think about YouTube as a purely social network in the same way we think about Facebook and Instagram, mostly because it functions differently than other platforms. There isn’t a homepage, you don’t really have networks of friends, and text doesn’t play a big role—only video. People view it more as a place where video content is stored and created, but not shared laterally from person to person.

When I started thinking about it, though, I realized that YouTube really is a social media platform, and we should consider that as we interface with it. Here’s why YouTube is more than just a place to watch fun cat videos and instead a place for us to expand our brands and get more social. 

YouTube is inherently social

Watching someone else’s video is a social action, even if you’re doing it alone on your couch. After all, you’re sharing another person’s human experience—even if that person is a YouTuber with a massive amount of followers and subscribers. (At this point, you can mention a “famous” YouTuber with millions of subscribers—shoutout to Jenna Marbles and her 100 coats of nail polish challenge—and chances are good that the person you’re talking to hasn’t even heard of them. The YouTube social world is that large!)

This is the point: Different people subscribe to different YouTubers, and then they tell their friends about the fun things they watch. They share videos personally or through other social media networks like Facebook. The videos trickle into pop culture, and then we’re all standing around the water coolers at work talking about them. 

You see that pattern? These are all examples of social networking. Creating content that inspires this type of sharing is what helps YouTubers grow their audiences.

There’s tons of room for audience growth

Reminder: There are 7.7 billion humans on the planet. A person with a hefty 3 million followers is still only speaking to minuscule part of the that total human audience—not taking into account the inequities of internet access and demographics, obviously—which means that there is still a lot of room for expansion. 

Really makes u think.

This is why brands should think about YouTube as part of their marketing and advertising plans. Creators on YouTube have influence over their followers, and they have power to promote products through sponsorships and endorsements. Brands should think about pairing up with likeminded creators to produce video content both for their own channels and for their target audiences. (Easier said than done, I know.)

But, there are still barriers to entry

One caveat to YouTube—and perhaps the biggest reason why we don’t associate it with other social media networks—is that for creators, the platform comes with a higher barrier to entry. Unless you possess the skills and resources needed to produce video content on your own, you’re pretty limited with what you can do on YouTube. 

Plus, even if you are the Steven Spielberg of self-produced videos, you still have to constantly produce sophisticated content—i.e. professional quality videos—to gain serious traction. Maintaining a consistent schedule of video content can be a very heavy lift, especially when it comes to editing, equipment, and simple subject matter. Then, you have to get people to watch and share your videos on a platform that doesn’t let you share content natively within the app or on the website. You need to create a true following, which is much harder than it seems.

Of course, the great thing about YouTube is that you don’t need to be a Spielberg—or anywhere close to that level. You can make videos with a cheap tripod and an iPhone, and you can learn how to edit them from a tutorial on, well, YouTube.

So get creating, people, and don’t forget to give YouTube the credit it deserve as a true social network.