So, I have a confession to make. I love YouTube. Not just in the way that it allows you to get sucked into hours of proposal videos, or the way that it helps teach you how to fix your toilet, or teaches you how to apply the perfect winged eyeliner (ok, maybe that last one). I love YouTube because of the community it creates, and the way that allows content creators reach their audiences and provide entertainment and connection. Why do I bother with this confession? Well, I’m not alone. YouTube videos see 480 million views per day, and 54% of viewers in the United States are under the age of 24. This means, many of these viewers are either on our campuses or are arriving soon. Rather than watching videos sporadically, or only ones that have gone ‘viral’, users today are subscribing to ‘YouTubers’ who create, edit, and upload content to their channels consistently. This allows viewers to invest in the lives of these content creators, and view them with a sense of legitimacy and sometimes, celebrity status.
As educators, why is this important? Why should we care? What can YouTube teach us about the students we are serving?
YouTube helps build and create community. Being a teenager can be very lonely, especially if you have likes and interests that deviate from the norm. YouTube can be a platform for teens to come together and watch YouTubers who share the same interests, and connect with other viewers just like them. This can be so helpful for first year students in particular because YouTube can be a constant in their transition into college. When it feels like everything is different, and their world is changing, and they don’t know how to deal with it, they can log in to their YouTube account, go to their subscription box, watch their favorite YouTuber, and feel like everything will be ok. Viewers also feel very passionately about YouTubers, creating fan accounts on social media, and attending meetups to meet those YouTubers- even arranging get-togethers for fans in the same area to talk about and celebrate their favorite YouTubers while connecting with other viewers that share the same passion. This next generation coming on to our campuses are passionate, creative, and inspired individuals who value close relationships with their peers.
YouTube has a way of making the world seems like a very small place. With a click of a button, you can transport yourself across the world instantly to another country. Content creators from all over the world are uploading their videos to YouTube, and their audiences could be comprised of people people from anywhere. It’s not unusual for an entire fandom to come together from all over the world to support something that they all love. Despite their differences, they have that one thing that draws them together. This next generation of college students view the world as being a widely accessible, tiny place. They have been communicating with others who are similar to them from all the world, and viewing the videos of YouTubers from all different cultures. This platform also has the ability to elevate voices that aren’t traditionally seen in the traditional media. Anybody with a camera, a computer, and internet access can upload a video. Diversity is celebrated, and viewers can find successful YouTubers that they can relate to and look up to. Other young viewers can see different representations of gender, race, sexuality, and body type (the list goes on!) be successful and relatable, and it can absolutely inspire. (Check out this video from VidCon about race and representation in the YouTube community) YouTubers have a huge sphere of influence, and are using that influence to advocate for great things. Tyler Oakley has worked with Michelle Obama (here!) to advocate for his viewers to go to college, has lead a campaign to closed caption all of his videos into every language possible, and has worked with his viewers to raise over $1,000,000 for the Trevor Project over the past two years. Gigi Gorgeous is a beauty guru and comedic personality who began her channel as a young man wearing makeup, and has used her platform to highlight her physical and emotional journey into the beautiful, smart, and savvy transgender woman she is. Today’s college students are global citizens who celebrate diversity and view themselves as part of a greater global community.
Bigger YouTubers don’t make their money solely from uploading videos on the site. Today, YouTubers are releasing books, completely crossing over into a non-digital, traditional media. YouTubers have their own makeup ranges, beauty products, home ware collections, clothing lines, merchandise, and so much more. YouTube is so much more than online digital content. These creators work incredibly hard to market themselves and make their livings as entrepreneurs. This notion creates the culture, where if you work hard enough, and are inventive, you can you can be successful in many ways. Teens see their idols doing this, and believe that they can do the same thing themselves. There are already YouTubers on our campuses, who are working hard as full time students while spending countless hours creating and editing videos for their channels. How can we support these students, and use the skills and talents of these students to celebrate their success?
YouTube is a complex tool that can be used to facilitate meaningful experiences, create community, educate, inform, and connect. Notions of online digital video isn’t new, but the way it functions on our campuses is ever changing. The culture of YouTube is important to our students, and we can use these lessons that it teaches us to serve them even better.