OPINION: Hype Management on why subscriber levels don’t always indicate a YouTuber’s success

At a launch event during my tenure on the Activision PR team, an eager young content creator walked up to me, grabbed my hand and introduced himself by his YouTube channel name and the number of subscribers he had. Amused at this rather unusual way of an introduction, I asked him what his subscribers-to-video-views ratio was. Losing his momentum, he fell quiet for a moment and then said he wasn’t sure.

The subscriber count has long been the first indicator of success for YouTubers in the gaming community. A high number can earn respect among peers and unlock interest from publishers and brands wishing to build relationships with an engaged fan-base. Smaller YouTubers look up at those in the upper echelons, longing for fame of that magnitude. The subscriber level thus serves as a ranking system, ordering YouTubers against each other by their subscriber value. 

There is no doubt that more and more brands are turning to influencer marketing. A recent study by TapInfluence and Nielsen Catalina Solutions found that influencer marketing delivers 11 times higher ROI than traditional brand marketing. That’s an enticing figure at a time when brands are struggling to get greater returns for their marketing budget, and it is easy to see why this metric is often used by businesses looking to engage with YouTubers for influencer marketing purposes.

By looking at subscriber base alone, brands are ignoring a wealth of information that can inform a much smarter decision.

Henry Clay, Hype Management

However, when I am asked by brands or agencies to put forward talent who have a certain subscriber threshold for influencer relations activity, it sets my alarm bells ringing. Hype Management is fortunate to represent talent who hit some pretty lofty figures in the subscriber department, but this request belies a fundamental misunderstanding of best practices when it comes to selecting which influencers to work with. The metric of subscriber levels is easy to understand, but it is not always a true indicator of a channel’s success. Without more information, no brand can only look to subscriber levels to accurately gauge a channel’s suitability for use in an influencer marketing campaign.

By looking at subscriber base alone, brands are ignoring a wealth of information that can inform a much smarter decision. For example, if you’re considering sponsoring a YouTube channel, the total monthly viewing figures would be a far better metric to use; if you’re looking to deliver a one-off promotional video, then the average 14-day video viewing figure would be more useful. 

In addition, brands should evaluate these figures alongside the fee being requested to calculate an expected value. Overinflated fees based on subscriber counts rarely offer a high value return. This is, of course, simplistic, and there are a whole host of other metrics to consider before deciding to work with an influencer. The bottom line is that the bigger picture is always more complex than you originally anticipated.

Turning back to my new acquaintance from the launch event; after a discussion about the value of other metrics, a little calculation revealed that the ratio of his modest subscriber level to the video views he was generating was fairly impressive. We kept in touch and I was pleased to support him over the years. He developed his channel and made a successful career for himself through hard work, passion and dedication, doing what he knows and loves best. Naturally, he is now on the talent roster at Hype Management.

Henry Clay is the founder of Hype Management, an agency representing leading video game-related talent such as YouTubers, event hosts and presenters. He has over 15 years in the entertainment industry working in music, TV, film and video games. He mains Soldier 76 on Overwatch

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