Whether it’s Instagram or video, I often tell clients and colleagues that their most valuable content coach is a teenage girl. Ask your daughter, niece or part-time receptionist to analyze your Instagram grid, your headshots or your website’s color scheme: you’ll get honest, no-nonsense feedback and insights that may just change the look — and effectiveness — of your marketing.
In my case, I often consult my 17-year-old daughter, Shelby Edgar. Although we both love to write, she has a better eye for design than I do. In addition, she has an ability to analyze new media that can only come from the experience of a Gen-Zer.
Marinated in the digital world from birth, Shelby and her cohort see the artifice behind authenticity and the thought behind (planned) spontaneity. In fact, according to a study from Engel & Völkers, millennials even prefer “influencers” to agents when it comes to real estate.
What makes a random YouTuber into an influencer? What can you learn from them to make your content more effective and more compelling?
I asked Shelby to help me identify some of the biggest names in digital media and let me in on some of their secrets.
Shelby Edgar: YouTuber Jenna Marbles has been a staple of the site for almost a decade, and from the beginning she has created truly original content. While she has sometimes played around with series and online trends, she interprets them out of her authentic experience.
You can tell Marbles’ content is genuine because of how broad the range of subjects is: cooking with her boyfriend, buying and decorating their first home or cutting soap with her dog (in matching turtlenecks). Her humor is not weird, but it is quirky and niche humor that nevertheless appeals to a wide audience.
Her humor and style has definitely changed over time because she has grown with her content and with her audience, rather than conforming to younger age groups. She continues to be true to herself — and to her subscribers.
Shelby Edgar: Many criticize the Paul Brothers — Jake and Logan — for their formulaic, and often immature, content, but judging from their combined 36 million plus follower count, they have found their demographic and continue to create content that speaks to their fans.
Like the Pauls, many creators got their start on Vine, which was a platform dependent on formulas — when you only had six seconds for a video, you produced what your fans wanted again and again.
The larger platform and longer format of YouTube has created more opportunities and a larger audience for these performers, but they often are stuck creating longer versions of the same content again and again. It has made them ultra-successful but lacks authenticity and originality.
Christy Murdock Edgar: While Jenna Marbles has made her online reputation through fearless individuality and authenticity, many YouTubers develop huge followings by finding a formula that works for them and their audience.
Although we often think of formulaic content as a bad thing, knowing what your audience wants — and consistently producing it without being boring — definitely has its rewards.
Shelby Edgar: Jenny Nicholson has created a platform based on honest retellings and commentary on pop culture, from her brutal deconstruction of the latest Harry Potter movie to evaluations of the Disney theme parks. She has found a formula, but her authenticity and honesty elevates that formula to create value-added content again and again.
In videos ranging from five minutes to a full hour, Nicholson’s almost conversational style creates a sense of trust and community with her subscribers and viewers. One cut, very little editing and the intimacy of her setting all combine to make her videos feel like a spontaneous talk with a close, funny friend who always tells the truth.
With content spanning so many topics, it’s clear that you can take a formula and make honest, genuine content with it. In this case, the formula is the format, not the topic.
Shelby Edgar: Buzzfeed Unsolved’s team of Shane Madej and Ryan Bergara discuss unsolved murders, tragedies and supernatural occurrences with a combination of prepared dialogue and improvised conversation between the two charismatic hosts.
Madej’s and Bergara’s styles and attitudes are very different and much of the humor comes from their personality clashes — adding lightness to the seriousness of the topics they discuss.
They’ve created a series unlike anything Buzzfeed has done before, due in part to the close friendship between the hosts. Although Buzzfeed content is often called out for being formulaic — think its listicles and quizzes — the dynamic between these two hosts creates a humorous and personal experience for the viewers.
Christy Murdock Edgar: This is a great way for real estate agents and brokers to think about content creation. People are often uncomfortable speaking directly to a camera.
Working with another member of your team or with an affiliated professional — lender, title agent, stager or other colleague — to create content that allows you to interview each other or play off of your natural chemistry can make content creation more fun and more effective — for you and for your audience.
Shelby Edgar: Anna Akana has no problem being transparent with her 2.4 million subscribers, sharing her stories about mental health, former relationships and more in a comedic yet sensitive way. The internet is full of people who try to portray an idealized version of themselves, so this type of vulnerability is rare and appealing.
Along with her personal content, Akana also produces and acts in fictionalized shows on YouTube. Her characters feel like real people and draw from her own experiences to create another layer of authenticity that she can portray through fictionalized situations.
Christy Murdock Edgar: Although you definitely want to be careful sharing personal situations and information in your content, sharing aspects of your authentic life with your fans and followers can create a closer and more meaningful connection and build trust.
Want to create content that pops? Analyze your favorite media figures — whether from social media, television or your favorite podcast — and figure out what makes them great. You might just find the key to improving your own content and growing your base of fans and followers.
Additional reporting and opinion by Shelby Edgar.