Goodbye, YouTube. Regulations could prompt microinfluencer migration to other platforms

Some microinfluencers see the latest YouTube guidelines as a "slap in the face."

Carrie Crista, whose YouTube channel features videos about bullet journaling and healthy living, says the network’s latest monetization regulations are creating problems for people with small numbers of subscribers and driving away new creators.

Under the new rules, creators on YouTube must have garnered 4,000 hours of overall watch time on their channels in the past year and have at least 1,000 subscribers to apply for monetization and have ads attached to videos via Google AdSense. The new eligibility policy will go into effect on February 20. Channels that fail to meet the threshold will no longer be able to make revenue from ads.

Before the most recent changes, users had to have 10,000 views on their channel to monetize.

YouTube’s stricter guidelines for monetization are meant to tighten restrictions on ads to maintain brand safety. Yet given that the announcement follows YouTube’s decision to allow vlogger Logan Paul to continue to monetize videos even after his latest scandal, microinfluencers and small-scale creators "are likely to perceive this as a slap in the face of building a community around niche topics," says Angela Seits, director of social media and influencer marketing at PMG.

Although YouTube says it made the move to protect its community and advertisers from "bad actors," Seits contends creators will believe YouTube doesn’t value people who are trying to grow a channel.

"YouTube says 99% of those affected were making less than $100 per year last year, but for some, especially teen creators or vloggers just starting out, these earnings are still valuable," she explains.

When Crista started her YouTube channel in January 2016, she had no intention of making money with it. She set up AdSense because it was a part of the process and was surprised to be making money quickly.

That June, Crista published a video that earned more than 1 million views, which led to more subscribers. She continued to upload "quality content," so her ad revenue increased and she got paid each month.

However, Crista’s earnings decreased significantly last February and never rebounded.

"It's my understanding that YouTube was trying to please advertisers by not putting ads on offensive content, but they ended up landsliding into demonetizing videos almost instantly, regardless of subject matter," she says. "This meant that if I posted a video, it would be demonetized within an hour and I would have to manually ask them to review it."

It takes a day or two for a video to be re-monetized, which she contends is a problem because videos earn most of their views in the first days after being published. As a result, with no ads running on the initial days, most of Crista’s revenue was gone.

"While the option for a review is great, there is a limit on what gets reviewed and what doesn't," says Crista. "If the video doesn't have more than 1,000 views in the last seven days, they won't review it because it isn't relevant enough, in their eyes. This causes a huge problem for those who don't have a million subscribers."

Crista, who has almost 33,000 subscribers, says her revenue from June to December 2016 was almost exactly the same as it was from January to December of 2017 due to the changes in monetization.

"YouTube seems to have forgotten who made the platform what it is," she says. "Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime have the online streaming market covered. With YouTube trying to compete, they are pushing content creators away instead of inviting them to a social platform that encourages them to be creative in a way that other platforms can't."

The new regulations are also discouraging people from starting a channel, she adds, meaning new creators will go elsewhere.

If people earn more quickly on an alternative platform, without the risk of their content being drowned out by TV shows made by top creators, people will ultimately move to more lenient platforms.  

"It’s likely that we’ll see microinfluencers and brands with smaller followings spend more time cultivating a dedicated follower base that will be invested in their content and watch videos in full, rather than churning out clickbait videos to pull in views," says Herman DeBoard, CMO of social referral marketing platform Grabbr. "On the other hand, influencers who are not willing to put in the time and effort to build their audience and produce videos that will resonate with that audience’s interests might be more inclined to leave YouTube and explore opportunities on other platforms."

That’s a good thing, according to DeBoard. By weeding out users who are only concerned with clicks and subscribers, the new regulations will lead to improved content and meaningful engagements, allowing true creators to reap the benefits of advertising, he says.

Meanwhile, established microinfluencers will likely not leave YouTube. Crista reasons that influencers will have to continue to use the platform and gradually make a change if it becomes available.

"When you have a million subscribers, it's easier to tell people to follow other places because your reach is huge," she says. "When you have 35,000 subscribers, it's not as simple. It's incredibly hard to re-build a following on a platform that people aren't as familiar with."

Crista adds that she subscribes to many channels that are changing their business model to stream on Twitch because it's "much more welcoming" and she’s seeing beauty creators doing more Instagram videos because "they get decent traction."

"It's going to be about finding what platforms can be used in conjunction with YouTube," she says.

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