The Smaller YouTubers panel took place on Sunday at Summer in the City 2017 in Panel Room A. It featured Tati Kapaya, Becky James, Jojo Watson, Angela Innes, and Eilidh Gow. It was chaired by Emma Popcorn.
Smaller YouTubers is one of the most popular panels each year at Summer in the City, and the room was packed to the door. As was tradition, a random member of the audience was picked to join the panel – and this year it was our very own Gemma Dunnell!
Emma kicked off the discussion with the question, “Is there a smaller YouTube community, and what’s your experience with it?” Tati felt it took her a while to get into it, but it exists – “look at us!” Becky agreed, gesturing to her community in the front few rows who cheered loudly. She recently went on a tour of the country holding meetups, and has found that those meetups get bigger every time. Gemma has found that “everyone’s so uplifting and supportive”.
Emma then asked the panellists what their thoughts were on the creator/viewer divide, and what their experiences of it had been. Angela felt that there was a smaller divide because with a smaller audience, they can be friends – however, “there’s still a boundary that still needs to be there”.
Gemma shared how confusing it can be for smaller YouTubers at SitC, as they are both the viewer and the viewed: “People are there for you and you’re there for people. It’s a strange grey area – you’re not big enough to have a big fanbase but you’re big enough for an audience.”
The panellists were then asked how they approach bigger YouTubers as a creator and not just a viewer. Angela responded that Twitter was the best way of interacting with others. Jojo shared that he “feels like a bit of a fan, but Twitter is a good way to interact. So are the comments. Just slide into their DMs!” Emma emphasised the importance of not thinking less of yourself: “See yourself as equal to them and they’ll see you as an equal.”
Emma asked, “How do you get your voice heard?” Angela responded, “Keep talking; the people who listen to you are the ones who are the most important”, earning a round of applause. Tati agreed, stating that it didn’t matter how many people were watching – “if two people were watching, you’ve made an impact on them and that’s all that matters”. Eilidh felt that it was about finding your niche that people can relate to. She shared how she had recently started talking about her gut disease which was not an illness that she felt was commonly spoken about, so it was something fellow sufferers related to and had “hidden all their life, just like me”. Jojo discussed how he has depression and lives in a care home, and when he searched YouTube for people who talked about what that was like, he found nothing. Now, as a result of his videos, people who are going through the care system contact him and he’s delighted he’s able to have people who relate to him. Similarly, Becky shared how she recently discussed her anxiety online, and at SitC parents approached her and talked about how that video had helped their children. Eilidh finished off by stating, “Be yourself and you’ll find your people.”
The discussion then moved to questions from the audience, starting with: “How do you find smaller YouTubers?” Angela said she finds the Flushing The Tubes Twitter account and their #LittleButLoved campaign to be “amazing – I’ve found so many friends and so many more creators from that”. Gemma recommended TenEighty’s Channel Spotlight feature, which provides in-depth interviews with smaller YouTubers, and checking the sidebar on favourite YouTubers’ homepages for what channels they like in order to find a network.
The next question was about advice on how to be more proud of and confident in your videos. Jojo shared that he was very shy as a child and “it’s only been the last few years that I’ve been putting myself out there”. However, he no longer cares about other people’s opinions about him: “Be yourself and don’t hold back because at the end of the day, you’re just holding back yourself.” For Becky, when people at school found out about her channel, she felt embarrassed. However, it didn’t stop her, and she realised “it’s gets you to the right people, and you end up making friends online”. Angela emphasised the importance of making things you love: “It’s the most important thing, and it’s the best feeling when you find the thing you want to create”. Eilidh felt that going to YouTube gatherings and being around like-minded people is the best. However, Gemma pointed out that there will always be people who don’t understand YouTube, and Tati revealed her parents’s views: “My parents hate the fact I do YouTube, they don’t get it at all – like, ‘What are you doing? Go study!'”
Another question was whether the panellists felt a pressure to use clickbait in order to stand out in a saturated creator space. The panel agreed that it was okay to care about views and numbers, but it was also okay not to. Tati said: “Just do what you want to do and people will see you for it.” Eilidh’s views were that smaller YouTubers aren’t under the same pressures to pull in the numbers. Gemma felt that with trend videos, audiences may come, but they come because they are searching for that specific video. However, when you make more niche videos and they find an audience, “they’re the ones who’ll stay, so don’t ever feel pressured to do clickbaity videos”.
A member of the audience asked how the panellists balance work, life, and YouTube, and began the “wow, this microphone is loud” trend for the rest of the panel. Gemma joked, “No sleep. Ever.” Becky said, “If you really love making videos, you’ll make time for it – like, you’ll get up earlier, or you’ll film something at night.” Jojo’s channel features an “eating show” so he said, “If I’m going to have dinner, I might as well film it and that’s a video”, and received a lot of laughter from the audience. Gemma felt that “our lives influence our content”.
Two members of the audience asked about equipment. One pointed out that “some people don’t have access to expensive editing programs, and for some people, they could only use YouTube’s Video Editor – and 20 September, they’re killing it off”, and another asked how they can make videos from scratch. Angela stated that “if you have a laptop, Windows Movie Maker is still good, you can still make videos on that”, pointing out that she uses iMovie to make her videos. Emma joked that “there’s always Video Cut Pro”, making the audience laugh and cheer. Gemma quoted Miles McKenna: “People come and stay for people, not just the physical quality. What makes a video engaging is you, not your editing.” Jojo noted that if you have an iPhone, the camera quality is excellent, and that in iMovie, there were enough tools to edit and fix the footage: “You can turn anything into something good.” Emma pointed out that you don’t have to make videos alone: “There are other people who have those skills and the equipment – sometimes it’s worth getting assistance.”
Another questioner asked how they can bring back a community feel to gatherings. Gemma discussed Embly99, who hosts three gatherings a year and held a “pre-SitC” before the convention. Becky shared how she and her small YouTube community go around the country, visiting cities such as Bristol and Glasgow, and has found “more and more people show up each time”. Gemma agreed – “the more people you talk to, the more you’ll find out about. And Twitter helps.”
The next member of the audience asked the panel what they disliked about YouTube and the community. Gemma disliked how videos are ranked in terms of views, and felt that there should at least be the option to rank search results by engagement instead. Angela felt that YouTube itself is problematic – “It’s a website, it’s not something you can go up to. You can’t just email someone.”
The panellists were asked if they felt being called “small YouTubers” was reductive. Angela felt it was a badge of honour, and Emma felt it simply meant they were different and “we have different voices”. Gemma stressed that it was “just a number – it’s still people watching us”. Becky felt that if she was a bigger YouTuber, she’d miss the community feeling she currently has, and said she was “happy where I am now”.
The next question from the audience was about how to deal with larger YouTubers who look down on them, sharing a story of how he “ran into a bigger YouTuber and they called me ‘just a viewer’ because of the amount of subs I had”. (He promised that if he ran into the YouTuber again, he’d “give him a word of my mind”, earning a huge round of applause). In Jojo’s experience, he saw someone who had hit 500,000 subscribers and wanted to get to know them, so he started talking to them on Twitter. He emphasised the importance of having a normal conversation “because they are just people”. Emma felt that calling someone “‘just a viewer’ is really demeaning – viewers are not any less than creators”.
The panellists were asked how they handle other people’s judgement and expectations. Tati shared her thoughts: “I never know – there’s always going to be someone who likes it and [someone else who] hates it. If you like it, just press upload.” Becky stated that there were so many people on YouTube that “someone will like what you’re doing”. Gemma emphasised that it was important to take pride in what you do, and said that when you do, others accept it more easily. She also joked, “You have to remind them that you may have big lights in your room, but you’re not making certain adult movies! Just close the curtains…”
The next questioner asked the panellists if they were satisfied with the representation smaller YouTubers receive at panels. For Becky, the Smaller YouTubers panel is her favourite each year. Angela discussed how these events are for bigger YouTubers to have a platform: “Summer in the City started out as a gathering, and it’s not that any more. It’s performances and panels and Q&As, so I don’t feel like there’s enough representation.” She felt that while this panel was great, smaller YouTubers “need more respect from bigger people”. Gemma had attended the Creator – Viewer Relationship panel where the panellists had different audience sizes and they had different experiences of that relationship, and felt that there should be smaller creators on every panel.
Another member of the audience voiced their concern about the abuse within the YouTube community that emerged several years ago, and asked how “we as creators can stop his from happening again; from putting people on pedestals and excusing behaviour that is in no way shape or form right”. Angela quoted Paul Neafcy from the Creator – Viewer Relationship panel: “Some people are treated as bigger humans and there’s others who are treated as less”. She wished she had an answer, but stressed the importance of talking about these issues.
One of the final questions concerned cliques and how to ensure smaller YouTube friendship groups can make themselves more approachable to newer people on the platform. Eilidh felt it was important to look out for people, especially “people who look a bit lost or alone, and try to get them involved in your group”, and Emma emphasised the importance of valuing yourself. Gemma simply stated, “Please just be nice to people”. She went on to explain, “We are all just human beings… just talk to one another with the respect that you would like someone to talk to you. And with that, you can break down boundaries and make genuine human connections.”
Photos by George Yonge.
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