YouTube eggWhether you’re promoting a movie or generating buzz for a new toothpaste, chances are that you’ve reached out to YouTube talent in the last few months.

Listen in on any PR agency pitch, studio marketing meeting or digital content panel and you’ll undoubtedly hear the talk turn to a “YouTuber Strategy.” To Hollywood’s credit, YouTube talent are becoming the norm in any meaningful social media and digital marketing plan where the goal is to have users interacting with your content on their own terms and through their own networks. But why hasn’t this mania extended beyond the PR department? Sure there have been some wildly successful exceptions, but more often than not using this talent for more than promotion and content discovery has been anecdotal.

To traditional media execs, the “emerging” talent on YouTube and its platform remain, well, emerging. With a mixture of envy, adulation and fear, these execs cast a curious eye toward YouTubers. But promotional value alone short-sells the incredible authority YouTubers have as cultural touchstones and next-gen programmers.

Here are some hard-earned lessons from a former traditional media exec; what we’ll call the “5 Things Never To Say To A YouTuber.”

1. “You’re a YouTuber!”

nigahiga on YouTube“YouTuber” is thrown about with great moxie in the press but really is a maligned term within community. Try influencer, talent, host or social video curator. The term “YouTuber” lessens their scope as programmers across a panoply of platforms. The smartest YouTube talent have realized that they need to create multiple networks to build communities of scale. They’ve embraced platform-shifting touchpoints from Ustream, mobile, DailyBooth, Twitter, Facebook and location-based services. In a nomadic media world marked by on-demand consumption, the YouTube audience is increasingly migratory and expects their YouTube stars to be just as portable.

2. “Aren’t you going to delete these comments?”

Still leaning on command and control over messaging? When a brand steps into the YouTube world, it automatically cedes control of the conversation. Like it or not, the over-hyped YouTube “secret formula” of views, ratings, comments, favorites and video responses depends a great deal on the quantity, not quality, of feedback. In addition, YouTube talent understand that viewer participation is the driver of content creation, and that community expression when coupled with wide distribution are becoming just as important as the content itself. They’re not programmers as much as providers of tools and platforms, letting their communities create on their own and program themselves.

3. “You’re like a cable channel!”

While the audiences of top YouTube talent swallow most cable networks whole, it’s a discredit to liken YouTube talent to a clunky linear broadcast media model. In fact, they’re reinventing the whole notion of what a “channel” means. They are the first to create a true programming “experience” defined by a personalized media experience combined with a social context. Such a model promotes participation, creates new places to host conversations and allows sharing and mixing of content. Their whole notion of programming is dynamically packaged and re-packaged video on the fly.

4. “Do me a favor! Will you give a shout to my movie/webseries/cousin’s band?”

You wouldn’t ask an MSO to throw you a freebie, would you? It isn’t your friend’s high school radio program despite the deceptively informal platform. Top YouTube talent are more than vloggers and webseries creators, they’re meaningful distributors who must be treated with the same respect as any massive distribution platform. These are sophisticated businesses with integration rate cards just like you would find in any other premium content offering multi-site, multi-channel audiences.

5. “Let’s make a viral video!”

While engaging YouTube talent with a big following is the closest thing you can get to a sure thing in creating a viral mega-hit, more often than not, it’s still a mixture of dumb luck and cultural capriciousness. Viral video in and of itself is not an online strategy. Marketers’ engagement with YouTube talent shouldn’t be about a single video but rather about finding ways to find a format that can build communities. Look at the top 10 videos on YouTube this month. While the viral one-offs are there, most are from users who’ve built a fan base over the course of several years. Consistency, sustainable viewership, and relevance to current events are the DNA behind those rare videos that squeeze through to the pop culture transom.

We’re well beyond the petri dish as to what YouTube talent and their communities can offer. Who’s next to embrace them?

John Reding is Director of Digital at FishBowl Worldwide Media and Co-Executive Producer of CuteWinFail. (Top photo by iJustine.)

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