Monday, December 7, 2009

Considering the Audience while Vlogging

After spending many hours logging time watching YouTube videos I decided to finally take the leap into YouTube stardom. It was relatively simple to create my vlog, derived from the combination of the words “video” and “blog”, and soon enough I had narrowed it down to have a format I was happy about. Throughout the process I learned a lot about the differences from being a media consumer to a media producer.

When comparing my project to other class projects, I noticed a large participation divide. While many define the participation divide as one where there is a large difference between those that consume versus those that produce. For me, I saw it in the type of projects students chose to tackle. Many of them chose to write blogs, while I went the more untraditional route with a vlog. I believe this is because different platforms take different skills and types of knowledge to operate. For them trying to put together a video might be intimidating, while I would rather spend an hour or two editing footage over trying to type something interesting. While Web 2.0 has made it exponentially easier for people to participate in online culture without having the technological knowledge, since some know-how is still necessary individuals might still be hesitant to join the conversation.

By jumping into a very popular platform, I had to contend with the attention economy. Rather than fighting for money, users on YouTube are competing for users’ valuable attention. Because of this, I had to determine whether I wanted to target niche audiences or a mass audience. Niche audiences have specific characteristics that might not be present in a mass audience. For example, out of the general population I would consider serious YouTube viewers (individuals who watch a variety of videos on a daily basis) a niche market. This niche can be broken down even further, by what types of content users like to watch, specific users they watch, and communities that form within the larger YouTube community. While targeting a mass audience might give a user a lot of attention value, it is much more difficult to cultivate a mass audience. It is easier, and more economical in terms of time and value, to target a niche market. Not only will a creator be able to tailor their content to interests of their audience, they will be able to show specific areas that they, as an individual, have interests in. With my vlog, my target audience would be college students who are also interested in surfing the web and looking for interesting sites that could connect to items learned in class or larger world issues.

The hardest aspect of my project was getting people to actually visit and interact with my content. This shows the relevance of social capital to content distribution. We gain social capital through our connections in social networks; the more connections we have, the more social capital we have accumulated. Manuel Castells describes how the internet has allowed these social networks to abound and create stronger connections. In projects such as this, where we are trying to get our information out to a mass audience, we have to work to become more than just nodes in the network but rather connectors, bringing to people together over our content. While this might seem counter-intuitive to niche audiences, it actually works to help gain an audience. While the internet allows us to produce and find anything we want, people are more likely to visit a site if it is recommended by a friend. We must first reach out to our social networks, who might recommend it to their social networks emphasizing it to those who have the same interests. The more social capital we have, the more likely we are to gather an audience.

The transition from YouTube viewer to YouTube content provider has changed the way I look at the platform. Not only do users have to consider the content they are producing, but also the audience they will be attracting out of the larger group of YouTube users, and internet users.

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