Stars are not just a Hollywood byproduct. Today, the line between celebrity and average citizen is being blurred online. Online video influencers have moved beyond their devoted niche followings, becoming mainstream media fixtures. Meanwhile, celebrities are getting in on the action, and developing large followings of their own with online video.
Hailing from different backgrounds, covering vastly different territory, and with numerous different goals in mind, many internet stars share some common qualities worth taking note of. You may already possess most of them or they may be qualities you are ready to cultivate within yourself. Here are ten common traits required to succeed as an online video influencer.
1. Creativity, Whimsy, and Imagination
In some ways, the internet is our imagination made manifest. We can explore the boundaries of our minds; pushing our knowledge, challenging our senses, and reliving the dreams of our childhoods.
It is no surprise then, that some of our most beloved online influencers are those that deliver a bit of whimsy and a lot of creative punch. There are numerous artists, animators, and musicians that have gained popularity by appealing to online audiences.
One great example of this is Cyriak, a British artist and electronic musician who has become incredibly popular by pairing his sometimes startling animations with self-produced electronic sound bites. His avant garde videos draw millions of viewers, each anxiously awaiting his newest works of online art.
2. One of Us: Relatable
One of the huge appeals of online videos is that they are made by people we perceive to be just like us. Some of the most popular online video influencers are everyday people with a webcam or iPhone, recording their diatribes and gaming sessions.
They are completely relatable. They do not have flawless bodies or voices. And, they make you feel like they could be your hilarious cousin or that guy you sat next to during English 101.
Freddie Wong and Brandon Laatsch are those guys. Together they own Overcrank Media – a LA-based production company – and run the enormously popular FreddieW channel.
Their appeal? They are the funny guys that live down the hall from you. Their videos attract millions of viewers and have lead to guest director spots for McDonalds and EA Games. Their guys-next-door demeanors often serve as the crux of their videos. The duo’s videos appeal to nerds, gamers, and Hollywood celebrities, often combining a homemade feel with slick special effects.
Not all online filmmakers are fortunate enough to have a Michael Bay budget. Some of the most skilled filmmakers have a simple vision and a simple budget.
Hannah Hart’s vision was simple. She was hungry and drunk, and needed to make a video for a friend. Drunk Kitchen was born. Hart is HILARIOUS, her rig is simple (a camera sitting atop a stack of books), and her choppy editing is part of her charm.
oh She may not be Julia Child, but she understands the timeless combination of cheese and beer. Hart does not need a huge budget to make you laugh. Her simple premise is addicting, making you wish it had been your own revelation. Her resourcefulness extends to her fundraising. With the success of Drunk Kitchen, Hart decided to make a travel vlog: one part cooking show, one part travel diary. Hart turned to fundraising site Indiegogo to fund the project. Her initial idea was to travel across the US, but after quickly surpassing her $50,000 goal (she received over $220,000 from fans) she is set to explore Canada, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand.
Some of the best online videos have practically no budget, flashy post-production effects, or skilled editing. A good story is the backbone of your favorite videos, penned by talented writers and captured by filmmakers who understand the complexities of human emotion and experience.
Joss Whedon has somewhat of a cult-like following of fans. He is a Hollywood director, writer, and producer. His fans have been with him through the good and the bad, although mostly the good. He is the creative force behind Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, Angel, Dollhouse, Cabin in the Woods, and the most recent adaptation of The Avengers. He made this list because he is the force behind one of the most beloved web series in the past six years, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog.
He was one of the first big-name directors to embrace the web series genre, making a sort of a meta-series about a lovable super villain who is battling his arch-nemeses and internal pangs of morality. Fans embraced the cleverly written musical series for many reasons, but Whedon’s intricate storytelling and knack for character development made this series an Internet classic. The loveable characters are easy to empathize and fall in love with. The plot is engaging and the songs are infectious. Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog is a testament to good storytelling and the power of Internet engagement.
5. Sense of Humor
The making of this entry required hours and hours of research, namely watching a lot of videos. Those hours were full of laughter. The Internet has become a go-to for getting our funny fix. A sense of humor and the ability to improvise in front of a camera is all a lot of people need to make it online. Love her or hate her; Jenna Marbles is one of the biggest Internet sensations right now. Her audience now reaches over one billion, with each of her videos receiving millions of views.
Whether you think she is funny or not, clearly, many do and it might not be a bad idea to pay attention to how she attracted such a strong following. Marbles spoofs herself, gender norms, and celebrities in her self-edited videos. She memorably clutches her master’s degree, sobbing, at the end of her first video.
Some of her funniest moments appear to be unscripted, just Marbles talking to her camera. Marbles is proof that more and more people are going online to laugh after a long day at work or school, and most importantly, that we want to laugh at people who are just like us. It is a great idea to occasionally allow your brand to be a little silly if you are ultimately gaining more recognition and trust from your viewers.
6. Point of View
The best fashion designers have their own point-of-view – an aesthetic that is uniquely their own. The same goes for online superstars. Whether you are a director or actor, staying true to yourself can be a huge payoff.
Online video influencers often take on a cult of personality. Their points of view, be it fashion, music, art, or world-views convert us into loyal fans, watching their videos and following their social media.
You cannot write about online superstars without mentioning Korean pop star Psy. Call him enigmatic. Call him quirky. Whatever that special something is, Psy most definitely has his own point-of-view, one that has enabled him to horsey-dance into the hearts of over 2 billion people online.
In some ways, he is an unlikely international sensation. Psy is his own person. Not taking himself too seriously, at first glance he seems like an average, middle-aged guy who has become an international superstar. Trying to articulate exactly what Psy’s special something is, is hard. Simply, Psy is amazing.
7. Jack (or Jill) of all Trades
If you have ever made an online video you probably know that you have to be somewhat of a renaissance person: writer, producer, director, editor, actor, actor wrangler… Successful web superstars have their hand in all the components of their film, taking on the role of creator-actor-extraordinaire. This is a much different type of ownership than we see in mainstream media, where clearly delineated roles are more common.
Felicia Day is an Internet darling. She is also one of those renaissance women. Day has a loyal following of fanboys, gamer girls, and people who just generally adore her. In between small roles on a number of television shows (including Whedon’s “Buffy”), Day was spending her time playing World of Warcraft – a lot of World of Warcraft.
She found inspiration in her adventures in Azeroth, coming up with an idea for a web series based on gamer stereotypes and in-game interactions with guild members. Day calls the series her “baby”, and with good reason.
From start to finish, Day had a hand in everything, writing, fundraising, gathering talented friends, and starring in the series. Determined to stay independent, she worked out a deal with Xbox to fund the second season. A year later, her role as ‘Penny’ in Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Song, introduced a new audience to her series, fueling the show’s popularity. The series was eventually released on DVD and is now a comic series.
Some of the most influential online superstars are the ones that are not afraid to tell the truth, ripping off the filter of traditional media. Kevin Sites is to blogging what Robert Capa was to photography. Formerly a war correspondent for major networks, Sites took to video blogging to capture and comment on footage that could not be aired on television.
After capturing a mosque shooting during the Battle of Fallujah, Sites decided to use the web to air footage that had been edited out by NBC. Yahoo News eventually offered Sites his own web series, “Kevin Sites In the Hot Zone,” which placed the journalist squarely in war zones around the world.
The series was funded solely by Yahoo, as advertisers were too scared to attach their name to the project. A controversial figure, lauded by some and criticized by others, he is seen as a pioneer of ‘sojo’ or solo journalism. Sites works alone: his backpack and camera are his only crew-members. His blog entries have given viewers a graphic glimpse of what it looks like to be in the middle of war, and highlight the human impact of a crisis.
9. Energetic Conversation Starters
The best web series hosts start a conversation with their viewers. Ideally, they hook their viewers and motivate them to continue the conversation. These discourses encourage you to think, and are intelligent narratives on scientific, political, cultural, and social topics. The energy of theses hosts oozes through your screen, making the most mundane topic an exciting slap-in-the-face.
Mike Rugnetta is one of these personalities. Rugnetta is the face and the brain behind PBS’ Webby Award winning series “The Idea Channel.”
Rugnetta writes like a doctoral student with a secret passion for Sailor Moon. His commentaries are well-written, clever, and insightful, and he clearly engages his audience.
The comment sections of his videos are full of philosophical banter, with viewers referencing everything from Dungeons and Dragons manuals to Nietzsche. His videos cover topics like “Is DubStep Avant Garde Musical Genius’ and “Is Buying Call of Duty a Moral Choice,” infusing pop culture with historical fact and academic theory. After watching Rugnetta’s entries you will long to meet him at a pub for a beer and conversation.
Last, but not least, becoming an online video influencer takes some ingenuity. It requires the ability to creatively solve problems. There is a certain air of cleverness surrounding web stars, be they writers, filmmakers, producers, or actors. Or, as we have learned in this post, all of the above.
Since 2008, Maru the Scottish Fold cat has been cleverly stuffing his voluptuous body into boxes and bags. Highly analytical, Maru is constantly evaluating his environment, deftly figuring out how to open trashcans or find his way out of the bathroom sink. He is not always described as the smartest cat on the Internet, but he has squeezed into our hearts and mastered the art of becoming an online video influencer.
Have you developed these qualities within yourself and implemented them in your online videos? Have some come more naturally than others? Let us know by leaving your comments here, on Facebook, and on Twitter!