If you are young and spend your time on YouTube, or if you track the world of pop culture through Twitter, you probably know Tyler Oakley. If your YouTube experience is limited to talking dog videos, expand your horizons, and go find Tyler Oakley. Tyler has something to teach you about personal branding, and more importantly, about community engagement, dialog and passion, three big areas where major brands often miss the social media mark.
If you are over 30, Tyler’s effervescent, in-your-face, expletive-laden, authentic and near-real-time commentary, reactions and activism entertains and entices his nearly 4.2 million YouTube subscribers in ways none of the new crop of late-night talking head can even contemplate. Tyler puts it all out there, to have fun, and to turn his fun into a brand that can have an impact on things he cares about.
I had the opportunity to talk to Tyler recently and derived the following six rules that can help make you a successful Internet personality or brand, as long as you define success in a meaningful way, don’t expect quick results and are willing to work through mistakes, learning and even disappointment.
Set your end goal. Tyler suggests that individuals and brands really know what they want to achieve when they start. “Figure out the routes you want to go. Have fun. Do it because you want to.” –and that means developing realistic success measurements that tie directly to your goal. Tyler says, “If you measure success as being number one, everyone looses except one person. You really have to compete with yourself, and keep working to be better every day.”
“There are youtubers” Tyler points out, “I know you might have smaller audiences, but they are so dedicated, they are so in-tune with their community, you wouldn’t know they didn’t have millions of subscribers. You can see it in the way they carry themselves. You see the connection they have with their community. That’s success. Getting people passionate about what they are passionate about…My version of success is having an impact on people’s lives, fostering a community of positivity and creativity, and using the platform for good.”
Don’t expect overnight results. Tyler started in 2007. Though he now boasts well over 2 million Twitter followers to complement his 4.2M YouTube devotees, it wasn’t always that way. He started like everyone else with 0 followers on YouTube, Twitter, Tumblr and elsewhere. “Very few people experience viral videos from their first post,” notes Tyler. But “if you are doing something you believe and something you have passion for then keep at it. Create content that makes you happy.”
Learn from your mistakes. This may sound like hackneyed advice, but making mistakes on the Internet isn’t some future life reflection while sitting with a therapist. For Tyler, mistakes are something that fire as quickly as the nearly 150K tweets that pour through Twitter every second. “If I were to look at my first video, I guess I would be a little cringey about it. It’s a process and you have to grow and learn and figure out what you like, what you don’t—and don’t be afraid to make mistakes. I think that the crappy or poorly edited videos I made at the beginning were practice, and got me to where I am today. If hadn’t gone through those processes I wouldn’t make the content I make today, you just have to start and do it.”
Do good in the world. Tyler works furiously for his causes, most notably, the Trevor Project, a national organization founded to provide crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) young people ages 13-24. Last year Tyler launched a birthday media campaign with the goal of raising $24K. They raised $29K. This year, with a new platform in Prizeo, that offers prizes for donators, including an LA date night with Tyler Oakley himself, he stretched his birthday goal to $150K. Team Tyler brought in $525K. There was no expectation for this kind of response, given that the $150K was a stretch. But hard work, like dozens of live streams and associated challenges, continued to bring in donations, that averaged around $30 each. At one point, Tyler challenged Livestream listeners to see how much money they could donate in 60 seconds. They responded with $9,000.
Tyler also found the definition of success key to translating good work into dollars for the Trevor Project: Not looking at the numbers as dollar signs, but translating them into the number of phone calls being provided. “It stopped being about dollars and became about the resources we were providing. That was really cool and a really humbling experience because my audience is so young, and for them to really really get it, was just, like so impressive, it made me realize that youth does have social responsibility, and they do want to do good, contrary to what many adults might think.”
Be authentic. April Fools is a good example of a day when organizations are just trying so hard to be cool that they end up being the joke of the day. Tyler thinks its time to trust the social media teams within companies to do the right thing in Internet time: “I think the difference is that at many companies It used to be that all the messaging had to be so streamlined and clean-cut, and well I think now more and more, the more successful companies are the ones who trust their brand storytellers and let them do their thing in their own way. And trust them enough to do it right.”
The rapid pace of Internet communications requires rapid responses. If social media teams need to get approvals in order to respond to an online event that they can engage with or leverage, then the moment will pass. Those brands, says Tyler, “that understand they have to respond within a minute are the ones that are going to succeed.”
Learn from those you teach. When Tyler speaks, for instance, to the Trevor Project’s youth advisory council, he learns as much from them as they do from him. “I’m blown away by the ways they get involved, and the way they use their own platforms, use their own skills to do good. It is more a conversation than them just learning from me.”
Tyler is not quiet and unassuming. He is loud and brash and seemingly unafraid. Tyler flies in the face of all those warnings parents preach to their children about their Internet behavior haunting them in the job market. Tyler is Tyler. When I asked him if he ever thought about his content and a traditional job, he explained, “I thought, you know what, if it isn’t in my destiny to have a career in an office, I don’t want to work for a company that doesn’t understand my own creative process outside of my job. And if that includes sharing my life in every aspect, then it has to be like that. If it is in the cards, I have to work for a company that is 100-percent supportive of the content I make. It is important for me to work for a company that gets it.”
What does Tyler want? Tyler Oakley wants people to know that everyone can make an impact. That each person has a unique skill set entirely of their own, and with that, comes the “responsibility everybody has is to turn it into a positive impact…whatever it is you are great at, everybody has an opportunity to use that for good. That is the most important thing I can tell my subscribers.” Those who don’t choose to do good Tyler declares, “are just wasting their potential.”
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