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How The Most Popular YouTube Creators Do It

Photo by Pratik Gupta on Unsplash

According to an article published in June 2020, the most popular Kenyan on YouTube Kenya’s is Henry Desagu. The comic actor boasts just under 400,000 subscribers and is estimated to make over $8000 per month. Yes, that amount is in dollars. It is safe to assume that the King of Mwihoko is eating well.

And Desagu does not even come anywhere near Africa’s top channels. An Algerian chef cooks for over 7 million subscribers and holds the spot at the top. The most popular content categories are beauty, gaming and kids content. There are outliers of course and it seems like almost anyone, making anything, can find a dedicated audience on YT.

The appeal of YouTube is undeniable. It costs nothing to upload and is freely accessible to anyone with an internet connection. It also offers freedom and independence – an avenue to unshackle yourself from employment. If you succeed (and that’s a big if), you can make a great living doing what you love and reaching thousands maybe millions of people while at it.

We all know the catch. For every Henry Desagu there are thousands who start and fail. There is no sure-fire way to launch and sustain a successful channel but there are lessons to be learnt from the most popular YouTubers.

Consistency – Kaluhi’s kitchen

The self-taught chef cooks and shares familiar, easy to make, accessible meals. Her food comes from an authentic place and that translates in her content. Her meals are made in her home kitchen with locally sourced ingredients. The day may come when she makes sashimi rolls served with sticky rice but we wouldn’t bet on it.

Once you find your niche or your winning formula, do not stray from it. In the immortal words of Henry Ford, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. Note that this does not mean never adapt or try something new. It means that the core of what your channel is about must remain the same. This core element can be a set of values or a mission statement or even just a gut feeling that tells you what feels right and what doesn’t. If you really want to create for YouTube, you have to take it seriously from the start. Once again… USD 8000.

Content – Desagu

Desagu’s sketches are shot on camera. They are scripted and directed. It is clear that a great deal of work goes into each video. Even more work must go into coming up with ideas, fine-tuning the jokes and the stories so that they land as they need to. If there’s one thing Kenyans have no tolerance for, it is a poorly executed pun.

Abel Mutua recently broke down his storytelling process and pulverised any notion we might have had that he’s just a guy recounting stories from the good old days.

Content is king. And the best content creators make it look as though the work took no effort at all. Whether you post a video every day or once a month, there will be no point if the content is not interesting. You are only as good as your last video.

Remember that the competition is global and real money is on the line. If you want to play in the big leagues, you have to get on their level.

Community – Joy Kendi

There is a direct exchange that happens between creators and their subscribers. Creators ask for their fans’ attention and promise entertainment/education/humour in return. If you’re lucky, your subscribers become part of an online community that helps you be a better creator. Nurturing this relationship is the hardest thing you will have to do as a creator. But without it, you will not be able to sustain your channel.

Joy Kendi’s content falls inside what I think is the most difficult content category on YouTube – lifestyle vlogs. Essentially, she is living her life and we get to watch. Creators like her expose themselves to a great deal of risk. If the audience turns on you and decides that the way you live your life is not OK with them, that could be it. More, lifestyle vloggers (especially female ones), get the most hate and judgement about their content.

Despite this, Joy Kendi has managed to build a community that is supportive and progressive. You would not think that a lifestyle channel could merge a Kenyan and diaspora audience but Joy’s does. Her viewers trust her, they engage with her and they have helped the channel’s longevity.

The long and short of it is. A fulfilling career on YouTube is possible but it is a lot of work too. You are more likely to fail than you are to succeed.

There is much more to remember and learn. Some creators start to build their communities on social media before they get on YouTube. Others come back to revive their half-dead channels and rise again. In the end, you’ll learn much more from starting than you will from any article.

Joy Matiri

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