When YouTube made its debut in 2001, it was just another small social media startup: an easy way to share home videos as cell phone cameras became more and more ubiquitous. No one could have predicted the social media force of nature it would become, reshaping music and entertainment for good.

YouTube has given birth to a whole new breed of media career: YouTubers who make their living based on views, likes, and ad revenue generated by their personalized channel. It has also become a marketing and media platform for serious players in entertainment; the new home for movie trailers and musicians debuting new music. Believe it or not though, the world’s most popular YouTuber isn’t a movie studio’s channel or a famous pop star. He’s a young man from Sweden who records videos of himself playing videogames in his bedroom. His channel can produce over a million dollars per month. His name is Felix Kjellberg, better known to the world as PewDiePie.

Word of Mouth, Influencers, and YouTubers:

Although they didn’t know it at the time, Felix Kjellberg and his fellow YouTubers were at the forefront of a social media and marketing wave that’s reshaping business and advertising from the ground up. We’ve known since the turn of the century that tried and true marketing standards just plain don’t work on the up-and-coming millennial generation. As Entrepreneur magazine reports, today’s young people don’t respond to traditional life goals and milestones like getting married, buying a house, or buying a dog. They have different definitions of family and community and other reliable touchstones of the past, and engaging their interest and their loyalty has been the challenge of the decade.

Targeting Millennials:

Only recently has the world of marketing started to get a handle on how to connect with millennials. In 2010, McKinsey Quarterly published a landmark piece on the power of word of mouth marketing, calling it the primary factor in twenty to fifty percent of marketing decisions. Word of mouth and its close cousins influence marketing and blogger influence seem to be the solution we’ve been searching for to finally connect with the elusive millennials

Millennials don’t respond to traditional life milestones, but they respond to people and personalities. PewDiePie’s videos evoke the feeling of sitting on the couch with a couple of buddies, laughing and joking late at night. Michelle Phan, singled out by Forbes magazine as one of the most successful influencers of 2015, produces makeup tutorials that have the intimate, “just-us-girls” feel of swapping tips at a sleepover…and her sweet, casual videos have built a fan base that earned her a personal line of makeup, co-produced with L’Oreal.

YouTube Influence and Indie Games:

Plenty of high-power corporations, including Johnnie Walker, L’Oreal, Maybelline, and Clean and Clear have taken advantage of the power of YouTuber and blogger influence to help market their products. This social media based word-of-mouth marketing has produced an interesting dichotomy, especially in entertainment and video gaming: it’s leveling the playing field for small indie game developers.

Sometimes marketers confuse influencer marketing with manipulation, bribing or worse. Influence is something you deserve by being relevant for others. The support of an influencer needs to be deserved by marketers as well. Indeed, by being relevant.

J-P De Clerck

For the first decade of the 2000’s, the gaming scene was a 90 billion dollar industry dominated by expensive, next-generation Triple-A games like the Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto series. These multi-million dollar productions with huge studios and marketing campaigns behind them generated a level of exposure that small independent creators couldn’t hope to match.

YouTube Changing Entertainment Industry

In Steps YouTube…

The growth of YouTube creators changed all that. In 2010, a modest indie horror release called Amnesia: The Dark Descent became one of the best-selling and best reviewed games of the year, thanks to huge amounts of exposure from YouTube “let’s players” like PewDiePie. The boost indie games can get from YouTubers is so well recognized that A-list game and entertainment blog Gamasutra has run multiple articles and guides for indie developers on how to get your game in the hands of YouTubers. This alone proves how YouTubers are changing entertainment marketing big time.

Similarly, you can’t force the progression of a brand-influencer relationship. You have to provide influencers with the right tools, resources and exposure, and then wait for the relationship to flourish. However, once the relationship blooms, it rewards you with natural, organic traffic of likeminded consumers who are excited to purchase your goods.

While high-power studios like EA Games and Nintendo have little fondness for YouTube let’s plays, tightening copyright restrictions and even issuing takedowns to some creators, independent developers have welcomed YouTube influencers with open arms.

Game publishers may be hesitant, but other arms of the entertainment industry have been quick to embrace the potential power of YouTubers. Sony Pictures and Jack Black brought in Markiplier (YouTuber Mark Fischbach, who commands a “lowly” ten million followers, compared to PewDiePie’s 36 million) to help promote their new Goosebumps film adaptation. Black and his son joined Fisbach to play Five Nights at Freddy’s (a one-man indie horror game that Fisbach’s Let’s Plays almost single handedly popularized), chasing the fun friends-on-the-couch feel that makes Let’s Plays so popular. The eight minute video, posted on Fisbach’s channel, racked up five million views in just under a month.

The Wave of the Future

Love it or hate it, blogger influence, social media marketing, and influence advertising are the wave of the future. From entertainment to beauty to tech products, influence advertising seems to be the single best way to market to the digital generation. This is an era of personalities: unique content creators with individual niches, and a loyal fan base ready to take their recommendations.