The social media platform YouTube has a name that is self declarative. Merriam Webster dictionary provides television as a synonym of tube, deriving from the term Cathode Ray Tube which some televisions today still rely on (Brain). YouTube, therefore, is this sort of tube, for you. This name is direct in its implications, in that this you suggests that those partaking in the site’s activity are who it’s made for. For YouTube in particular, consumers and producers of content overlap insofar as the two are most definitely not mutually exclusive. This creates what George Ritzer and Nathan Jurgenson call prosumers, who, utilising YouTube’s interactive features, are able to not only absorb content but create and share it simultaneously. With this, YouTube’s connective features afford the site a mass user-ship that enables prosumers to create a self brand, which will ultimately affect their social capital.
YouTube focuses on providing its users with tools to not only view, but create content too. This ability to prosume alone is one aspect that affords YouTube a mass user-ship, in that the site is appealing to viewers, creators, and those who do both. However, an even more compelling affordance are YouTube’s connective, interactive features. In his article, Ian Hutchby explains affordances in regard to “the possibilities that they offer for action” (447). YouTube provides many of these possibilities for its users. The homepage of any YouTube member’s account presents itself firstly with a search bar (Fig. 1).
This tool, often overlooked or taken for granted, allows prosumers on YouTube to search, site-wide, for whatever content they wish for- at the click of a button. Search results can vary from videos themselves, to playlists and actual channels (Fig. 2).
Such a feature affords users the ability to be able to view videos specific to their want or need at the time, whilst also enabling them to find new channels which relate to this. Found underneath the search bar are the Home, Trending and Subscriptions options (Fig. 3)
The Trending button, arguably one of YouTube’s biggest affordances in terms of the connectivity it allows, presents users with the site’s most popular videos at any given time. These videos are usually a mixture of all kinds of the site’s content genres, and unlike the Recommended category of videos, are not catered to each individual’s previous content-based interests (Fig. 4)
The Trending section of YouTube affords consumers the ability to expand beyond their typical tastes, whilst simultaneously affording producers the chance to expand their viewership. Next, the Subscriptions button allows for a certain amount of personalisation and continuity within each YouTube account. Users can subscribe to whichever channels they may please, and this button affords them the ability to keep track of these. The result is that each account becomes particular to each user’s interests, whilst also providing a sense of organisation to each account. This affordance allows each user to subscribe to more and more channels, as they know these will all be kept track of. Not only do these Trending and Subscription buttons appear under the search bar, but they also appear in a side bar, allowing users double the opportunity to access and manage content (Fig. 3). Furthermore, the Recommended category of the homepage suggests videos to users, based on their previous searches and videos watched (Fig. 5).
This affords YouTube the ability to perhaps provide viewers with new channels to subscribe to, and, like Trending, to expand Creators’ viewership. Lastly, what affords YouTube users the ability to actually directly interact in itself, are the subscribe, notification, like/dislike and comment options (Fig. 6).
The Subscribe button, found alongside any video or channel suggestion, allows any user to keep updated with channels that they are interested in or wish to support in any way. A recent addition to this was the Notification bell, which alerts the device of any user who who has selected the button for a channel, when said channel uploads a video. This affords users the ability to be able to keep completely up-to-date with content, whilst also reminding them of channels that they may have forgotten to check out. The like/dislike and comment options, arguably the most interactive of them all, lets and encourages viewers to react and connect with not only the channel or creator themselves, but other YouTube users too. What all of these features ultimately achieve is that they afford, or ‘offer possibilities for’, YouTube consumers, producers and prosumers the ability or ‘action’ to interact, which thus affords YouTube itself with a mass user-ship.
This mass user-ship enables prosumers to create and build a self brand. In their article George Ritzer and Nathan Jurgenson also discuss prosumerism in relation to capitalism:
Given the recent explosion of user-generated content online, we have reason to see prosumption as increasingly central. In prosumer capitalism, control and exploitation take on a different character than in the other forms of capitalism: there is a trend toward unpaid rather than paid labor and toward offering products at no cost, and the system is marked by a new abundance where scarcity once predominated. (13)
In regards to YouTube’s prosumers, many take their video production to the next level wherein they may actually monetize their content. Jessica A. Zanatta explains this process: “Step 1: Enable your channel for monetization.”, “Step 2: Connect your YouTube channel to an AdSense account in order to earn
money and get paid for your monetized videos.”, and “Step 3: Take a minute to get to know the kinds of videos you can monetize and the
different advertisement formats. “-but she does note that: “a creator needs over a certain number of viewers to see the advertisements before the creator can make any actual ad revenue” (23-24). Here, it becomes obvious that creators essentially need a high viewership in order to break away from the prosumer ‘trend toward unpaid labour’, which again is easily afforded for many by YouTube’s aforementioned interactive features. The next step then for such prosumers is to create and build a self brand, afforded by this mass user-ship. In Status Update, Alice E. Marwick quotes a Tom Peters:
The main chance is becoming a free agent in an economy
of free agents…and looking to establish
your own micro equivalent of the Nike swoosh… The good
news— and it is largely good news— is that everyone has a
chance to stand out. Everyone has a chance to learn, improve,
and build up their skills. Everyone has a chance to
be a brand worthy of remark. (165)
The YouTube community sees more self-branded creators every day, with more and more prosumers not only creating such an empire for themselves, but gaining money from it too. YouTubers Sierra and Alex have done just this. Viewers don’t have to go any further than their channel description to understand what their brand is all about: “We’re one of those youtube couples…this is what we do the rest of the time”. Here, any potential consumer of their content knows in seconds what they are in for- a look into the ‘every day life’ of a ‘YouTube couple’. Their plethora of ‘couple’-based videos include: GUYS HIT ON MY FIANCÉ!, OUR PROPOSAL! and 1 YEAR ANNIVERSARY IN THE MALDIVES!– to name a few. These videos establish the first half of their self-declared self-brand: as a ‘YouTube couple’. In the content, we see them going on lavish dates and international holidays, alongside mutually partaking in overtly ‘romantic’ gestures and activities. Establishing themselves as a YouTube couple comes with much competition- just search ‘YouTube couples’ (Fig. 7) and this is evident-making such extravagant and romantic content almost necessary to continue gaining views.
After establishing this initial part of their brand, they must then go to show the second part- showing what they do ‘the rest of the time’. This then brings videos like: First time crying in a video, ACNE SCAR REMOVAL! and OUR NEW FURNITURE! DECORATING OUR NEW HOUSE!, where viewers get a glimpse into the more realistic, gritty every day activities that most ‘real life’ couples are more likely to engage in. Here, we have an example of what Tom Peters called trying to ‘establish your own micro equivalent of the Nike swoosh’, in Sierra and Alex’s attempt to set themselves apart from other less realistic YouTube couples and create a self-brand unique to themselves.
After a self brand is established, prosumers can then utilize this to increase their social and cultural capitals. Focusing particularly on social capital, this is a resource that can be gained through a network of individuals, like followers or subscribers. Creating a self-brand can increase social capital through attracting more attention from followers and subscribers online. Sierra and Alex’s increase in social capital is evident through the multiple other opportunities they have now been provided with, exhibited in: I’M AN ACTOR!?, Day In The Life Of A Model and Embarrassing Red Carpet Wardrobe Malfunction!Creating a self-brand however is not always this simple, and social capital can easily be lost. In a now deleted video entitled ‘ALEX & SIERRA ARE OVER’ Sierra and Alex utilized a clickbait title where viewers would be led to believe that they had broken up. After viewing the video, however, consumers would soon find out that Sierra and Alex were actually talking about another ‘online couple’- Alex and Sierra, who have recently announced their separation. In the video, Sierra and Alex appeared to many to be happy about this news, explaining that they would no longer get confused with another couple anymore. Clearly, having another Online Couple with the same names were effecting their self-brand, and their ‘chance to stand out’ was being diminished. This however, along with the clickbait title, receieved a lot of backlash from viewers (Fig. 8).
Sierra and Alex reacted to and discussed this in their First time crying in a video, where they explained their intentions and expressed that as prosumers, they were in fact fans of Alex and Sierra’s, enjoyed their content, and were most definitely not celebrating their separation. However, this video too received a lot of backlash (Fig. 9).
This is a typical incident where, in an attempt to show an improvement to their self-brand, a brand actually does the opposite and thus loses some social capital.
A self-brand’s affect on their own social capital is thus highly evident. Sierra and Alex thought that their social capital would improve if their self-brand was not in direct competition with another very similar one. However, the opposite was in fact proven. Their plethora of other opportunities however shows how their social and cultural capitals do continue to grow through the successes of their self brand. Such is only afforded by the platform on which their content is hosted-YouTube-whose interactive features reward YouTube itself with a mass user-ship, which in turn affords channels like Sierra and Alex’s a mass viewer-ship, boosting their self-brand which, as is now evident, directly affects their social capital.
“ACNE SCAR REMOVAL!” YouTube, uploaded by Sierra and Alex, 16 MArch 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7JHo9ZcjCTE
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Claridge, Tristan. “Definitions of Social Capital.” Social Capital Research, 2004, https://www.socialcapitalresearch.com/literature/definition.html#notee70134ef81f334af346e5d3f6ff43e52. Accessed 25th September 2017.
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“Day In The Life Of A Model.” YouTube, uploaded by Sierra and Alex, 22 October 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UpfYmNgKhCw
“Embarrassing Red Carpet Wardrobe Malfunction!” YouTube, uploaded by Sierra and Alex, 6 MArch 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Krcccufm0Zw
“First time crying in a video.” YouTube, uploaded by Sierra and Alex, 16 September 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n-eJ0Z3g4Ak.
“GUYS HIT ON MY FIANCÉ!” YouTube, uploaded by Sierra and Alex, 17 August 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mCkSYauEN1A
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“I’M AN ACTOR!?” YouTube, uploaded by Sierra and Alex, 4 April 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Hhyop5v1v8&t=8s
Jurgenson, Nathan and Ritzer, George. “Production, Consumption, Prosumption.” Journal of Consumer Culture, vol. 10, no. 1, 2010, http://journals.sagepub.com.helicon.vuw.ac.nz/doi/abs/10.1177/1469540509354673. Accessed 20th September 2017.
Marwick, Alice E. Status Update. Yale University Press, 2013.
“OUR NEW FURNITURE! DECORATING OUR HOUSE!” YouTube, uploaded by Sierra and Alex, 20 September 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LgXjDPNLoTk
“OUR PROPOSAL! Sierra & Alex” YouTube, uploaded by Sierra and Alex, 24 May 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4CxhD3Uta_g
Peters, Tom. “The Brand Called You.” Fast Company, 1997, https://www.fastcompany.com/28905/brand-called-you. Accessed 21st September 2017.
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Zanatta, Jessica A. “Understanding YouTube Culture and How It Affects Today’s Media.” Dominican University of California Senior Theses and Capstone Projects, 2017, http://scholar.dominican.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1103&context=senior-theses. Accessed 20th September 2017
“1 YEAR ANNIVERSARY IN THE MALDIVES!” YouTube, uploaded by Sierra and Alex, 11 MArch 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YvsHUImv9Ko