Carla Marshall has 10+ years of experience in video marketing, social media management, content marketing, DRM, and SEO. She was previously Editor in Chief at ReelSEO.com, and as a journalist and video marketer, she's covered news stories, creator journeys, and digital-first publishing initiatives across all the major online video platforms. She is YouTube Certified and a judge for the Shorty Awards, as well as the UK, US, Canadian, Global, and EU Search Awards.
Coronavirus: The Impact on YouTube and YouTubers
Note: The impact of Coronavirus is being updated by the hour. The content of this article is correct at time of writing but is, of course, subject to change.
Coronavirus, COVID-19, whatever you want to call it. How do we tackle such a topic? As a YouTube creator, or a viewer, what does coronavirus mean to you right now?
This is a very rapidly changing news story, and what I say right now may not be relevant or accurate in a day or a week. This is the biggest global news story to hit in this new digital media age, and it is one that is impacting billions of lives. It's affecting everything we know and we have to take this topic very seriously. So, from one creator to another, if you are going to post videos on the coronavirus, please do it responsibly.
Coronavirus: How it Changed Everything in Less Than a Week
In the past few days, we've learned that all of the major North American sports leagues, such as NBA, NHL, MLS, have postponed their seasons to prevent large gatherings of people. Schools are closing everywhere and shops are running low on supplies.
Essentially, in the real, physical world, authorities all over the globe are cautioning their citizens against social interaction, and, as a result, technology, the internet, the connected digital world, is going to be tested like it never has been before.
People are being forced into self-isolation or self-quarantine. And if there's nothing to do outside the four walls of their own house, they are naturally going to gravitate towards the Internet for entertainment, and that includes video.
But that comes with an incredible amount of responsibility, especially on a platform such as YouTube, where creators are sharing their information with an audience hungry for answers.
So, YouTube, Coronavirus, creator, viewer. How does this all work? Well, let's start with this question that I do not want to ask, but YouTube must answer. As a creator, how can I get more views and more subscribers and grow my channel from coronavirus?
As I said earlier, in my opinion, I think this is the largest global event of the digital media age, and unavoidably, this creates opportunity.
Coronavirus didn't even register as a search term at the beginning of 2020. Today, it's seemingly the only thing that's searched for. Typing the word into the YouTube search bar, and into vidIQ's own research tools will tell you that it has massive search volume, but content to support that keyword hasn't yet quite caught up. Demand outstrips supply, and when that happens, those who have supply capitalize.
Coronavirus: One of the Most Searched For Keywords on YouTube
Forgive me for a second, but I want you to cast your mind back to a much simpler time where the stakes were a lot less important, but the concept was still the same. Pewdiepie versus T-Series.
There was a channel on YouTube that anticipated that this may become one of the biggest YouTube stories of the year, and set up a livestream to follow the subscriber counts. That channel benefited with hundreds of millions of views and 2.5 million subscribers. It's probably not going to surprise you, but there are channels out there who are applying exactly the same formula to the coronavirus.
As I search for the term on YouTube and filter by livestreams only, there is one channel called Roylab Stats that began a livestream on the Coronavirus at the end of January, when the concern and the keyword interest was at a fraction of the size it is today.
Right now, there are over 40,000 people watching the numbers the stats, and the graph trends upwards. This channel had less than 1,000 subscribers at the end of January. It's now growing at a rate of over 5,000 subscribers a day.
From purely an objective point of view, this is YouTube at its finest. A creator has discovered a topic that was going to trend in the future and created content before anyone else. They've pitched it well with SEO, and now, a mass audience is desperate for information on this keyword, so are flocking to this video.
Of course, YouTube is a search engine and a very good one at that. It's always trying to predict what you are searching for, and then serving up the content that you want to watch.
As you well know, when you type words into the YouTube search bar, it will auto-complete with predicted searches. Today, if you type in how to, the top search result is ‘how to make hand sanitizer’, along with some other coronavirus-related searches.
In this sense, YouTube is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you are worried about Coronavirus, it's in YouTube's search and discovery nature to tell you about it, and once again, YouTube will reward those who seize this trending topic.
Coronavirus, YouTube, & Late Night Content
So, it's fair to say that, currently, Coronavirus is a huge searchable topic on YouTube with channels of all sizes benefiting from it, whether rightly or wrongly. You could argue that we've looked at fairly safe styles of delivery, a factual livestream and an educational video on how to prevent catching Coronavirus. But what about when the lines get a little blurred?
The YouTube Trending Tab has always been a source of controversy, especially for creators who believe that it doesn't reflect what's really trending on the platform, and instead, favors certain channels, chief among those, North American late-night talk shows.
"The Late Show with Stephen Colbert" is one such channel, and a recent clip from his show found its way onto the trending page of YouTube.
The clip itself is a collection of news stories, obviously delivered in a comedic way, and Coronavirus takes up no more than 30 seconds of a five-minute video. But the decision was made by the YouTube channel manager to include Coronavirus both in the title and the video description of this content. They wanted people to find this because of the Coronavirus mention:
I think, at this stage, most people will take this content at face value, as a light-hearted piece of fun, but at the other end of the spectrum, there are people who are being seriously affected by Coronavirus and are searching for information on it.
Now, one thing that should happen at the slightest mention of Coronavirus in a video is that YouTube will display info cards and panels relevant to your location that push you to trusted information, and this video is a test in itself of that process.
This is one of the many measures YouTube is taking to try and stay on the right side of this topic. It is also promoting authoritative sources in search and recommendations and showing information panels on relevant videos.
Now, when I used vidIQ's Most Viewed tool, which gives you an unfiltered account of videos with the most views over a certain period of time, the majority of the content about Coronavirus seems to be coming from those American late night talk show hosts.
This isn't necessarily a measure of what YouTube is recommending most to viewers, but it does seem to be a useful insight into the psyche of the average YouTube user right now. In these times of great uncertainty, they still want to be entertained.
Coronavirus and YouTube Monetization
Update: YouTube is now allowing videos about Coronavirus to be monetized on a limited number of channels
Now, for those creators who are finding, I don't want to say success, more traction on their channel because of Coronavirus content, does that mean they are actually going to profit from it? Well, in this case, I think YouTube have definitely taken the right approach, and that is no.
YouTube already has in place comprehensive advertiser guidelines that state what type of content may have limited ads or no ads at all, and the Coronavirus clearly falls into one of these categories, a global health crisis.
So, if your intention as a creator is to tackle the Coronavirus topic head-on, like we have in this video, you wouldn't expect to monetize your content, and that would be fair, right?
Well, hang on. Remember the video from earlier on, that was all about making homemade hand sanitizer? It was clearly being made with the Coronavirus in mind, but not exclusively about the Coronavirus, and it's not the first how to make hand sanitizer video on YouTube.
Almost four years ago, the WhatsUpMoms channel posted a DIY hand sanitizer video, and for years, that video has trundled along at less than 50 views per hour. But now, in the wake of the Coronavirus outbreak, the video is getting over 1,200 views per hour, and in recent weeks, there are people commenting on how they've arrived at this video.
It is clear that this video has gained traction recently from the Coronavirus outbreak, but (at time of writing) it is missing any YouTube information about the Coronavirus. However, if we visit the other recent video that includes the keyword in the title, there you will find Coronavirus info cards from YouTube.
Now, also at time of writing, the WhatsUpMom DIY hand sanitizer video from four years ago still has ads running on it. The other channel is too small to be even in the YouTube Partner Program, so we can't be sure whether this video would be monetized, but I would suspect not, since the Creator Blog does go on to state that YouTube currently does not allow monetization if a video includes more than a passing mention of the Coronavirus.
YouTube does recognize that there may be a need to adjust its policies on this issue. Its Creator Blog post goes on to say that:
"It's becoming clear this issue is now an ongoing and important part of everyday conversation, and we want to make sure news organizations and creators can continue producing quality videos in a sustainable way. In the days ahead, we will enable ads for content discussing the Coronavirus on a limited number of channels, including creators who accurately self-certify "and a range of news partners.”
YouTube has policies in place that confirm if there is a global health crisis and you create content on that topic it is going to limit or show no ads on that content. But if that global health crisis goes on for six weeks, and may go on for six months to a year, then, yeah, actually, we think you may have permission to monetize your content, as long as we trust you as creators.
That, again, is putting a lot of responsibility both on YouTube and creators to do the right thing.
YouTube is already well-prepared for self-certification, as it already has mechanisms in place. You will have all seen the FTC-COPPA Made for Kids requirements crop up on your channel, but what you may not yet have seen are the ad-friendly self-certification screens that YouTube have been trialing for over a year now.
Presumably, YouTube are adapting the self-certifications for Coronavirus content, and we’ll know more in the coming weeks. Clearly, there is a lot to talk about, and by no means are we or YouTube done with this topic.
I see this as a starting point for a conversation about how the Coronavirus is impacting YouTube, especially creators just like you, and I want you to help us guide this conversation.