Peer Producer Success Story: How to stay “authentic” even when you start to make money

A problem we all wish we had, right?

annoying-orang-screen-capby David Bloom

Amid all the deal maker swagger and pubescent screams at [the recent] giant Vidcon gathering in Anaheim, CA, one nagging question kept presenting itself: how do YouTube creators stay “authentic” to their demanding and devoted fans even as cheaper/better tech, vaulting creative ambition and the desire to make a living keep pushing into the equation. It’s a complicated question for this fast-evolving new media platform.

Most of the YouTube creators now boasting millions of followers started out with modest production values, technology and creative capabilities. Now, as those swooning Vidcon attendees can attest, the creators have fans, who have Expectations, which they share publicly and loudly. It’s a bit like the indie rock band that finally signs to a major label. Fans who thought they “discovered” and “owned” the band start screaming “sell-out.”

It’s even worse now. Unlike in the days of Frank Sinatra, or Elvis Presley, or Shaun Cassidy, or the Backstreet Boys, fans can talk back to their favorite creators, and to each other, on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Vine, Tumblr, Reddit and other social-media sites and online communities. Too much deviation from fan expectations can be a killer.

At the same time, the few thousand or so emerging YouTube stars out there are grappling with the possibility that their back-bedroom obsession or late-night goof might just have become a way to make a living. I interviewed Grace Helbig, one of the “older” YouTube stars at a practically doddering 28, before she announced a new project, #HeyUSA, at Vidcon with fellow creator Mamrie Hart.

The show launched Tuesday on YouTube but it feels a lot more like a social-media-soaked version of the amusing personal travelogue genre, which has been so successful on TV for notables such as Michael Palin and Anthony Bourdain. “It’s definitely a step up from what I’ve traditionally been doing on the Internet, and that was a goal of this,” Helbig said. Her show’s executive producer, Billy Parks of Astronauts Wanted, acknowledged that it has “a bit of a traditional show mentality there,” though it’s too soon for him to say it may lead to a TV version or international format sale.

“I think we’re not really discussing the long-term vision of distribution,” Parks said. “But there’s a lot of avenues. We’re going to get (video at) all these great locations. There’s always an opportunity to package this content for further opportunities down the road.”

Read it all