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Marketing Through YouTube Stars: Capitalizing on Network Effects

Jeetender Sehdev, a professor at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, studies the phenomenon of YouTube stars. He found that in today’s society, people with extremely popular YouTube channels yield more influence than traditional Hollywood celebrities [1][3]. The insights from his research are relevant for corporations marketing their products, and also because they reflect several concepts from network theory, namely network effects and popularity.

From a network perspective, it makes sense that YouTubers play a large role in the adoption of new products. Three common types of videos on YouTube are “haul” videos where people show off what they have recently purchased (often clothing), “unboxing” videos where people tape themselves opening a new product (often technology), and product review videos where people offer their opinion on products ranging from makeup to food.

Professor Sehdev’s study found that individuals view YouTube stars as more relatable than celebrities. This may be because they seem like “regular people” and also a result of the opportunity to communicate directly with them through the comments section on the site. Thus, marketing through YouTube stars offers companies more access to consumer behavior than marketing through traditional celebrities because viewers see themselves as part of the same social network as YouTubers whereas, by definition, celebrities are in a different social circle. When a company utilizes the clout of popular YouTubers through product placement and endorsements in their videos, they are effectively converting a node in many people’s social network, thus widening product adoption.

YouTube is also an interesting avenue for companies to break into new markets and transcend barriers between clusters. One might assume that this is only relevant for the teenage population. However, Ad Age summarized a finding of Sehdev’s study by noting that:

“Adults in the U.S. consider YouTube stars to be up to five times more influential and believable than traditional celebrities.” [1]

Thus, partnerships with YouTubers can provide companies with access to a wide, impressionable audience. Companies that currently advertise through celebrities should seriously consider advertising through YouTube stars to strategically utilize the network effects that result when people view themselves as part of the same social network.





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