YouTube has announced that they will be displaying abbreviated public subscriber counts across the platform, effective August 2019.
This change will create some consistency across subscriber counts in general, as the mobile and desktop apps have shown both formats in various displays. So, why did YouTube make these changes now? Will they have an impact on digital marketing? What will they mean for you?
Beginning at 1,000 subscribers, the public subscriber count that appears on a channel’s home page and beneath videos will round down to the nearest thousand. For example, a channel with 7,492 subscribers will show “7.4k” until they hit 7,500. A channel with 14,304,323 subscribers will show “14M” until the channel reaches 15,000,000.
These changes will also show on third party apps that use YouTube’s API Services.
YouTube has stated that the primary justification for this change is to achieve consistency across all devices and formats.
YouTube subscriber counts have been in the news in 2019, but not for encouraging reasons. Concerns have been rising of a toxic subculture of cyber-bullying that targets a channel’s subscriber count.
This issue hit fever pitch in April, when a feud between YouTube stars James Charles and Tati Westbrook was litigated through the rise and fall of their subscriber counts. Videos even sprang up on YouTube live-streaming the follower counts, as Charles’ count fell and Westbrook’s rose.
James Charles, a 20-year-old beauty vlogger, had been assisted in his rapid rise to influencer stardom by Tati Westbrook, the 37-year-old beauty vlogger behind YouTube’s GlamLifeGuru channel since 2010. As far as reach goes, Charles is the larger figure in the YouTube beauty community, with over 13 million followers compared to Westbrook’s (still sizeable) 6 million. Each of their videos garner millions of views.
In April, Westbrook released a 43-minute video accusing Charles of betraying her trust, and the fallout from the feud exploded across social media. For YouTube influencers like Charles and Westbrook, the size of their follower counts is a measure of their value as influencers and a key indicator of how successful they can be parleying their online persona into a profitable brand. So, when James Charles bled over 3 million followers in ten days – among them several high-profile celebrities and beauty brands – the damage was to more than his reputation.
The feud laid bare the high stakes arena of influencer culture on social media. For someone like James Charles, his personality is synonymous with his brand. The possibility of a personal feud going viral and decimating his follower count has the potential – deserved or not – to devastate his livelihood.
The Charles/Westbrook feud has been a baffling YouTube event. “Explained” and “reaction” videos have millions of views, and fed the scandal for weeks, driving plenty of traffic to the platform.
Nonetheless, YouTube has recognised the phenomenon of subscriber count monitoring as problematic. They’ve joined other social media platforms – like Instagram – in downplaying the value of subscriber/follower counts on their pages. This theoretically makes it harder for large groups of social media users to control livelihoods by targeting subscriber counts.
YouTube’s changes to the formatting of its subscriber counts will have the immediate effect of valuing quality content over the social force of a high subscriber count. This change is similar to many of the hundreds of changes Google makes every year to its search algorithms. The changes in questions aim prioritise the value of content over peripheral factors that could manipulate the system.
Social media influences have leveraged these subscriber and follower counts to monetise their brands. Furthermore, companies have seized on the fast reach of influencers as a YouTube marketing opportunity. Many companies pay to have their products mentioned, praised, or used.
For the larger digital marketing community, YouTube’s changes demonstrate that social media platforms are working to better understand audience preferences.
While it may outwardly appear like a fairly benign move, changes such as these have the potential to alter user-experience dramatically over the long-term.
Finally, while this won’t affect most users, it remains to be seen how it will affect the platform’s heavyweights.