YouTube Shifts Serve as an Example of Narrative Evolution

There’s a general rule of thumb that people can “learn just about anything” on YouTube – and the entertainment value is high, too. From educational content to silly videos, to elaborate stunts and fun commentary, there’s plenty to experience on the user-generated video sharing site. Recently, though, new and unique topics have been trending on YouTube, underscoring how the platform is both art imitating life and life imitating art. 

Viewers have popularized videos about how to make PPE masks, quarantine lifestyle tips, and fun ways to make it through online education. Meanwhile, reposted content from political leaders related to COVID-19 response are also jumping into the most-viewed videos lineup in a given time frame. In recent remarks to the media, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki said her team was monitoring the shift in content and viewership: 

She said: “We certainly have seen how our users have changed…” adding that, initially, users were looking for “basic information” related to the pandemic virus. Content related to virus spread and even hand-washing became trending topics. But, as the lockdown stretched on, content creators shifted to more day-in-the-life videos. 

Wojcicki said, as people were spending more and more time at home, her team began to see an increase in videos related to home renovations and repairs, as well as other DIY projects, adding: “Users want to know about life under quarantine… We see a lot of interest in things like exercise at home, or how do I fix my dishwasher… my freezer… How do I give myself a haircut?” 

The shift in the kinds of content people are interested in consuming has coincided with a steep increase in the actual demand for YouTube content. Viewership is up, way up, since many states went into lockdown. That viewership has not waned as the type of content people are interested in has shifted. They are still engaged, but they are searching for different types of content than they were a week or two earlier. 

There’s a lesson here for all communicators. Giving people what they want in a narrative or creative messaging means understanding that these appetites will shift and change over time, and sometimes very quickly. Content, tone, and verbiage that was hot and/or connective yesterday may come off as stale and empty today. 

Part of crafting a compelling PR narrative is understanding how to initially connect while planning ahead, anticipating what people will be thinking once the narrative has been out in the marketplace for some time. Interests will change, sometimes they will sharpen, with consumers looking for more or deeper details, and sometimes they will shift entirely to a new topic within the same context. Knowing how to predict and respond to these shifts will keep a message healthy, relevant and active as audience focus changes.