by Clark Nesselrodt, Kathleen Tomes, and Brooke Schwartzman of Brilliant PR & Marketing

Earlier this week, we found ourselves drafting an email to our clients in response to the recent FTC fines levied against YouTube’s parent company, Google. It seemed all too natural as public relations people to convey a tone of calm and indicate that nothing much would be changing. But then, we received the first tear-soaked call from one of our YouTube creator partners. Then another. Then, dollars previously committed to an influencer for a holiday YouTube campaign returned to us with the message: “No thanks. We just can’t take the risk right now.”

As an agency that has paid seven figures to influencers this year on behalf of our clients, we felt compelled to report from the frontlines about what YouTube creators are saying about this potentially pivotal moment in our industry. And, though there is a possibility that the situation will return to equilibrium with minimal long-term impact to the status quo, we see this as an important moment to ask what happens if the situation continues on the path many top YouTubers fear they might.

First, a summary of the impact feared by top YouTube creators we’ve spoken to this week:

  • Beginning in January, YouTube content targeted to kids under the age of 13 may a) no longer generate ad revenue for creators, b) no longer appear in suggestions, c) no longer be promoted to channel subscribers, and d) will not allow viewer comments.

  • Many channels known for producing content for kids younger than the age of 13 believe that they are already being “shadow-banned” by YouTube and view counts are plummeting. YouTube has told creators that they anticipate a long-term negative impact on view numbers.

So what do we do now, and where might this go?

  1. It’s entirely possible that creators will find new ways to operate amid these new parameters and that channels will maintain their usual way of operating. We will have to watch carefully to see how new content accrues views, appears in suggestions, and etc. We do not suggest that agencies and marketing departments abruptly stop sending products or pursuing collaborations with their creator contacts.

  2. At the same time, it has always been our recommendation that brands diversify influencer relations to include parents on Instagram, a platform not affected by these recent developments. Maintaining this diversity and possibly even ramping up Instagram efforts this fall could be key to ensuring that a potential dip in the effectiveness on YouTube doesn’t overly impact your entire strategy.

  3. And, if there are experimental tactics you’ve been dying to try but haven’t been able to prioritize, this could be a great time to refunnel some YouTube dollars into test-and-learn programs that could help transform your 2020 plans.

And where might all of this head? We have a few hypotheses:

  1. With videos for kids no longer appearing in YouTube suggestions and without new content notifications for channel subscribers, we hypothesize that kids and parents will turn more and more to channels their kids are already watching — those that are household go-to channels and have achieved name recognition. YouTube might become less about discovering new content creators every day, and more about returning over and over to a smaller number of family-favorite channels. After all, no one needed a notification or a content suggestion as a kid to know that Sesame Street would come on PBS at 4 p.m.

  2. As the number of target channels decreases, the need for deeply engaging videos that stand out from the rabble will increase. We have long been counseling our clients to focus less on 20-30 unboxing videos and focus instead on 5-10 deeply impactful, standout hits.

  3. YouTubers will face a dilemma of no longer reaping the same financial reward for doing something their families have come to love. For many creators, their work on YouTube is a way of life. Those brands that are able to help creators financially sustain their passion could stand to benefit from deeper, more holistic and integrated partnerships. But this cost for such partnerships could increase significantly.

  4. Throughout this year, we’ve been encouraging brands to evolve beyond outsourcing their branded content, bringing things in-house and onto their own platforms. A great example of this is leveraging Facebook Live in makeshift in-office studios. We feel this is more critical now than ever, as it will be more acceptable for brands to serve up their own branded content. And in an era of reboots and classic TV throwbacks, we can already imagine millions of views rolling in from inviting beloved YouTube families into your own, self-created content efforts.

The current predominance of YouTube as the go-to medium for exposing kids to new toys and games has evolved and taken hold over the course of less than a decade. If history proves true, it will take a fraction of that time for the paradigm to shift again. Whether or not this week’s actions indicate a fundamental pivot along that timeline remains to be seen. But, we challenge ourselves and encourage all brands to allow “assuming the worst” to be a creative exercise, perfectly timed to coincide with your 2020 strategic planning processes.