YouTube is no longer the simple video-sharing platform it started out as. Bringing in over 2.9 billion hours of video streaming per month, the website has quickly become a medium through which content creators can achieve online fame and financial success. Some “YouTubers,” like PewDiePie and Michelle Phan, even pull multi-million dollar salaries from their channels.
In an effort to fully grasp this revolutionary enterprise, we interviewed three unique YouTube personalities with engaged, almost tribe-like audiences. Sunny Lenarduzzi, an “actor turned journalist turned entrepreneur,” posts weekly social-media and video marketing tutorials as well as travel diaries and behind-the-scenes vlogs.
Related: How to Start a YouTube Channel
A brilliant public speaker and marketing master, Sunny offers one-on-one coaching sessions for aspiring speakers, new YouTubers and entrepreneurs. Jay Piecha, founder of Unboxing Rocks, unboxes vinyl figures, various subscription boxes, and other pop-culture memorabilia on camera with his family co-stars, Mixx and Cyan. The Eh Bee Family, a family of four, composes YouTube videos, Vines, and other audio-visual content around their own lives as well as various family-friendly products like Chex Mix, Nesquik, Toyota vehicles and more.
Q: What was your biggest challenge in starting a YouTube channel?
Jay Piecha: I think the overwhelming feeling of having so much to learn, and the pressure we put on ourselves to try and make “professional” videos when we weren’t even totally comfortable on camera yet was a bit of an obstacle in the very beginning. We quickly sorted that out though and decided to just have fun doing [videos] while we learn.
We continuously try and improve all aspects of our videos but don’t let it get in the way of enjoying ourselves. Thankfully, that’s worked out in our favor, as the most frequent comments we get have something to do with our silly banter and genuine enthusiasm for the toys and collectibles that we review.
Sunny Lenarduzzi: To be honest, the biggest challenge was just starting. I thought about starting a YouTube channel for a long time, but I got caught up in overthinking what kind of content to create, how often I could realistically upload videos, how I could make my videos look good -- and the list goes on!
I’ve come to realize that a lot of people have the exact same concerns, and the only way to get over them is to just hit record and upload your first video. When I finally got around to starting my channel it was on a total whim! I was searching for a tutorial on how to use Periscope, and I couldn’t find anything, so I thought I’d make one myself. I thought I might get 100 views on it, but today that video has 55,000 views.
Eh Bee Family: Our biggest challenge was being able to find our unique style. We didn't want to post daily family vlogs, as we feel there are others that already exist and do a great job at that. As we started on Vine, going beyond six-second content was also a challenge... but we feel that we've been able to create a variety of entertaining content that varies in length.
Q: What is your best advice on growing and maintaining an engaged audience?
Jay Piecha: Remember that your subscribers are actually people. Sometimes YouTube creators get caught up in seeing the subscriber count as just a statistic and focusing a little too heavily on only that alone, taking the people for granted. Don’t forget to also be as active as possible in your niche’s community outside of YouTube such as on Facebook groups, website forums and other social networks in addition to YouTube.
Sunny Lenarduzzi: I call it my ACE strategy -- authority, consistency, engagement. In order to grow a thriving community, you want to attract an audience of highly engaged viewers. That’s why I recommend focusing on one niche and really owning that space, because then you’ll attract a niche audience that will become your greatest brand ambassadors.
And in order for your audience to stick around, they need to trust that you’ll be consistent with your content. I highly recommend filming your videos in batches and having a specific day of the week for when you publish new videos -- this keeps your audience coming back for more!
Finally, community is everything, and in order to harvest the relationships with your community, you need to engage and support them at every chance you get! Thank them for being there, because there are a million other places they could go online, but they’re choosing to watch your videos. That’s a privilege, not a right -- don’t take it for granted.
Eh Bee Family: Have fun, create something that you enjoy, post consistently, get inspired by other creators and engage with your fans.
Q: Any tips on handling negative feedback and rude comments?
Jay Piecha: First, be honest with yourself, and be sure that you know how to separate productive criticism from rudeness and haters... You have to have thick skin if you’re going to put yourself out there, especially on video. It’s definitely hard sometimes when you put so much work into something only to have someone rip it apart ... Focus on the positive comments, but use any productive criticism to help make your channel better.
Sunny Lenarduzzi: I used to respond to everything, but when I started getting blatantly rude, negative or mean comments, I decided it wasn’t worth it. If it’s constructive criticism, I’ll respond every single time with an equally thoughtful and gracious comment.
But here’s the thing: I’ve learned that there are people who just want to say something mean, because that’s where they get their entertainment from, so at this point, I use the “block” button very liberally. I wouldn’t tolerate someone telling me, “You suck and you’re ugly” to my face -- so why would I accept it online?
Eh Bee Family: It’s the Internet -- there will always be someone who you’ll offend, no matter what. At the end of the day, they don’t matter, so we really choose to focus on the 99.99 percent [who] post positive comments.
Q: How do you stay active on YouTube with a busy schedule?
Jay Piecha: Unless you already have countless hours of free time to spare each day, you are likely going to have to sacrifice something. That could be anything that usually takes up your time, like your favorite TV shows, extra hours gaming at night, going out on the weekends with your friends -- or even sleep.
We are fortunate in the way that we do this as a family, and we really enjoy what we do, so some of it is actually part of family fun time, but we all still have our own weekly schedules that we have to work around to come together for Unboxing Rocks. A regular schedule and routine for recording, editing and whatever else you do is extremely important -- especially if you plan to grow your YouTube channel as a (or part of a) business and not just a hobby.
Sunny Lenarduzzi: I make it a priority. I schedule in at least 30 minutes per day where I strictly focus on responding to comments and engaging with creators... I really enjoy interacting with viewers, and I truly appreciate every comment and word of encouragement! I feel really lucky to have built such a healthy community, so I want to nourish it as much as possible!
Eh Bee Family: Making time and being committed to a schedule is very important. Like exercise, it’s tough for the first three months, but once you get into a routine, it’s much smoother.
Q: How much time do you spend recording?
Jay Piecha: The actual recording of a video probably runs anywhere between 30 and 60 minutes, depending on how many items we’re reviewing and how many “bloopers” occur that day. We don’t use scripts or plan what we’re going to say at all, because we usually just like to roll with our genuine reactions on things, for the most part.
Sunny Lenarduzzi: I try to film my videos in batches, so I generally spend about three hours per month recording four videos for the month. I find it way more efficient this way. The research part of making videos is very extensive and takes a lot of time, but for me, filming is pretty quick and easy.
Eh Bee Family: Depending on the content, anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours.
Q: What is your editing process like?
Jay Piecha: I do all of the editing myself. I spend too much time editing, but luckily I enjoy it, and the challenge of continuously improving has become somewhat of a passion (or obsession) of mine ... I use a program called Screenflow by Telestream for Mac, which is actually known primarily for creating screencast videos ... I am planning to switch to Adobe products like Premier and / or After Effects in the near future, as I feel I’ve outgrown Screenflow, and we have so many ideas I’m unable to implement because of Screenflow’s limited capabilities.
Sunny Lenarduzzi: Up until this point, I’ve been editing my own videos ... However, I’ve come to realize that my efforts should be focused on other areas of my business, so I just recently brought on a freelance editor to support in video creation.
Eh Bee Family: We edit our own videos to make sure our style is maintained at all times. [We] typically spend anywhere between one to three hours depending on the style of the video. [We use] Final Cut Pro; it’s a frustrating tool, but [we] fear [we] will lose time creating content if [we] have to learn something new like Premier.
Q: Which essentials are a part of your recording or backdrop setup?
Jay Piecha: We use modest gear at the moment, recording video with a Canon DSLR (Rebel T3i), two cheap soft-box lights and a $99 Rode microphone. If you’re just getting started though, don’t assume that you need anything beyond your smartphone and the sun shining through the window. If you’re sitting in front of a decent source of natural light, today’s smartphones can capture great video -- definitely quality enough to get you started.
Sunny Lenarduzzi: Up until recently, my setup consisted of a window for natural light, a few books that acted as my tripod, and my computer and webcam. I still use my Logitech c920 Webcam, and I highly recommend it for anyone thinking about creating YouTube content. I recently converted my den in my apartment into a home studio: I have a white wall behind me as my backdrop, a Rode Record Smartlav mic for quality audio and a cowboy studio lighting setup.
Eh Bee Family: [We use the] Canon G7X, [which has] lots of memory. We also have lighting on hand in case we need to brighten up the backdrop.
Q: How important is consistency in your video release schedule?
Jay Piecha: We’ve actually been quite random with our video uploads. We almost always have a few videos per week, but we don’t really stick to a schedule except for our “Mystery Monday” show, which is a regular segment we have been doing every Monday for 50 episodes now.
Sunny Lenarduzzi: Consistency is vital to the success of your YouTube channel! I equate it to the real world -- you need to build trust with your audience in order for them to keep coming back for more content. If you’re dating someone, and they promise they’ll take you out every Friday night, and they don’t show up on the second and third Friday, you’re probably going to break up with them.
So, stick to a schedule. It builds anticipation for your new content, and it builds trust with your audience, which equals a great base for building long-term relationships with your community.
Eh Bee Family: [It is] critical. We aim to post at least twice per week on each platform. Consistency is especially key on YouTube, so we aim to post every Wednesday and Sunday.
Q: Do you have any advice on getting brand deals and sponsors?
Jay Piecha: First, be clear on what it is you have to offer them. Become familiar with YouTube analytics, and know your statistics, so you can confidently send them a proposal with details on what they can expect from you and your audience such as views, watch time, demographic, etc.
Before you approach a company you’d like to work with, show them some love weeks or months beforehand by commenting on their social profiles, telling them why you love their latest product or even by doing a video review of a product or service they provide.
Sunny Lenarduzzi: I only work with companies that fully align with my morals, vision and mission for my business. I think that’s the first set of criteria to consider when working with brands: Look at long-term value versus a short-term financial win. Also, I highly recommend using SocialBlueBook.com to figure out the appropriate amount to charge for your content.
Eh Bee Family: Keep it clean, keep it as family-friendly as possible, and create a website that details the brands that you've worked with, examples, your numbers and demographic data. Try to include everything that an agency would want to see before working with you.
Q: Which of your videos is your favorite, and why?
Jay Piecha: Our favorite video is, without a doubt, a very special, gigantic box of toys and collectibles that a fan of our Mystery Monday show sent to us without us knowing. The box was not only a surprise full of amazing items for all three of us, but the items were specifically purchased based on each of our specific interests ... We were so overwhelmed that at some points of the video, we were just speechless.
Sunny Lenarduzzi: I put so much effort into each of my videos, I really do have a soft spot for each one. But I recently did a video on how to make videos for business, and the response was so incredibly positive and appreciative. When I can see that a video is genuinely helping people build stronger content strategies and positively affecting their business, it’s an awesome reminder as to why I do what I do.
Eh Bee Family: Our all-time favorites are our New Year’s videos, where our daughter usually does something crazy to ring in the new year. That being said, anything that involves our whole family is a favorite of ours.
Q: If you could provide one tip for someone starting a YouTube channel, what would it be?
Jay Piecha: “Patience,” by Guns N' Roses. Stop what you’re doing, relax and play that song every time you feel overwhelmed by the amount of work it takes. If you don’t like Guns N' Roses, then just have patience.
Sunny Lenarduzzi: Do your research before you hit record! Make sure that you’re paying attention to questions people ask you, looking at popular topics in your niche and studying channels with a similar target audience. Doing research upfront will guarantee results in the long term, and it will increase the return on investment on your video content.
Eh Bee Family: Have fun with what you create. Enjoy what you make, and if someone else enjoys it with you, that’s a bonus.