LWIF X EP8: Going Viral and Becoming “Famous”

Last week I talked about how the Life Where I’m From channel came about. This week, I talk about what it was like going viral and how Aiko felt about becoming Internet “famous”.

I remember when we first started out, Aiko and I were talking about views and subscribers. She said she wanted to get 100 subscribers. I thought, OK, that’s doable. It’ll take some months, but we can get there. We attended our first YouTube Hanami party in the spring of 2015, and while we had shot and edited quite a few episodes at that point, we had yet to launch. The channel was launched on April 12th, and besides sharing with some family and friends on Facebook and posting it on my personal twitter, the only other social thing I did was post the video on a Google Plus Japan page. I never touched Reddit, or any other site. What I’m saying, is that I really didn’t do much¬†social sharing outside of my small circle of friends and family (and even that sharing netted very little views).

By June 26th, I thought we were doing quite well, better than expected even. We had 9 videos, 235 subscribers and 9,149 views. Not bad for 2 1/2 months. YouTube’s algorithms were treating our breakfast video nicely, which brought in a steady stream of new views and subscribers.

At this point in time, there was no social media or website for Life Where I’m From. I didn’t know whose voice the channel would be. Was it Aiko’s, mine, some combination, and what would happen if we grew and had many other families contributing. There was no promised release schedule for the videos (and there still isn’t), since I didn’t know how long the project would last nor did I want my family and myself to feel pressure to release content on a regular basis.

I had not signed up for Adsense, which enables a YouTuber to put ads on their video and make a bit of money. I knew that you could make some spare change enabling Adsense, as I previously had a business educational video or two bring in a little bit of pocket money. But, I didn’t want anything to stop people from watching, and I thought that displaying ads may slow down the growth of the channel. Plus, signing up for Adsense was another thing that I’d have to go and do, even if it’s not a hard task. Also, the channel wasn’t about making money, so why sign up for Adsense.

Going Viral

A the end of June, someone posted our bathroom video on Reddit. The way I was able to find out the video went viral, was because at that time, I still got notified of all our new subscribers. We were out shopping at Soramachi, which is the big mall under Skytree, when I started getting email alerts of new subscribers like there was no tomorrow.

I was mostly a reddit lurker at that time, but I did somehow think to check out Reddit, and sure enough, we were up there. Since I hadn’t ever had a video blow up like this before, I didn’t know how to interpret the stats. YouTube gives you real-time estimates, but I had no clue if they were anywhere close to accurate. I didn’t really believe them, but it turned out they were true. Within a few days of that Reddit posting, we had 5,000 subscribers.

I thought we were incredibly lucky to get posted on Reddit like that. I could have posted it myself, but I really didn’t think any of my videos might make it to the top of r/videos. Plus, it’s usually frowned upon to do self posts like that, although if you really think your video is worthwhile, you can still do it.

That brings up the question of whether we just got lucky with the video going viral and the channel growth that followed.

Were we just lucky? I’m going to have to go with yes and no. If the content of the bathroom videos wasn’t up to snuff, it wouldn’t have gotten posted on Reddit, nor embedded on other websites after that. But at the time of the Reddit posting, the video wasn’t one of our top performing videos, so it was lucky for us that a guy thought it was interesting enough to share and people on reddit thought it worthy of upvotes

After analyzing the stats, I found out most of the traffic wasn’t from Reddit. Rather, it was from all the sites that saw the video on Reddit and then embedded it on their sites, the biggest site being Huffington Post. I also heard that Good Morning America played a clip of the video on their show as well.

I think the real reason our channel grew after the bathroom video went viral was more to do with the channel than the video.

Even though I never focused on creating viral videos, I had always known that going viral could happen. The focus was on making a consistent series of videos, where if someone watched one of them, they could reasonably expect to enjoy the others. If anything, I wanted to make sure that the first video on the channel was the video I liked the most, so I put up our breakfast video. Although the breakfast video wasn’t the first video I had edited together, it was the first video I published on the channel. As a YouTube watcher, I often go to check out the first video ever made, so if someone was going to do the same with our videos, I wanted it to be something I thought was worthwhile.

The thing about that breakfast video, was that I hadn’t even planned on filming it. It just so happened that on a Saturday (or Sunday, I can’t recall), my wife started making breakfast and I asked her if I could film it. Even though it was a spur of the moment recording, it turned out alright.

In comparison to the breakfast video, the bathroom video was different in how it was made, as we knew there were lots of things about Japanese bathrooms that we wanted to talk about. There weren’t a specific number of points in mind, but we did know that we wanted to show how the rooms were separated, how people bathed, and how you could reuse the water for laundry. Something nobody has known, was that Shin was supposed to be in the video. When Aiko was showing the bathing area for the first time, he was supposed to be in there bathing. Being six at the time, he was busy with other things and so we never recorded him.

While editing the bathroom video, I thought the video could use a little more structure. So, I counted up the number of different points we made, which ended up being 12. So I made title cards and mockingly titled it “12 reasons why Japanese bathrooms are the best!” There was even a 13th reason that would shock you! If you look at the other video titles we have, they’re not so click-baity, and this one was simply making fun of click bait titles.

Well, ironically, this was the video that ended up being posted on Reddit and going viral. Click bait titles do work!

Looking back at the stats, I was surprised to see that only 5,000 subscribers were from the first few days of the bathroom video’s success. The channel is now at over 100,000 subscribers, so that initial virality only gave us a fraction of our total subscribers number. I’d be lying big time though, if I didn’t acknowledge that the Reddit post started the snowball rolling down the hill. One month after the initial Reddit post, we were up to 25,000 subscribers.

The next month after that, we added another 10,000 subscribers. What’s interesting about that, is that only 1/3 of views were from sites linking to the channel, while the other 2/3’s were due to Youtube’s algorithm’s suggesting our videos or views that came in through other methods.

If I go back to the initial month after the Reddit post, 3/4 of the views were from external sites vs. 1/4 from Youtube algorithm’s or other organic methods.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that, yes, Reddit helped immensely, but it wasn’t the only reason the channel grew. If the bathroom video was simply a funny, one-off video, it wouldn’t have resulted in the number new subscribers that it did and Youtube’s algorithms wouldn’t have been so kind to the rest of the videos. It was all the other content on the channel that made people subscribe. In fact, if I look at the lifetime stats for the channel, by the time we had 130,000 subscribers, only 4,000 came directly from the bathroom video, which translates to about 3% of subscribers. The vast majority, about 70% of subscribers, came from people signing up through the channel page. And in case you’re unfamiliar with how subscriptions work, the two main sources of subscribers are when a user watches a video and clicks on the subscribe button, and when a user goes to your channel, and then clicks on the subscribe button. If we didn’t have consistent content on the channel, we wouldn’t have nearly the number of subscribers that we do.

So, don’t focus on making a viral video, but instead, on making content of consistent quality. Consistent quality will make people want to subscribe and come back for more. And, if a video does go viral, you’re consistent quality content will ensure you get more subscribers.

A month after the video blow up on Reddit, I didn’t know all the stuff I know now, about whether the channel would continue to grow or if it was a one hit wonder type of thing. All I knew was that one video did well and it seemed to be lifting up all the other videos. But, as I’ve had more time to create additional videos and see everything grow, I can say that it’s not a one hit wonder and people are sticking around for more. While we haven’t had other videos go viral to the same extent, we’ve certainly had videos do reasonably well. The breakfast video is now past a million views and several other videos are around the half a million view mark.

So, where does that leave us today? Well, we have around 150,000 subscribers, and this both shocks me, while simultaneously making me think, “No big deal.” It shocks me, because in all the years I’ve posted to YouTube, I don’t think I’ve ever broken the 1,000 subscriber mark. It doesn’t surprise me, because I’ve seen channels with unedited videos of babies, doing what babies do, getting millions of views and hundred and thousands of subscribers. I’m opening a drawer, I’m crawling, I’m babbling, I’m getting a million views suckas! But still, it shocks me, because there are so many people putting quality content out there, that I don’t understand why our channel has gotten the attention it has. All I can conclude, is that I’m grateful that people continue to willingly choose to watch our videos and am ever-so-aware that attention is fleeting.

After having some modicum of success, some people throw around the word famous. Hey Aiko, you’re famous. Oh, to be Internet famous. It’s a never ending life of fun and fortune! In reality, your life is EXACTLY the same, because you’re not famous and nobody cares. And I say this in a good way.

Being Internet “Famous”

Aiko asked me one day, “Am I famous?” You see, people keep on telling her that. I’m pretty sure I answered, “No, but there are lots of people who enjoy watching your videos on YouTube. In fact, it’s like your whole school, no wait, about a hundred of your schools, sit down to watch your videos e-ver-y-day.”

Aiko doesn’t want to be famous. At the start, she liked seeing big numbers on the screen next to the videos, because it’s like getting points in a video game. The more the better. Once the numbers started getting high enough, comprehension of the magnitude of it all kind of flew out the window. Plus, there are other channels and videos that get way more views than hers. For example, she was used to watching people like StampyCat, who gets millions of views and has millions of subscribers. So, she doesn’t think it anything special to have some zeroes behind the view or subscriber count.

Aiko doesn’t do YouTube for the fame, and I’m happy about that. In fact, no one we know in Japan, beyond family and a few close friends, even know we YouTube. Aiko worries that some kids may think her YouTube videos are uncool, so up until this point in time, she’s stayed pretty quiet. I think that if the kids she knows did see the videos, some would make fun of them, but I’m inclined to believe that reactions would be more positive than negative.

That does broach the topic though, of filming my kids and putting them on YouTube. When it was only a few people watching, it was easy enough not to worry about it. You could always delete the videos if you wanted to and no one was watching anyways. When you start getting millions of views and over a hundred thousand subscribers, I don’t think it’s possible to scrub the content away from the Internet. I know for a fact that our videos have been freebooted on Facebook, placed on other video sharing sites, and even GIFs of them exist as well. I always made the videos in a way where I didn’t think the content would cause any harm in the future, but who knows what the effect of having part of their lives on display to the world will have on them in the future. I’m perfectly comfortable with putting myself online, but I’m an adult with the capability to make these types of decisions for myself.

When I started the channel I wasn’t intending to film my kids so much. The initial plan was to film 10 or so episodes with my kids, and then tell the stories of other kids around the world. I kind of knew that if LWIF were successful, and if i hadn’t diversified the channel enough with more kids, viewers would get attached and make it very hard to remove my kids from the videos.

I ask Aiko all the time if she still likes making videos and if she wants to continue, and her answer is always yes, but if she one day wants to stop, that’ll be the end of it.

Hey, you didn’t answer what it’s like to be famous.

No, I did, on a day-to-day basis our life is exactly the same. I remember seeing one of Natalie Tran’s videos, and she’s quite a popular YouTuber, and how she’d make fun of her social life. I always thought, yeah, she’s just joking about being awkward or spending lots of time at home. She seemed like a very sociable person who was always being recognized by fans as she was out and about. I can’t speak for her, but I’m now fairly confident that making videos on YouTube doesn’t make you any more sociable or popular, at least for Aiko and I. If someone knows you make videos and likes them, sure, they can get excited about it. But we’re still quite nervous and uncomfortable meeting new people. Just because we share some our lives on YouTube, it doesn’t mean we want to be recognized or that we like attention. I know how it’s hard to understand, but after watching many YouTubers for a long time and then making videos myself, I can totally see how you might have this desire to create and share videos, but no desire for any extra attention. We’re just happy living our normal lives, and besides a one-off event here and there we might attend, our lives are the same as they’ve ever been.

Alrighty, that’s all I got about going viral and being Internet “famous”. Do you questions about what it’s like to create YouTube videos? In the next video, I’ll be talking about whether or not I can make a living producing videos again.