Since YouTube's launch in 2005, it has grown into one of the most visited social media platforms in the world. It launched with the slogan "Broadcast Yourself" with the promise that the content sharing site would allow anyone to post, share, and interact with videos from anyone around the world for free. Many people took advantage of that promise and became Internet celebrities, or "influencers," in a short amount of time, amassing millions of subscribers and billions of views. The success of these YouTube stars has led them to land roles on TV and in films, launch music careers, write books, and many other avenues. However, these stars have also had their fair share of public controversies that have caused advertisers to pull their content from YouTube's platform. This has forced YouTube to change their algorithm and other procedures so that YouTube stars' videos are no longer boosted to the front page, which in turn hurts their budding careers. This puts YouTube at a crossroads between billions of dollars in advertising revenue and the homegrown celebrities that helped make YouTube what it is today. The research in this study examined what YouTube influencers value and would change about YouTube's affordances to help make the website a better opportunity for anyone and everyone to grow their Internet careers. Using qualitative methods to gain insights from several YouTube influencers, this study explored what YouTube and other future social media accounts can do to help those that know and utilize their platforms best. The findings of this study show that while social media oftentimes acts as a conduit for online content sharing, YouTube doubles as an investor who will back videos with advertising revenue, front-page access, and algorithmic preference to boost a video's success and reach. This venture capital-style system comes with challenges as influencers can both benefit greatly from these affordances, but also be hurt when these affordances block their videos from finding audiences. Because of this, money-making on YouTube can be highly rewarding, but also discouraging and risky. Influencers are often stuck finding other ways to make money such as external sponsorship, platform diversification, and independent merchandising. This puts YouTube and influencers in a constant state of renegotiation where YouTube toes the line of pleasing advertisers and influencers while influencers struggle to work around YouTube affordances, policies, and terms. These findings show that YouTube is a rich, immersive medium with significant potential for influencers. The findings also show that affordances, while often viewed as beneficial to all parties, may at times be beneficial and detrimental depending on the individual. Future research can build off the foundation this study lays to learn if this model exists on other platforms and media.



College and Department

Fine Arts and Communications; Communications



Date Submitted


Document Type





YouTube, social media, influencers, Internet celebrities, affordances



Included in

Fine Arts Commons