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The long and short of it: How GenZ creators feel about video platforms

It’s not exactly surprising that the first generation to come of age entirely immersed in social media has a very close relationship with online video platforms. According to research from YouTube and Ipsos, 85% of GenZ have posted video content online. In fact, one of the most-desired careers for GenZ is to be “a YouTuber.”

What is a little surprising is that, according to Ypulse survey data, they trust “YouTubers” more than other public figures like musicians, movie stars, and police. At the same time, those YouTubers and other video creators who are making money and drawing in viewers are struggling with issues like burnout, balance, and authenticity.

“Ultimately, cheap fast entertainment isn’t a way to build a brand for yourself. You might make a huge splash, but that will dissipate just as quickly as it came.” -- Video creator

Clearly, it’s important for marketers to understand the creators behind the content that this generation watches and aspires to be. That’s why Essence commissioned GenZ research and strategy firm dcdx to conduct primary research, compiling screen-time reports, fielding surveys, and conducting one-on-one interviews with GenZ creators.  

Finding the right balance

As a whole, the Gen Z generation, like young people before them, put themselves first as if they are the main character of their own movie. But this generation embodies a sense of collective individuality, striving as a group to put their own happiness and well-being first. The idea of content creation as a career allows Gen Z to do what they want, speak up about issues they care about, connect with like minded people – while possibly making a living.

Among those who broadcast livestreams, the reasons include:

  • to earn extra money (25%)

  • to be more authentic (23%)

  • to interact with audience (23%)

  • to keep friends up to date (20%)

“I want to be in a role where I can grow professionally and personally. I don’t want to be stressed, depressed, or always waiting to clock out,” one creator told the dcdx researchers. 

It may strike older people as hopelessly idealistic, but if members of Gen Z can figure out how to turn their hobbies and personal passions into a way to make a living, why wouldn’t they?

Short-form video seems to be the gateway for many of them. Gen Z creators cite short-form’s ease of use and discovery as factors that pull them in. “There’s something about the capability of discovery on TikTok, it seems like a better place to put my time starting off,” said one creator.

In other words, it doesn’t feel too much like actual work. In fact, a number of creators just starting out seem intimidated by the time and financial investment that goes into longer form content: higher quality audio, higher quality video, and hours of editing. “It takes so much time to edit a video, keep up with the algorithms, post every week, that scares the shit out of me. … The editing process is a bit lonely, spending hours by yourself,” said another creator. 

Long form = deeper connections

But those same creators flock to a platform like Youtube for personal and financial reasons. There’s a sense that short-form platforms strip creators of the genuine connection and self-expression they seek. “I realized that a lot of you only know the surface level, social-media ‘me’ not like actual ‘me,’” said one creator. “If I post a … thirst-trap and you see me in real life, that’s not how I actually am.” 

“Short form puts creators in a box….you have to edit out so much of your personality,” said another. 

YouTube remains the place for creators to humanize themselves beyond one-dimensional viral content. According to Ypulse, YouTube creators are seen as more credible, authentic, and their follower base as more loyal. And creators know that these aspects are what bring them long-term stability and monetization. 

“Ultimately, cheap fast entertainment isn’t a way to build a brand for yourself. You might make a huge splash, but that will dissipate just as quickly as it came,” one creator told the researchers.

“Long-form videos you can monetize more, as well as building the community,” said another. “On those long-form videos its harder to get views, but if you can get the watch time, it can make your audience a lot more connected to you as a creator. … For me, it’s me wanting to build community and make that bond stronger, as well as add another piece of monetization.”

Consider the entire ecosystem

Of course, this isn’t an either-or situation. Viewers graze across multiple platforms, sometimes using one to discover the other. The YouTube/Ipsos study found that 59% of GenZ agree that they use short-form video apps to discover things that they then watch longer versions of. Creators know this. Shorts creators are now venturing into longer form content and people primarily known for long-form content are moving into short-form. And YouTube, for its part, not only has entered the short-form fray, but is in the process of boosting the monetization for shorts creators

While it can be easy for marketers to get swept up in media narratives about short-form content overtaking long-form content, they should keep in mind the two are parts of a greater ecosystem of content creation and consumption. Short-form can be seen as incredibly engaging, quick-hit entertainment that doesn’t require a lot of thought on the part of the viewer. For the creator, short-form platforms allow for easy creation and virality to establish themselves in the video space. 

On the other hand, long-form content can be seen as more personal and intentional, which allows for creators to build a deeper relationship with viewers while further establishing their brand and voice outside of viral quick-hits. For creators, short and long video formats work as one ecosystem that can amplify their content into virality while also sustaining their success. Marketers should approach these formats in the same vein, strategically differentiating the role each channel plays in their media ecosystem while also tailoring their messaging accordingly.