Table of contents
- Sponsored content presented in casual formats performs best
- Longer videos hold loyal viewers’ attention and trigger engagement
- Meanwhile, YouTube Shorts supplement and tease longer videos, broadening a brand’s reach
- Don’t overlook micro-influencers to authenticate a brand
- Reviewing the findings
Influencer marketing has become an essential part of every brand’s playbook. No longer just a novel tactic for product launches, it has become an important method of connecting with customers and building awareness – and loyalty. Nearly all companies, 97% of those surveyed in Glossy’s CMO Strategies report, use social media as a marketing tool. Of those, over half (59%) use YouTube. But with marketing budgets tight and ROI more important than ever, marketers must choose their YouTube partnerships carefully.
Recently, the YouTube browsing experience has become even more atomized, with tailored recommendations fueled by a rapid increase in videos posted daily by users. Now viewers can focus on exploring their interests rather than just experiencing viral cultural moments. And marketing teams can diversify their spend — and content — to reach different YouTube audiences with different needs. Beyond ads, YouTubers can serve as key points of connection between brands and niche consumer communities. That’s especially among younger viewers, like Gen Z, who look for authentic and genuine online interactions.
There is a unique opportunity for marketers in being able to reach a small subset of people online who care a lot about what a particular brand has to say. “It’s a really massive opportunity to speak to people as individuals,” said Cass Cervi, strategist at creative ad agency No Fixed Address. “Even if we don’t have to make individual one-to-one content, we can speak to an entire niche, and it feels like we’re just talking to one person because we know all of their overlapping interests.”
Glossy+ Research analyzed a list of influential beauty and fashion creators who are making waves on YouTube to assess their performance as brand partners, both strengths and weaknesses. The first installment of Glossy’s YouTube Influencer Index looked at YouTube brand partnerships and the types of influencers that are best for brands’ marketing playbooks. In part two, we dive into the research findings and provide strategies to keep in mind when developing a YouTube partnership.
We discuss our methodology, in our first report.
Sponsored content presented in casual formats performs best
In terms of audience engagement, sponsored content presented in a “get ready with me” (GRWM) style performed the best overall in the Index. GRWM videos received more than double the amount of engagement of other video types, including the often controversial “de-influencing” videos, in which influencers tell viewers why they shouldn’t purchase a certain product.
On average, 7% of GRWM viewers liked the video and 2% commented on the video. Compared to tutorials, GRWM videos earned 0.8% more engagement through likes and 1.6% more through comments. These videos often relay an influencer’s authentic experience with a product or brand. Their casual style allows more of an influencer’s personality to shine through, rather than serving viewers a highly curated product ad.
As shoppers are becoming more aware of marketing gimmicks, they are relying more heavily on trusted online reviews as sources of product information. YouTube is one of the most trusted forums for these reviews, for many; therefore, it’s important for influencers who post there to remain credible sources of information.
Beyond placing products within the casual-style GRWM videos, brands may be best served by allowing influencers to create sponsored content that follows the natural flow of their channel and fits their personal style. Hyram Yarbro (@Hyram on Youtube, 4.56 million subscribers), skin-care guru and founder of Selfless by Hyram, said he’s found that viewers respond better to sponsored content that feels genuine.
“I’ve noticed when brands are more open to the concepts I was already planning on posting or the [topics] I was already wanting to organically cover, then those tend to be the best performing videos,” Yarbro said. “When brands have a more specific topic that they want me to focus on, there is less engagement on those videos because I’m able to recognize that my audience wasn’t necessarily requesting that video and I wasn’t able to gauge how interested people were going to be in the topic beforehand.”
In the first installment of this Index, Glossy assigned influencers to various groupings based on the size of their audience, the type of audience engagement received and their overall brand impact. Then, influencers were analyzed in their respective groups to determine what type of video formats work best for each group based on engagement for their unique audience size.
Influencers belonging to the “best for engagement per dollar” group, like Kait Gardner (@StateofKait on YouTube; 20,500 subscribers) and Ramón Pagan (@GlowByRamon on YouTube; 55,200 subscribers), posted review videos most often (38% of the time). These micro-influencers prioritized review videos more than other video types, indicating that this type of content may resonate better with their audience.
The “best for a reliable partnership” group includes macro-influencers with an established audience and experience working with brands. Among them are Alexandra Anele (@AlexandraAnele on YouTube; 1.2 million subscribers), James Welsh (@JamesWelsh on YouTube; 1.5 million subscribers), Stephanie Ledda (@SMLx0 on YouTube; 1.1 million subscribers) and Ava Lee (@GlowWithAva on YouTube; 386,000 subscribers). This group prefers posting tutorials or tips videos to their channels, opting for the format 40% of the time. Because their audience considers them trusted beauty experts and seeks out their in-depth product application tutorials and tips, this group of influencers offers strong tools for brands looking to build customer loyalty.
The “best for bringing widespread attention to a brand” group includes mega-influencers like Jeffree Star (@jeffreestar on YouTube, 15.9 million subscribers), Tati Westbrook (@Tati on YouTube, 8.3 million subscribers), Alisha Marie (@AlishaMarie on YouTube, 8 million subscribers), Hyram Yarbro (@Hyram on YouTube, 4.6 million subscribers) and Liah Yoo (@LiahYoo on YouTube, 1.2 million subscribers), who have celebrity-level followings and endorsements. They are more inclined to post favorites or “best of” videos (60% of the time). Videos titled “Best Sunscreens of 2022” or “July Beauty Favorites” use easily searchable common keywords like “best” or “favorites”.
Yarbro said it can be challenging to incorporate sponsored content in a seamless manner. “It’s definitely a little bit tricky figuring out a way that the sponsor piece can be integrated in a way that is natural to the way that I speak to my audience and will be well received,” Yarbro said. For Yarbro, sponsored content that is “communicated in a way that shows my genuine love for the product, my genuine interest in it and how it can be of use in my subscribers’ lives” performs best with the audience. Brands should consider presenting YouTube sponsorships in casual formats to mimic natural interactions with products to be better received by audiences. This will help influencer partners remain credible and continue to come across as authentic to loyal, savvy subscribers and fans.
Longer videos hold loyal viewers’ attention and trigger engagement
In these fast-paced times, content creators are searching for ways to strike a balance between remaining informative while keeping in mind audiences’ shortening attention spans. For brands, the rapid pace of many social platforms, especially TikTok which feeds viewers a constant stream of catchy, short videos, dilutes the impact of a sponsorship; inclusion in a quickly-forgotten clip provides minimal value.
Therefore, Glossy examined which video lengths perform best, in terms of engagement, on YouTube. Our research found that YouTube viewers prefer longer-form content. Videos that are 15-30 minutes in length receive more views, on average, than longer videos or even those shorter than 15 minutes. Viewers turn to YouTube looking for more creatively curated or informative videos than those found on other platforms.
Yarbro confirmed that there’s a noticeable difference in how audiences engage with the sponsored content he posts on YouTube, compared to platforms that prioritize short-form content and continuous For You page (FYP) algorithm recommendations.
“My YouTube channel has the highest level of engagement specifically for sponsored deals,” said Yarbro when comparing engagement of sponsored posts on YouTube versus other social media channels. “The YouTube audience is typically searching them out. They’re already in a headspace of wanting to find product recommendations, versus on a platform like TikTok, which the majority of people love for humor, comedy or more personality-driven content. And [on TikTok], you don’t really have control over what videos are going to be shown to you next.”
The result of posting longer-form sponsored content on YouTube is a more attentive audience eager to interact with the video and possibly a brand, according to Glossy’s analysis. When Digiday interviewed Gen-Z attendees at Vidcon this year to see what platforms they watch most, many confirmed that they spend a lot of time playing YouTube videos, especially in the background of their day. Here’s a sample of what was said:
- “If I’m wanting to actually pay attention to something, it’s Twitch. But if I’m just putting something on to just have something playing, it’s YouTube.”
- “I just think there’s a lot more content on [YouTube] that’s just easy to just sit and watch, and just be a couch potato.”
- “YouTube is where you can find the 10-hour documentary that you watch while you draw.”
- “YouTube’s always a great backup. Like, I’m listening to it right now.”
- “I spend a lot of time watching — I watch YouTube every day, and I love it.”
Videos 30-45 minutes long received the highest rate of likes and comments, compared to an influencer’s average viewership: 5.5% of viewers liked the content, and 0.8% of viewers commented on the posts. Viewers who watch longer videos are more dedicated fans and engage more often with the content than passive viewers. For marketers seeking more audience engagement through likes and comments, YouTubers and brands could consider producing even longer videos of 30-45 minutes in length.
Meanwhile, YouTube Shorts supplement and tease longer videos, broadening a brand’s reach
While viewers value the thoughtfully curated long-format content available on YouTube, short content has its place. The rise of platforms offering an endless loop of short-form content, like TikTok and Instagram, has changed user behaviors. Users now often discover content from short 15- to 30-second clips that serve as ads for the longer-form fare.
At Vidcon, one attendee said, “I honestly like [YouTube Shorts] because I have a very short attention span. It’s very short-form, and I can just swipe, swipe, swipe.” Creators, in response, have had to adjust their content according to these shortened attention spans, but many are seeing success using Shorts to broaden their platform’s reach. A creator attending Vidcon noted that they’ve had a positive experience with Shorts so far. “I think Shorts are great. It’s definitely going to drive a lot more traffic to your platform [as a creator]. I’ve been playing around with Shorts, and it’s definitely gotten me a lot of engagement, and a lot of new subscribers and supporters coming in.”
According to YouTube, Shorts can be useful for supplementing traditional long-form marketing campaigns. “Shorts are the perfect [platform] for teasing, amplifying and echoing big moments like fashion shows and tentpole campaigns,” said Heather Clark, YouTube’s luxury lead in the U.K. “They drive discovery of your long-form content.”
Clark works with fashion companies that advertise on Shorts, including Burberry, JVN Hair and the British Fashion Council. “Fifty-nine percent of Gen Z — already the world’s largest generation — use short-form video apps to discover things that they then watch longer versions of,” Clarke said. “Therefore, Shorts can help fuel a virtuous cycle of engagement between brands [and consumers].”
The YouTube influencers in our Index predominantly focus on long-format videos, which receive more views, on average, than Shorts. However, Shorts is a growing space, especially for creators and brands looking to build a larger following and create natural touchpoints for engaging with their audience.
Ava Lee (@glowwithava on YouTube; 405,000 subscribers), for example, prioritizes posting Shorts. Although the majority of other influencers in the index earned on average more views with long-format videos than Shorts, Lee earned 32 times the number of views on Shorts, compared to her long-format videos — a statistic that’s not surprising, when you consider the respective watch times required. The Shorts often tease her long-format videos in order to bring attention to them. Viewers scrolling for what to watch on Shorts can quickly engage with the briefer content, then plan to watch the longer, full version in the future. Or they can watch the entire video immediately in a few clicks. If a viewer likes Lee’s content, the hope is that she will gain another subscriber.
Rose Siard (@makeupbyrosexox on YouTube; 81,600 subscribers) uses a similar strategy. Siard exclusively posted Shorts to her channel during the Index data collection period. However, since March 2023, she’s posted more frequent long-format videos with full masterclasses and tutorials. During her year-long hiatus from posting long-form content, she continued to post those short casual-style short-format videos on various platforms in order to continue engaging with her audience and attract more followers. Both newer followers and long-time viewers who stayed connected with her content during her sabbatical eagerly anticipated her return to long-form content. The first long-format video she posted was a masterclass on creating a smokey eye, and received 11,000 views. During the Index collection period, however, her Shorts received 3,000 views on average.
Don’t overlook micro-influencers to authenticate a brand
Viewers who subscribe to micro-influencers’ YouTube channels trust not only in the products they recommend, but also the brands with which they partner. And while larger mega-influencers are great for spreading brand awareness, in a crowded influencer marketing space, skepticism is growing about how genuine their ad placements are.
The rise of micro-influencers and the benefits of tapping into their audiences was predicted last year in Glossy’s 2022 influencer marketing forecast. “We’re seeing such amazing content creation, product reviews and deep dives, and really strong conversations happening in the comments of posts. It’s leading to conversions,” said Erica Livoti, director of influencer relationships and social strategy at InnBeauty Project. “The other thing with micro-influencers, especially on TikTok, is that anyone can go viral. So we’ve seen micro-influencers who we’ve gifted to, or who bought the products on their own, post a review, and it gets hundreds of thousands to millions of views. And it’s all organic.”
Glossy’s analysis found that YouTube channels with smaller subscriber bases create more intimate online communities in which influencers can educate viewers on products, answer questions and provide quality advice in a more personal and authentic manner.
For example, micro-influencer Kait Gardner (@StateofKait on YouTube; 20,500 subscribers) received the highest Index score of 10 for her viewers’ engagement on both the sponsored and non-sponsored content she shared. Although her channel had the smallest subscriber base, her videos’ average ratio of views to the average number of likes and comments outranked those of influencers with larger channels where these types of potential customer interactions are lost.
Another micro-influencer in the Index with fewer than 100,000 subscribers but some of the highest engagement scores was Ramón Pagan (@GlowbyRamon on YouTube; 55,200 subscribers). Pagan received a 9.2 index score for engagement on sponsored content and a 9.1 score for non-sponsored content. Comparable to Gardner’s content, his sponsored videos elicited levels of viewer engagement that were similar to that of his non-sponsored videos.
“Collaborations with influencers like Jaclyn Hill and James Charles [cater to] a very specific demographic because of their loyal fan bases,” said Adam Heitzman, co-founder of digital marketing agency Higher Visibility. “As those influencers lose relevance in the beauty industry and the market becomes heavily saturated with other [influencers], authenticity gets lost.”
Micro-influencers, whom audiences tend to perceive as more relevant and relatable, provide advertisers with a higher view-to-engagement ratio and more genuine brand-viewer interactions, according to Glossy’s analysis.
Reviewing the findings
- Viewers crave authenticity online.
- Social media is so oversaturated with sponsored content that users are beginning to ignore advertisements that don’t feel authentic.
- Influencers are seeing the most engagement on sponsored GRWM-style content, rather than on more polished and rehearsed product reviews or tutorials.
- The casual style of GRWM videos allows the influencer to showcase their personality and to connect with the audience.
- Each influencer group prefers a specific type of video, such as micro-influencers in the “best engagement per dollar group” which prefer posting product reviews, as that comes off as most natural and authentic.
- Brands may be best served by allowing influencers to create the content they know will resonate with their viewers.
- Mid-length videos receive the most views, but longer videos tend to receive more quality engagement from viewers.
- Unlike Instagram or TikTok, where users have to actively scroll through content to stay entertained, longer-form videos on YouTube can be played in the background while users engage in household activities like cooking, to be enjoyed similar to TV.
- Videos 15-30 minutes in length received the most views, on average, than longer videos or even those shorter than 15 minutes.
- The most quality engagement occurred on videos 30-45 minutes long, where viewers were more likely to like and comment on the content.
- Shorts help bolster YouTube marketing strategies.
- Shorts can fuel a cycle of engagement between brands and consumers; creators and brands can post quick, casual videos to maintain audience interest during the time between lengthier posts.
- Fifty-nine percent of Gen Z — already the world’s largest generation — use short-form video apps for discovery, including finding longer-form content to watch.
- Shorts often require less production needs and costs than curated long-form videos and content.
- People trust the products micro-influencers recommend and the brands they choose to partner with.
- YouTube channels with smaller subscriber bases create more intimate online communities in which influencers can answer questions and provide product advice in a more personal and authentic manner.
- Although large subscriber bases ensure influencer videos receive a lot of attention, consumers are skeptical of marketing gimmicks being used within the posts.
- Partnerships with micro-influencers that have an established credibility with their audiences will be more beneficial to brands.