MrBeast urges VidCon attendees to focus on the audience, not the algorithms

Walking into VidCon, one of the most anticipated sessions was a conversation between YouTube’s Director of Product Management Todd Beaupre and ultra-popular designer Jimmy’MrBeastDonaldson. The purpose of their conversation was to explain YouTube’s enigmatic algorithm to creators.

It turned out that Beaupré and Donaldson used their deep algorithmic analysis to tell participants not focus on the algorithm. Beaupré recommended that creators adapt their language. Instead of asking questions like “How can I satisfy the algorithm?” they should ask “How can I satisfy the audience?” Donaldson accepted this advice and urged the crowded audience before him to write down Beaupré’s wisdom.

“I would probably like to hear a little less about the algorithm,” Donaldson said. “Just make good content.”

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Donaldson and Beaupré didn’t just express skepticism about YouTube’s platform-wide algorithm obsession. In general, they warned creators to focus too much on analytics at the expense of engagement and content development. “Don’t get obsessed with real-time stats,” Beaupré said. “Just have patience and don’t worry too much. Donaldson agreed that videographers shouldn’t panic if their followers don’t like a new video. He explained that even though he has over 97 million subscribers on his main channel, he still gets most of his views from non-subscribers.

Despite their many warnings about the dangers of focusing too much on the numbers, Beaupré and the Beast spent part of their session discussing YouTube’s algorithm. Interestingly, the machine learning system behind YouTube’s recommendation engine and the human profiting from those recommendations approach online video in the same way: they both look at past videos to predict the types of content that will work well in the future. Beaupré said the algorithm considers personalization (“what do we understand from each viewer”) and performance (“how a video performs”) when selecting its recommendations.

For Donaldson, learning from the past means making each video better than the last. “You just make a ton of videos, improve something every time, and do it for as long as you can.” The result, he said, is that your 100th video will be four times better than the first. At the same time, designers should not be afraid to adapt. Donaldson noted that he stopped doing a series in which he donated large sums to Twitch streamers because he didn’t want to be known as the guy who donated to Twitch streamers. “Sometimes you have to make a decision, even if a series is doing well,” he said. The best plan is to “predict the future instead of dropping something in the ground and spinning”.

Creators who are willing to adapt will have an easier time breaking into YouTube than those who stick strictly to the guidelines they believe the algorithm imposes. Beaupré noted that YouTube keeps tabs on channels that have 300 subscribers and “thousands of channels” hit that benchmark every day. If you want to stand out among that crowd, it helps to tell a story that your audience will love, no matter what the numbers might say.

Sharon D. Cole