Strategic Thinking Matters More Than Technical Skills, Behind Every Frame is True Expertise: A Heart-to-Heart Conversation with YouTubers Ray Du and Chih-Chyi

▲ Popular Taiwanese YouTubers Chih-Chyi(left) and Ray Du share practical knowledge that many video content creators should have by their first-hand experience.

Have you ever dreamed of becoming a YouTuber? “Ray Du English” YouTube channel was already releasing interesting English learning videos in 2015, before the term “YouTuber” first appeared. Ray Du, who was originally an official worker, quit his office job to focus on creation. His channel is the second largest YouTube channel in Taiwan, which has since accumulated 2.6 million subscribers. Chih-Chyi Chang is the YouTube channel host of “Chih-Chyi 77” (Chinese name 志祺77). He is the founder of the design and marketing company “Simpleinfo” (Chinese name 簡訊設計), and the founder of the public issue Facebook page “Simpleinfo” (Chinese name 圖文不符). In 2018, he started the YouTube channel that is focused on news issues and social phenomena, which has since gained 630k subscribers.

After a period of time, “Gamania Talk” is back and invites Ray Du and Chih-Chyi, two of the hottest YouTubers right now to talk and share pro-tips of being a YouTuber, and the good and the bad that comes along with the job.

Can anyone become a YouTuber? The Secrets to Long-term Popularity

Ray Du: Can anyone become a Youtuber? The answer to this question will vary according to when it is asked. For example, like 2015, the time when I started. You could find your audience just as long as you have an idea. It has become more difficult nowadays. The advantage is that the technical barrier is lower. A high school student can create a cool video with a cellphone. The number of the audience and the viewing time have also been continuously growing in the past 5 years. The difficulty is that the labels in each field have been occupied. It’s very hard to attempt any challenge. Those challenges are less likely to be ideas and filming techniques but content originality.

Chih-Chyi: There are 3 things that a creator is always doing: learning new knowledge, reinterpreting, and outputting. The most critical point for a YouTuber to remain popular is a well-prepared framework of these three tasks for a stable incoming source of inspiration. I would suggest new YouTubers to keep their jobs at first, and receive new stimulation in daily life. For instance, only office workers know the anguish, anger, and annoyance of office work. This will make it easier for an office worker to re-interpret those life experiences. The technical skills are rather much less important.

Ray Du, Is the Key to Over 1M Subscribers Crossover Video?

Ray Du: My personal journey involved early entry, gaining a topic kind of like a label, so it was relatively easier. One other key factor to gaining over 1 million subscribers is crossover video. It is currently still a way for rapid growth subscription in Taiwan. Communicate with an established good audience and introduce a new channel can expand the user’s viewpoint, and extend their stay on the platform.

Chih-Chyi: I remember you started our crossover collaboration in 2017. Can you talk about the actual situation and the results?

Ray Du: The best result is that following the release of the crossover video, I gained 13k subscribers overnight. (Chih-Chyi: Gaining 30k or more subscribers a month is one of the top 95 percentile of YouTube in Taiwan. 13k subscribers overnight is quite an astonishing achievement.) That time we did a crossover with YouTuber Saint (Chinese name 聖結石) doing an exchange challenge when Saint was at the height of his viewership volume. At that time people found the crossover video new and exciting, but it’s no longer a curiosity nowadays.

Chih-Chyi: There were only individual creators in the past. A lot of people start out by groups now, such as “What are you doing this week” (Chinese name 欸你這週要幹嘛) and “Beauty Wu” (Chinese name 見習網美小吳). These channels incorporate crossover video into their videos. So with the advancement of time, you will see changes in different content formats, and what strategies are effective. It’s impossible to achieve the same kind of success in 2020 with crossover video. You must try new methods.

Let’s Talk Advertorial, is it Definitely more Effective than Ads?

Chih-Chyi: Let’s talk about the keyword that people think of when mentioning YouTubers – advertorial. How do you select your advertorial subjects, Ray Du?

Ray Du: First, it has to relate to the nature of the channel. For example, “howhow”’s content originally focuses on advertorials, so basically, he could do everything. We still have to find compatible ones, services that relate to learning or English. We have a workplace pop quiz series, in which we go to a company to test the English skills of the employees. In that series, there are some videos that companies come to us for collaboration. Second, can it blend into to the existing video format? If so, then the possibility for collaboration is very high.

Chih-Chyi: Ray Du just mentioned a very interesting concept. The workplace pop quiz was originally a special program at Google that had a very high viewership, which attracted inquiries from other companies. The companies’ HR already saw the video. The format was fixed. So the creator doesn’t have to spend extra time thinking up new scripts.

Another traditional format is being revived on YouTube, which is ad placements in the opening like Japanese drama. This involves a very low cost on the creator’s part but 100k views per episode could bring very high value for the advertiser. Perhaps, we don’t always have to do advertorials with YouTubers.

▲ Chih-Chyi’s YouTube channel has a very well-allocated profit model. He reminds the audience that ad placements may be as effective or more as advertorial videos.

From Individual to Teamwork

Chih-Chyi: Most YouTubers have this “I can do it all” attitude. How did you grow from one person to a team, Ray Du?

Ray Du: I was advised by a master. My boss told me that I needed to free up my own time. At that moment, my reaction to that was thinking “How is that possible?” How can I not edit my own videos and write my own plan? Then I found people to help out and I discovered that I really need more time to think about creative stuff or projects that increase my influence.

Chih-Chyi: We started with a 4-5 person team. This is more sustainable. We can see some of the extremely popular examples are all extreme values with a huge deviation: about 1,000 people have over 100k subscribers, and around 20,000 people have over 10k subscribers. How do you think you could become a sensation? At the time I thought that it would take about 2 years to achieve the goal and I knew that I’m not the kind of person who just make videos for long term and I must rely on a team. That’s how I convinced myself.

YouTuber & Entertainer, Same but Different

Ray Du: I think YouTubers essentially do what entertainers do, which is to produce content, to deliver some values, whether in information or entertainment. The difference is that YouTubers have more control over their channels, and can decide when to release the content. Entertainers don’t have so much control on themselves. Most YouTubers do not have the desire to be on television. They put everything on their channels, and promote through the channel, which is the place where they accumulate influence.

Therefore, the main differences are the dominance and the platform. This is why many entertainers are gradually thinking about creating content on YouTube. Many entertainers have told me that they completely don’t care whether this platform is profitable. All they care about is having their channel to talk to their fans. This attitude makes them dare to do something bigger, when they are doing content, because they know it will show them. It is also because of this quality that the YouTube becomes such a diversified platform.

Gains and Losses that Come with Fame

Chih-Chyi: It is hard for me to imagine the attention of 2.6 million fans. There must be some gains and losses that come with such attention. Could you talk to us a little about that?

Ray Du: Loss of a bit of mental freedom. I think a Youtuber is a rather lonely job. You have a lot of pressure, such as at the time when you run out of creative ideas. The greatest loss is personal space in your daily life.

I’ll give you an extreme example. One time, after I posed for photos with audience outside an MRT station, I felt someone was following me as I was walking to the studio. I turned around and found the person was one of them. I walked very fast to get rid of him and almost ran up the stairs. I still don’t know if he was going the same way as I was or if he really wanted to know where I lived. Thus, there will be some disorder in your private space.

Chih-Chyi: In contrast to entertainers, people have certain expectations for YouTubers. They hope you are exactly like the person in the video in real life including me when I see other Youtubers. However, you are always playing a role in front of a camera. If you are recognized in daily life, you have to get into that character immediately. For instance, when you aren’t wearing your glasses, you have to put them on for a photo (smile).

Trolls’ View and Public Relations Crisis Management

Ray Du: Two incidents that left stronger impressions were the intern incident last July and the New York Times public letter this April. The first one could be called a labor dispute, in which an intern posted a very long hate review that attracted a lot of speculation and exaggeration online. We settled with the intern and clarified the situation. Then we had to decide how to face the public. The incidents generally end after a settlement. The process requires a lot of PR management skills. How do we face the issue positively? What kind of logic will make the public clearer? How do we improve in the future?

The New York Times case was on an even higher level. At the time, we had an impulse to speak for Taiwan and frankly, we really didn’t think too much. We hadn’t expected to cause such a huge splash.

Chih-Chyi: At that time, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said something and some friends thought we must respond. I hadn’t slept after I got the news late at night, and started to create a fundraising webpage and call meetings. In the end, we bought a full-page ad in the New York Times and then found over 10 international creators to make a video about Taiwan’s success in preventing a pandemic which gained nearly 100 million views. This seemingly aspiring story actually attracted so much hateful comments during the first stage. Everyone involved was in deep panic.

Ray Du: We really got so many hateful comments and it was beyond our wit. However, we changed our direction because of these voices of opposition so that the final result could attract the attention of important figures, who have even shared the message. This is a very sensitive political topic. Because the message we were delivering was: Taiwan can help, over 10 creators were willing to publish the video later on. They were all YouTubers with over 1 million subscribers, or even 10 million subscribers.

Is Being a YouTuber Still a Dream Job?

Chih-Chyi: Being a YouTuber was considered a dream job in 2016, 2017. Do you think that is still the case, Ray Du? What advice could you give those who are thinking about joining the video content creation business?

Ray Du: It is still a dream job, because you can do what you like to do, and talk about what you care about. You can influence a lot of people, and such influence can provide you with income. Finally, it’s very free. Of course, freedom and discipline are two sides of the same coin. It doesn’t have to be a daily update, but are you disciplined enough to produce at least one or two videos a week?

As for advice, I think it is much difficult now. The creators with faster subscription growth lately are all very unique with great content. That is the only way you could stand out in this competitive era of YouTube. Difficulty does not mean impossibility. This platform also continues to give bonuses to new creators. As long as you are sure that you are a diamond, and you have a lot to share and a lot to say, then YouTube is still the best stage for you to shine.

▲ Taiwanese senior YouTuber Ray Du encourages everyone to follow their dreams on this platform as long as they are determined.

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