The Ultimate Guide to YouTube Influencer Marketing

GRIN also recommends this free guide:
Influencer Marketing Best Practices

Man looking at YouTube on a laptop

YouTube stands the test of time as one of the leading social media channels for influencer marketing. Many brands ran influencer campaigns on YouTube long before the Creator Economy became a formally established industry.

But just like the world of social commerce, YouTube creators have morphed and grown in many ways. While classic video formats like product reviews and tutorials are still prevalent, the channel has expanded dramatically to include short-form videos, live streams, and so much more.

YouTube influencer marketing: A quick overview

YouTube is the world’s leading video social channel. It primarily offers long-form, horizontally formatted videos. The platform is so popular, in fact, that it is one of the leading services behind the “cut-the-cord” movement and is responsible for major drops in TV viewership over the last 5-10 years.

YouTube influencers are arguably the most talented multi-media creators on social media. Unlike Instagram and TikTok, YouTubers are more proficient with video shooting and editing because there are very few video editing features within the app.

But YouTube is more than just a place to watch engaging videos for free. The channel’s subscribing and comment features allow creators and fans to build deeper connections with one another. These creator-follower relationships help YouTubers curate online communities and inspire ecommerce purchases.

YouTube lead generation with influencer marketing

Leveraging YouTube creators is a great way to generate leads for your brand through influencer marketing. Many of these creators are open to collaborations and have high engagement rates on their videos. 

Sending product to an influencer is a good place to start when looking for a collaboration. Consider asking the creator to review or create content centered around your product and include a call to action or link to your landing page in the description at the end of the video. 

YouTubers’ videos typically have a higher view count and engagement, which helps get loads of visitors to your landing page and instantly boosts your YouTube lead generation. Google even found that YouTube influences teens 70% more effectively than traditional celebrity endorsements, making Gen Z influencers the perfect option for YouTube lead generation.

Be sure to pick influencers in your niche when deciding which creators to represent your brand. Inspect their channels thoroughly to ensure their content style is the right fit. Keep in mind that some influencers may have a substantial subscriber base but don’t get as much engagement due to a high number of fake followers. Avoid influencers with mostly sponsored posts on their page since they create content solely to make money and won’t have your brand’s best interests in mind. 

What sets YouTube apart from all other video social platforms?

“YouTube seems to be aiming even higher—at the biggest screen in the home. But Shorts, its short-form video format launched in 2020, adds a new dimension to its increasingly TV-centric strategy.”

eMarketer, 2021

Google owns YouTube, and as such, YouTube enjoys impeccable integrations with everyday applications, including Chrome browser, Android devices, and Google.com itself. This connectivity gives creators access to broader audiences across millions of lifestyle and professional niches.

And because YouTube is the second-largest search engine online, creators enjoy more options for content discovery. Brands that partner authentically with YouTubers can increase their awareness and grow their communities.

YouTube and long-form, horizontally formatted videos

Traditionally, YouTube has been the primary place to find long-form, horizontally formatted videos for free entertainment. As a result, brands that want to leverage long-form video campaigns consistently see the strongest ROI from YouTube. YouTube does, however, have several challengers for other video styles and categories.

Since launching in 2005, the platform has grown to include more streaming options, like vertical short-form videos, live events, paid TV subscriptions, and more. Not only have these features granted YouTubers more creative outlets, but they also put YouTube in direct competition with other video platforms.

Comparing traditional YouTube & Twitch 

While Twitch does allow creators to upload premade videos, the platform focuses almost exclusively on live streaming. Conversely, YouTube Live is a streaming feature that supports its primary deliverable: long-form video.

That said, the crossover between these two platforms is growing, and each competes with the other within their respective niches (live stream and long-form video uploads).

Twitch maintains the larger streaming audience, making up most of its 140 million active monthly users. YouTube enjoys over 2 billion active monthly users, most of whom want the traditional, uploaded long-form video.

Comparing traditional YouTube & IGTV

Instagram is an exclusively vertical media platform, which signals its aim to serve smartphone users. IG’s long-form video post, IGTV, maintains the vertical view, and while many creators choose to upload horizontal videos onto IGTV, vertical-view videos provide the best user experience.

YouTube caters its main content style to large TV screens. But the platform does support mobile devices and vertically formatted videos.

Comparing YouTube Shorts, TikTok, & IG Reels

YouTube released “Shorts” in 2020 and has already amassed more than 5 trillion total views worldwide. The company recently said it plans to invest even more heavily in Shorts as the platform hopes to challenge TikTok with its own version of short-form, vertical-view videos.

TikTok recently extended its video time limit to three minutes. And while three minutes is still considered short-form by most, TikTok is vying for a piece of the long-form game that YouTube currently dominates.

Long before Shorts, Instagram launched its own short-form, vertical video post—IG Reels. However, Reels retains a 30-second limit while Shorts allows videos up to one minute long.

Considering the high volume of IG Reels and TikTok creator crossover, it’s likely that many creators will expand onto YouTube Shorts to test the waters. If Shorts grows more popular in the coming months and years, then short-form videographers are sure to expand to Shorts, Reels, TikTok, or all three.

Full list of YouTube influencer types & categories

Vlogging

YouTube vloggers are a modern-day video diary. For those with a desire to blog but without the motivation or skills to write, vlogging provides endearing, visual content to tell a story about one’s life.

Many vloggers are lifestyle gurus or industry experts. Their unique, behind-the-scenes look inspires fans to make specific decisions, including what to buy or how to solve a particular problem.

Where does vlogging fit into your influencer marketing funnel?

While vlogs can drive sales, most of these videos drive brand awareness or inform audiences about a solution, product, or service.

Authentic YouTube vlogging campaigns require creators to work their product endorsements organically into their content. A disingenuous brand mention will quickly alienate viewers. As such, any endorsements should support the overall vlog message naturally rather than be the primary focus. 

Gaming

While YouTube influencer marketing extends beyond video games, gaming remains one of the most popular types of YouTube content today. Gamers can easily live stream their play and reactions on the platform and upload their live streams as standalone long-form content for fans to view at any time.

Where do gaming videos fit into your influencer marketing funnel?

Because of the “hands-on” experience of gaming videos, these gamers can raise brand awareness, inform audiences on how to improve their gaming skills (or upgrade their equipment), and drive video game or app sales online.

The gaming brands with the most influencer marketing success actively engage fans in the comments of their creator videos.

Comedy & musical parodies

Viewers today gladly spend hours entertaining themselves with hilarious videos by talented comedians and musicians. Like the Holderness Family (above), some creators begin by uploading pop song parodies, funny skits, etc., for fun. But many YouTubers are also actors trying to create engaged audiences online.

Google statistic that watch time for comedy videos has grown over 60% in the last year
Image via Think with Google

Where do musical parody videos fit into your influencer marketing funnel?

In most cases, YouTube comedy videos are great at building brand awareness. Like some of the unforgettable Super Bowl commercials over the years, humor can endear consumers to your brand, drive website traffic, and more.

Full tutorials

YouTube tutorials are among the best ways to engage audiences who want to learn new things or upgrade their skills.

The selection of tutorial videos online spans everything from professional instruction to hobby hacks and DIY help. These creators typically serve niche audiences and demonstrate a high proficiency within their field or industry.

Where do tutorial videos fit into your influencer marketing funnel?

Depending on the tutorial, these videos primarily inform or nurture audiences in the middle of the marketing funnel. In some cases, YouTube creators can use a tutorial to help your brand drive sales.

Quick “how-to” and FAQ videos

Like the tutorial video style, quick “how-to” and FAQ videos address common questions or problems that audiences face. Creators in this category use these videos to supplement their primary content and engage fan feedback on specific topics and questions.

Where do ‘how-to’ and FAQ videos fit into your influencer marketing funnel?

Many brands use creator FAQ videos to inform their audiences before and after purchasing. These videos can also raise brand awareness within specific audience segments.

Product unboxing and reviews

Outside of gaming and vlogging, YouTube product reviews are among the most popular videos to watch on YouTube. 

Toys are some of the most featured unboxing videos and are popular among kids and collectors. But there are videos for nearly any product or service that you could imagine, including electronics, software, kitchen utensils, outdoor products, and more.

Where do product review videos fit into your influencer marketing funnel?

Product unboxing and review YouTube videos are fantastic ways to drive sales. Creators can reach audiences “on the fence” about a particular product and guide them toward their next purchase with a well-done review. 

Short-form, vertical videos (YouTube Shorts)

As of July 2021, YouTube launched Shorts in the United States. Because this video category is so new, it’s unclear how creators plan to use it. That said, YouTube Shorts support vertically formatted videos and work much the same way as TikTok videos.

YouTube Live

YouTube allows users with at least 1,000 followers to create up to 12 hours of live streaming content. Creators can live stream video gameplay or host events.

Many creators also publish their live streams once the event is over for fans who couldn’t join the live event.

Where do YouTube Live streams fit into your influencer marketing funnel?

Like how brands might use Facebook, Instagram, or TikTok Live, you can use YouTube Live to stream with an experiential marketing campaign.

Your creator can host or join the event and demonstrate use cases, announce a contest, release a new product line, and so much more. These live events work great for audience nurturing, driving sales, or building brand communities of loyal customers.

Classic ads

An often overlooked YouTube video category is the classic ad. Countless brands are taking the opportunity to post their ads on YouTube for organic, viral reach. This approach is far more affordable than TV advertising, and brands can decide later on if they want to sponsor their ad through Google or keep it on their homepage to increase followers.

Additionally, your creative team can partner with influencers to make these ads more compelling. Not only will these influencers bring an incredible amount of YouTube talent, but they will also bring their own engaged audiences to your YouTube channel.

Where do YouTube video ads fit into your influencer marketing funnel?

Brands don’t need to pay to promote their video ads on YouTube. If your creative team creates great video content, you can publish your commercial as a standalone video to drive organic traffic.

From this vantage point, you can use this video style for every stage of your marketing funnel. If you plan to partner with a creator to build your ad, make sure to establish your goals and let that creator know so that they can help you make your ad as effective as possible.

Creator trends on YouTube to keep in mind

Experts predict increased creator crossover among Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok

“With each major social platform (save Twitter) now boasting their own short-form video features, it’s becoming clear that straight-up TikTok clones won’t cut it. Though the features themselves may look the same, each plays a different role in their respective platform’s longer-term strategy—and marketers should pay close attention.”  

eMarketer: Insider Intelligence, 2021

The rise of vertically formatted, short-form videos has been a digital marketing phenomenon since the outbreak of COVID-19. It signals the dominance of smartphones as the chief medium for consuming online content.

Many video creators are looking for ways to integrate and differentiate their personal brands on each of these channels. For some, that means expanding their reach onto another platform. But for others, it means refining their personal brand on Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube to take advantage of the unique benefits of each.

Repurposed creator ad content on YouTube is shifting budgets away from traditional TV advertising

YouTube isn’t just a social media platform. It is also a popular streaming service with more than 4 million paying viewers. Between free viewers and YouTube TV subscribers, brands have access to countless audience segments to target with video ads. That means that reusing high-performing influencer content for paid ads opens up more opportunities to expand your reach.

Bar graph of Digital Channels that Will Benefit from Ad Dollars Shifting Away from Traditional TV
Image via Insider Intelligence

Twitch and YouTube continue to challenge each other on long-form video content

Twitch used to be the dominant social platform for live streaming, but that could soon change as YouTube Live gains momentum. Twitch is still a growing medium with nearly 140 million active users worldwide. And as such, many creators are looking for ways to reach audiences on both channels. 

But Twitch and YouTube also store long-form videos for fans, where YouTube has a distinct advantage. While unique in their own way, these two channels provide easy cross-platform promotion for creators and brands.

YouTube creators leverage SEO to increase online visibility

While operating on the leading search engine for video and audio, many YouTubers are becoming accomplished SEO experts. To improve their discoverability, they learn to include SEO best practices into their video titles, descriptions, tags, and hashtags.

A creator’s reach is in their video views, but the “money metrics” lie in the comments

One of the greatest benefits of partnering with YouTube creators is gaining access to their online communities. These influencers carry on robust discussions with their fans in their video comments, including tips for product purchases and best practices.

As brands develop closer relationships with their best YouTubers, marketers actively engage fans with creator comments. These YouTube conversations add a whole new dimension to YouTube influencer marketing campaigns.

How to know which YouTube influencers are right for your brand

Not every great YouTuber is going to help you achieve your goals. But a little bit of due diligence can help you pinpoint that perfect fit.

What do you want your creators to accomplish?

Depending on the creator and video category, some will be better than others at helping you reach certain marketing goals. For example, product reviews are usually best for driving sales, while vloggers are better for raising brand awareness.

Who is your audience?

Your influencers should represent your ideal customer. When recruiting YouTube influencers, it’s always a good idea to read comment threads under that influencer’s top posts. These conversations will show you the kind of fans the creator has and how well they align with your target audience.

How will you track campaign performance on YouTube?

Because YouTube allows you to include links in video descriptions, affiliate links and UTMs are great ways to attribute sales and web traffic to your influencers.

You can also assign engagement metrics to your marketing KPIs, such as views, likes, comments, and subscribers.

After deciding how you will track campaign performance, you can use many of those same metrics to help you find the right YouTubers for your upcoming campaigns.

Which YouTube influencer type, voice, & style will best help you achieve success?

The final thing to consider when recruiting YouTube influencers is how their style and personality match your brand. You want your creator team to embody the spirit of your brand without them having to compromise their natural voice and tone.

11 tips for mastering influencer marketing on YouTube

1. Recruit YouTube influencers that will help you meet your campaign goals and KPIs.

Before you begin prospecting, you need to define what success looks like for your campaign. What do you want your creators to do for your brand?

The answer to this question reveals your marketing goals. While it’s good to have more than one marketing objective for each campaign, it’s best to narrow them down into 2-3 at the most. For example, common YouTube influencer campaign goals are:

  • Increased web traffic
  • User-generated content
  • Sales/conversions
  • Subscriptions
  • Impressions
  • Social followers

Once you identify your goals, you can break each goal into one or more key performance indicators (KPIs). You can then assign creator performance metrics to each KPI to track ROI during and after your campaign.

2. Remember that most YouTube creators are experienced videographers.

It’s no secret that YouTube creators are typically more expensive than creators on other platforms. The reason for this is that high-performing YouTubers must possess strong video shooting and editing skills.

Line graph of Average cost paid per influencer marketing post in the United States from 2014 to 2019
Image via Statista

Videographers on other channels can take advantage of in-app editing tools. But YouTube has very few of those tools (with the exception of Shorts). To succeed on YouTube, creators must be more proficient with cameras and professional editing software.

That said, YouTube campaigns are often highly lucrative. When you find that great brand-influencer fit on YouTube, the returns are worth the investment.

3. Lean into YouTube’s primary advantage—long-form, horizontal videos—while experimenting with Shorts and live streaming when appropriate.

The center of gravity for YouTube is its collection of long-form videos with a horizontal view. When you’re just getting started on YouTube, you’re going to get the best results by focusing your campaigns on long-form, horizontal content. 

That said, experimentation is the bread and butter of good marketing. So once you have a solid foundation of traditional influencer-generated content, you can branch out into some of the other video types, such as Shorts and Live streaming campaigns.

4. Compose YouTube campaign briefs that set your creators up for success.

Once you and your influencer agree to terms, you’ll want to put those terms into writing, as well as spell out your campaign guidelines.

Most campaign briefs include the following information:

  • Agreed upon compensation, gifts, etc.
  • Campaign timeline
  • Hashtags
  • Video style & type
  • Best practices for integrating product/message into content
  • Key details (sale promotions, contest rules, keywords, etc.)

Your campaign brief should function as the “go-to” resource for your influencers before and during your campaign. While you shouldn’t make your YouTubers feel micromanaged, informing them on goals, KPIs, and best practices will empower your creators to achieve maximum results.

5. Establish methods for tracking campaign performance.

It’s important to know when your influencers contribute to your campaign’s success. Some of the best ways to track performance include:

  • Hashtags
  • Affiliate links
  • Discount codes

One of the benefits of YouTube is that you can include hyperlinks in video descriptions and comments. That’s why YouTube influencers often do a great job generating website traffic for their brand partners.

6. Google indexes your video descriptions, so don’t forget to use the right keywords and SEO best practices.

Search engine optimization can help your influencer content attract more views and interactions when it comes to video descriptions. 

Most YouTubers understand basic video SEO. But to ensure success, it’s always a good idea to provide your creators with keywords and a few phrase suggestions in your campaign brief.

7. Engage respectfully in the video post comments to encourage UGC and build relationships with your audience.

As YouTuber followers engage with your influencer’s content, you can answer questions, ask questions, or offer guidance to consumers in the comments. 

That said, remember that the creator is the expert on their audience. You should consult your influencers about the best way to interact with followers during a campaign. Ideally, your influencer knows your product well enough to answer most questions, but you will attract followers to your page if you engage in comments well.

8. Look for ways to repurpose influencer content for paid video ads.

High-performing influencer videos will make incredible paid ads. Reusing your influencer content in this way will save you production costs, in addition to increasing the ad’s performance.

Bar graph of most effective advertising formats on YouTube
Image via Statista

If you intend to build a library of YouTube influencer content, ensure that you’ve mutually agreed to content permissions with that influencer. Content usage rights is a standard piece in a creator contract, so don’t be afraid to ask.

9. It’s okay to repurpose your YouTube videos across other platforms, so long as you adjust the length and format.

Video isn’t just popular on YouTube. It is one of the best-performing post types across every social media platform. If you want to send your creator content to multiple platforms, be sure to use the proper dimensions.

You can provide the best possible user experience across every platform you use by taking optimal dimensions into account. 

10. Incorporate custom hyperlinks (affiliate links, UTMs, etc.) and coupon codes.

Tracking video conversions on YouTube can be challenging. You may be able to tell how many viewers saw the video, but it’s difficult to determine how many viewers actually converted. Viewers may, for example, watch your video and then open another tab in their browser to visit your website. From there, they may or may not make a purchase.

When you work on a YouTube campaign with different influencers, create and provide a custom tracking link to each influencer. This tracking link can drive users to your main product page or website. The influencers can then add these links in the descriptions of their YouTube videos.

This way, it will be easier for you to determine which influencers are doing well and sending customers your way. You will then be able to maximize results and ROI by continuing to invest in the most effective creators. Based on the data, you can then work with top-performing influencers again and discontinue partnerships with poor performers.

Providing a coupon code with your videos is an excellent way to track conversions. Coupon codes work on several levels. They attract consumers and give them an added incentive to convert. It is especially helpful if your brand is new to the market because it can convince consumers who have never heard of you before to give your products or services a try.

Influencers love giving coupon codes to their followers. Coupon codes help them keep their current followers engaged and help them attract new followers. And their followers love coupon codes because they give them a chance to experience the products or services at a discount.

11. Be bold and try new things.

Don’t be afraid to experiment. Sometimes taking chances works wonders. In the case of influencer marketing, it isn’t surprising to see beauty or fitness influencers taking part in unboxing campaigns of mobile phones. There have also been instances in which carmakers have partnered with beauty influencers focusing on the hot new colors of the cars they sell.

Dare to step out of your niche and collaborate with influencers who aren’t really from your space if they can help you reach your target audience. You never know what will catch the fancy of consumers. If an influencer not from your niche is willing and ready to partner with your brand, go ahead and experiment.

For example, Subaru, one of the fastest-growing car companies in the U.S., collaborated with influencers from different niches for their #MeetAnOwner campaign. They showcased the lives of different people who were owners of Subaru cars.

Subaru collaborated with Devin Graham, popularly known as DevinSuperTramp, an adventurous YouTuber known for extreme stunt videos. In one of the videos, he slides off a 500-foot cliff. The idea was to show ties between Subaru and outdoor adventures.

Devin created three videos that generated 1.2M views and 45K likes with an engagement rate of 4.5%. That’s pretty impressive!

Subaru also partnered with magician Zach King for their promotion. Subaru thus experimented with different influencers and succeeded in creating a memorable campaign.

Most common YouTube influencer marketing pitfalls to avoid

1. Giving influencers strict creative guidelines

YouTube influencers know their followers. They know the kind of videos their followers appreciate. When you collaborate with an influencer, make sure you don’t shackle their creativity with overly strict guidelines.

Give your influencers the freedom to create and experiment. They may surprise you with their ingenuity. If you interfere too much creatively, influencers will not use their authentic voices and styles. Don’t expect them to sell your products or services straight up—partner with them to raise awareness about and build trust in your brand.

2. Focusing too much on functions and features

It may be very tempting to use a medium like YouTube to communicate everything about your products or services. If you were to create a YouTube video in-house, you might try to describe all of the functions and features of your product or service.

But when you collaborate with influencers, that is not the best approach. Influencers should focus on the usefulness of the product or service and how it will improve the lives of their followers.

3. Not allowing creators to incorporate complementary brands and products

The ultimate goal is to collaborate with creators who prioritize your brand over all others. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t other brands that can elevate your product and make it more desirable to consumers. Trust your creators to understand when this is the case and allow them to introduce other products in branded videos that will make your brand seem more appealing to their viewers. 

4. Underpaying video creators

A paid creator is a happy creator. Keep in mind many of these YouTubers create studio-quality content for a fraction of the price. Don’t nickel and dime them. By paying a little extra here and there, you will build trust and nurture a stronger relationship with your influencers while still paying far less than you might with traditional forms of advertising. 

Conclusion: YouTube influencers help you target engaged, niche audiences online using compelling visual content. 

YouTube is the second-oldest social media platform behind Facebook. And despite its age, it remains one of the most popular channels for audiences of all ages. Its creators possess video shooting and editing skills that many creators lack on other platforms. For these reasons, YouTube influencer marketing is a great way to engage audiences online with professional-quality video content.

Make sure you understand the different creator types to get the most out of your YouTube influencer marketing campaigns. When used correctly, each video category on YouTube can help you achieve and exceed your influencer marketing goals.

Frequently Asked Questions

Yes. YouTubers produce some of the highest quality videos on social media. Leveraging these creators’ content gives brands access to their loyal, engaged following and studio-quality content for a more affordable price.  

The most common ways YouTube influencers promote products are through shout-outs, tutorials, unboxing campaigns, and product placement. 

There are roughly 1.5 million influencers on YouTube, which has more than $6.6 billion in market spending worldwide.  

Was this article helpful? Give it a share!

Read Next

Subscribe-Frame-ee (1)

Be part of the GRIN, access to our weekly newsletter

Stay up to date with all things Influencer Marketing focused. We cover the best new tools & platforms to help you succeed.