Sacramento’s YouTubers thrive in a tough economy by adapting to the pandemic

Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, instructors and entertainers across industries have shifted their content online. Sacramento’s YouTubers were already providing similar services.

How-to tutorials, people playing video games, home workout videos and comedy skits have reeled in YouTube views for years. And most of these videos, which contribute significantly to YouTube’s revenue — $15 billion in 2019 — can be shot at home.

For Sacramento food vlogger Seonkyoung Longest, her workspace was already her kitchen. “During the stay-at-home order we did a live show every day,” Longest said, estimating she worked more than usual during the pandemic. In addition to live cooking demonstrations, she put out about two videos per week for her “Asian at Home” YouTube series featuring variations of Korean recipes.

Longest said daily visits to her website have doubled since the start of the pandemic, and she has also gained followers on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, where she has 1.48 million subscribers. Longest said it’s hard to know how many people found her YouTube channel because of the pandemic or due to other factors, such as the good fortune of having a video go viral.

But on the whole, the past few months have been good to YouTubers.

YouTube viewership continued to grow steadily this year, despite blows the pandemic dealt to many other industries. Many YouTubers and other influencers can work from home, plus stay-at-home orders left significant portions of the population in the house with extra time and fewer sources of entertainment.

Mae Karwowski, CEO of Obviously, a marketing agency that connects influencers with brand deals, said videos focused on doing things at home proliferated this spring.

“Home tours, cleaning and organizing are doing particularly well,” Karwowski said.

Karwowski found that in April, videos drew in more views across multiple platforms — YouTube, IGTV, Instagram stories and TikTok. The company and the online personalities they work with also tripled the number of livestreams they created during the second quarter of this year compared to the first quarter.

“Influencers are really adapting,” Karwowski added. “There’s a lot of at home content, also a lot of wellness content, even for influencers who don’t typically post about that. It’s kind of all centered around at home and taking care of yourself.”

Adapting content to pandemic-era viewers

Savvy YouTubers have found ways to meet new needs during the pandemic, catering to novice cooks, stir-crazy workout enthusiasts and people who just want a friend.

“A lot of people who weren’t cooking before started cooking during the stay-at-home order,” Longest said. “A lot of my easy recipes that use staple ingredients had an amazing reaction from people.”

She filmed videos catered toward newer cooks with titles like “QUICK fried rice” and the “EASIEST garlic shrimp.”

“I created a few different recipes that fit the situation of stay-at-home with limited ingredients and easier recipes for a bigger family,” Longest said.

As the restaurant industry suffered amid a necessary shift to home cooking, people have also foregone gym workouts for home fitness, often guided by certified instructors who film workout videos.

Cassey Ho, known to her viewers as Blogilates, had a vast, established online following when the pandemic hit, but her YouTube channel has grown especially fast recently.

“I’ve been making home workout videos since 2009, so in that sense it’s still the same type of thing,” Ho said. Her YouTube channel boasts 5.24 million subscribers, some of whom have followed her since the beginning. Yet Ho still said she has seen more rapid than usual an increase in subscribers across all of her online platforms (she is active on multiple types of social media and runs a training program for other pilates teachers) since the start of the pandemic.

In many ways, it’s been business as usual for her, but busier.

“I’ve always been filming at my house,” Ho said. “My husband Sam films for me because we’re quarantining together. Lucky for me, we’re able to push out even more content because we’re at home a lot.”

With gyms ordered to close in Sacramento from March 17 until June 12, home workouts became a pandemic trend. Allan Thrall, who runs a YouTube channel with 726,000 subscribers as well as the Sacramento gym Untamed Strength, shifted his focus to making home workout videos this spring. Thrall’s gym and channel are both based on a weightlifting-like sport called Strongman that involves lifting heavy everyday objects.

“We make use of a lot of junk,” Thrall said. “We’re flipping old tractor tires, we’re carrying sandbags, we have beer kegs that are full of sand that we lift, and that’s kind of my niche on YouTube. So I feel like my viewers were already somewhat DIY with their equipment.”

His workout videos over the past few months included deadlifting tires in his garage and picking up blocks of metal.

Creating online community

In what is for many a time of change and isolation, YouTubers have offered words of support to their followers.

“I tried to give some pieces of motivation because it is for most people more difficult to work out at home,” Thrall said.

Likewise, Jacob Longest, Seonkyoung Longest’s husband and business manager, said he thought social media, including YouTube, became a way for people of all ages to communicate while physically isolated.

“A lot more people were turning to social media for normal human interactions,” he said.

Marketing data from Obviously backed up that idea. Karwowski said many YouTubers and influencers are “sharing more of their lives with their audiences.”

“People really feel like they have a connection to these influencers who, for the most part, were not famous beforehand,” she said. “They’re normal people who created an account and continually create content. I think it really has helped when people are alone and trying to find entertainment and trying to find some solace.”

Given the upsides of YouTube and uncertainty surrounding the duration of the pandemic, online friends and fitness trainers may be here to stay.

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