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VOL. 40 | NO. 18 | Friday, April 29, 2016

So you want to be a social media star

Some local sensations have figured it out. Here’s how

By Linda Bryant

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A little more than a year ago, Leslie Mosier uploaded a video to Facebook and Instagram of her 2-year-old dog, an extraordinarily mellow 20-pound pug named Doug, skittering around Dragon Park with a pug-shaped Mylar balloon tied to his torso.

When she awoke the next day, she explains, the Facebook post had 20 million views. Fast forward a year, and the “pug balloon” posting has 4.3 million likes on Facebook and a legion of Instagram fans.

And, Mosier, who recently graduated from Belmont University, has a career she never dreamed of.

She’s not alone. Tennesseans have found their way to being Internet sensations (some overnight, some long range) with music, art, culture, children’s programming, life skills and many other topics.

Nashville even has its own guru for YouTube and other platforms, Kevin Grosch, CEO of Made in Network (www.madeinnetwork.com), a local company formed around the belief that YouTube and other compatible social media platforms are the future of entertainment and branding.

Made in Network’s channels and clients garner over 70 million-plus views a month. Grosch, 26, has Belmont ties, too, graduating in 2012.

But, Grosch warns, turning pages views into financial success doesn’t happen overnight.

“You want to start out and build your audience and your brand, and that’s not the time to quit your day job,” he explains. “The revenue won’t be consistent. The people I work with know when they’ve reached a point they can go fulltime. Their income becomes consistent and relatively predictable.”

He advises fulltime YouTubers he works with to not quit their jobs until their income is in the “mid-five-figure-range.”

Income is usually a mix of income sources, he continues, from YouTube ads, outside commercial deals and sponsorships, bookings, speaking engagements, special appearances and even merchandise. Last year the world’s most popular YouTube stars made $7 million to $12 million.

This pug is dug

Doug, who is known by millions worldwide as Doug the Pug (www.itsdougthepug.com), is a huge social media star. He has his own film and TV agent, an online store and a book coming out on November 1. Doug has a YouTube channel, too.

“Doug is adding thousands of followers on Instagram a day and multiple thousands of likes on Facebook a day,” Mosier says. “The future looks really promising. We have a lot of travel plans, and hopefully we’ll get a TV show.”

Although Mosier, 25, was experimenting with Doug as a “baby brand” when she posted her first viral video, she never imagined he’d attract a cult following. She definitely didn’t think she’d be able to quit her day job to do such things as fly Doug to Las Vegas for the ACM awards.

The same is true for 25-year-old Megan Davies (http://megandaviesmusic.com/), a Nashville-based singer-songwriter and accomplished guitarist, who was able to quit her 9-5 job 18 months ago after her YouTube channel and Spotify tracks attracted hundreds and thousands of fans.

‘Slow build’ to internet star

Before she built a YouTube channel with almost 800,000 (and counting) fans, Davies made the decision to focus on the business side of the music industry for her 9-5 job.

The Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, native graduated from Belmont in 2012 and stayed in Nashville to carve a career in the music industry as a background professional.

Several of Megan Davies’ YouTube videos have views in the multi-millions.

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“At Belmont, I learned that I love many aspects of the music industry – recording, publishing, songwriting and producing,” Davies says.

“I also realized soon after I graduated that I wasn’t suited for a traditional country music path. I honestly felt a little lost, but I knew writing and recording songs were at my core. Whether or not I got a deal from my music was an auxiliary concern.

“I just knew I loved the process, but I was resigned to working my day job and writing and co-writing music at night and on weekends,” Davies continues. “I thought it was the more realistic career choice.”

In 2013, Davies recorded a mash-up with her younger sister, Jaclyn, who was visiting from school in Pennsylvania, and Tasha Peter, a friend and music business major at Belmont. The recording turned out so well that Davies’ mom encouraged the trio to make a YouTube music video of it.

“I was camera shy and dragged my feet about the whole thing,” Davies explains. “I had an inactive YouTube channel so we put it up. We got super excited when it got 1,000 views.

“A month later someone posted it on an app for Android phones, and overnight, it got 15,000 views. It seemed like a huge amount at the time.

“I had no idea what it meant or how to make money from it,” she continues. “I thought, ‘Maybe I will just record another one.’ That’s how it all began, and it just kept going from there.

“It was a slow build. It was never growing at an insane rate. It wasn’t instant stardom. I just started working my butt off and focused on creating great content and always making it better every time.”

Several of Davies’ YouTube videos have views in the multi-millions. The most popular video, a mash-up of “See You Again” by Wiz Khalifa, “Love Me Like You Do” by Ellie Goulding and “Sugar” by Maroon 5 has a staggering 29 million views.

Davies also works with Grosch, who sat down The Ledger to talk about his growing company and the nuts and bolts of becoming a social media sensation.

Tell us about some of your biggest stars and clients, especially ones based in Nashville.

"CinemaSins (www.youtube.com/user/CinemaSins) is the biggest channel we work with. They are huge YouTube stars. They are at 5.5 million subscribers. They get almost two million views an episode – there’s two coming out a week.’’

(CinemaSins is a YouTube channel that offers a humorous take on the “sins” of popular movies. Their most-viewed video, “Everything Wrong with Frozen in 10 Minutes or Less,” has about 19.6 views. CinemaSins is in the top 5 percent of YouTube entertainment and pop culture channels, putting it in the same league as the Saturday Night Live and America’s Got Talent channels. YouTube analysis site SocialBlade estimates CinemaSins’ annual income at somewhere between $110,500 and $1.8 million a year, a range that highlights how difficult it is to measure actual online success.)

“I became really good friends with Chris Atkinson and Jeremy Scott, the creators of the show. They are local guys. I came on board a couple of years ago to help them grow and to help them handle some of the bigger business deals.

Kevin Grosch with Made In Network

-- Michelle Morrow | The Ledger

“Chris and Jeremy have a massive audience. A huge reason for this is that they are unique talents. They both have a rare ability to point things out about movies and write well. They know their community, which is an important aspect of being a YouTube personality. They offer something in the movie-review niche that fans can’t get anywhere else.

“We work with Marty Schwartz, the largest guitar instructor on YouTube. He is super charismatic and talented. We have a whole slate of new programming and an entire rebrand coming for Marty. He has about 1.6 million subscribers.

What about musicians?

“The Megan Davies YouTube channel has really exploded over the past couple of years. She will hit a million subscribers this year. She’s had a lot of popular videos, and she’s popular on other platforms such as Spotify. She’s also touring, and that comes from her becoming big on YouTube first.

“Megan, who I became friends with when I was at Belmont, was committed to doing YouTube as a big part of her strategy early on.

“Most YouTube music stars are in a different mode than a traditional recording star. If you go the traditional route, it’s hard to use the platform as a major tool because managers, artists and labels present other really important demands to build a career. The artists have to be continually touring; they have to be putting out records; and they have to be doing radio.

“YouTube content often becomes an afterthought for those on a traditional track. When that happens it’s really difficult to prioritize it and make it work.

“I think that’s going to continue to shift but it’s going to take some really big YouTube success stories to shine a light on that. Megan is doing really well and becoming a great success story doing music on her own terms.’’

It seems unusual to have a CEO of a hot local company be so young. How did you get your start?

“I graduated from Belmont in 2012. Originally, I was a songwriting major, but as soon as I got to school I found out I love producing. I started working with live artists.

“A lot of them were my friends. They’d make an album, go out on the road, tour and make a 1,000-CD run of their album. It was really frustrating for me. I looked around and started seeing how much opportunity there is out there for people making music and art to reach their consumers directly.

“There weren’t a lot of people thinking that way at the time, especially in regards to a lot of the independent music I love.

“My attention was drawn to the world of music publishing. I saw how it was another traditional gatekeeper for songwriters trying to make it in the business.

“I started a student-run publishing company at Belmont, and that was my first taste of entrepreneurship. My proposition to Belmont students was: “I’ll help you with more than your record; I’ll help with your marketing campaign. It built from there. I just started working with people around campus or in my classes who I thought were really talented. I wasn’t focused on one genre.

‘’We’d have people from the industry come to our classes and say, “We don’t really have the answers.” I thought, “If they don’t have the answers, and I don’t have the answers, that means I can make the answers up.”

Leslie Mosier’s Doug the Pug has skyrocketed to fame, largely on the strength of a single Facebook video that caught the world’s imagination.

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“That was a super-freeing realization for me. I realized there were no written rules dictating what I wanted to do. I could pave my own way. No one was going to tell me I was doing it the wrong way because there’s no right way.’’

You launched your company, Made in Network, in late 2013. It didn’t take long before you were making a pretty big splash and helping to launch some major YouTube stars and channels. Walk us through how you found your ‘sweet spot’ so fast.

“After I graduated I wanted to continue to build marketing campaigns with different technology platforms specific to artists. I was doing it on a consultancy basis, and then I was introduced with some folks at Google, and I began to build direct relationships with them.

“The idea was to try to work with their platforms on some of these campaigns. Working with Google allowed me to get insight into how YouTube was evolving and changing as a platform. I learned about how creators specific to YouTube were building these massive audiences.

“I learned how they were doing it and how they were making money doing it. I saw how companies around them were either springing up from nothing or transitioning to work with them more.

“I saw how consumer behavior was changing. They are doing much more than just watching shows on television, listening to the radio or reading an article on a website. All these worlds were – and still are – converging around video. I could see that YouTube had a play in all of them. I saw a massive opportunity.

“Then, things started to happen very fast. I was seeing all these companies popping up in that space and seeing YouTube stars exploding on the scene. I realized I needed to get back to actually making content.

“The initial intention was a pretty straight forward idea. I knew how people are building shows and channels on YouTube, so I said, ‘I’m going to do that for myself.’

“I wanted to take my own show ideas, ideas of my friends and bring them to the table. We’d produce them, launch them on YouTube channels and hopefully build audiences and program them in a way that’s very similar to how television channels are programmed.

“Taking that to what we do today, it’s definitely a transition, but it’s not completely separate from the ideas I had in the beginning. We started to build our own channels and partner with other folks who had channels themselves or who had an idea or brand that we could really help build and grow.

“As we were doing this, we had advertisers come to us to get access to our audience. We didn’t just give them access to our audience. We actually had a number of brands that wanted to build their own audience.

“They had seen what Red Bull and GoPro had done to a huge degree on YouTube and other content platforms. They said they wanted something similar, so we created another part of our business that was kind of a turnkey solution for brands looking to build a YouTube strategy.

“Now we have our own channels and shows that we actually own or partner with others on. We work with artists, musicians, your social media personalities, and we have the corporate work. Our structure is similar to an agency model where we work with clients on a long-term basis to build out their content strategy.’’

Can you give examples of how you help your artists and corporate clients build their audiences?

“There are definitely a number of strategies that allow you to build an audience. There’s a whole set of best practices. One of the most important ones is that you need to make sure your content has some sort of hook to it.

“It’s just like if you’re trying to write a song or come up with an ad campaign. It’s all about coming up with something that people will remember. Content that’s shareable and memorable. You want your audience to come back to it again and again.

“People get really excited about their ideas. They’ll pitch a concept without thinking about their audience. Often they are trying to appeal to a subset of their existing audience – not to their entire audience. You want to be able to attract people who’ve never heard you before. You need something that grabs them and pulls them in.

“Personality is so important on YouTube. If you aren’t coming from a place of passion, the personality usually doesn’t come through. At first on YouTube it was about the individual in front of a camera just talking to their audience.

“There’s still a lot of that, but it’s really become about an audience trying to connect to a creator on a one-to-one level as opposed to feeling like you are watching at a distance. That close feeling really needs to come through.

“At the core of any really successful YouTube strategy is understanding today’s media consumption habits and how important multiple platforms are. Younger audiences are used to going on and watching someone talk to them while they are playing video games.

“That’s what they’ve come to expect from entertainment now. They get music that way. That’s the core of a really successful YouTube strategy.’’

What separates a mediocre YouTube channel from an up-and-coming potential hit YouTube channel?

“Anyone who has Gmail technically has the ability for a YouTube channel. What separates a channel no one will go to from one people will want to return over and over to is this: It has to be an active place.

“To be able to stand out among the massive surplus of channels you need to go by the ‘best practices’ of YouTube, and that’s what we’re talking about here. You want your audience to think, “This is a real channel.” Regularity is hugely important. An episodic format is also important. A schedule of regular programming is important.’’

How important are production values?

“I get asked that question a lot. Production values are becoming continually more important. That being said, a video doesn’t have to be amazing to capture an audience. On one hand, if you are strolling through a feed of videos and you see one that looks a little bit better than another, you’re probably going to click on the one that looks a little bit nicer.

“But there’s also a point of diminishing returns when you’ve spent too much money on a production. It can look too slick and polished and then the audience doesn’t see it as ‘theirs’.

“Audiences are very attuned to authenticity. They know it when an outsider comes in and doesn’t seem real or believable.’’

Can you have a smaller fan base and have some level of success? Do your subscribers have to be in the millions?

“You can monetize from day one. Whether or not it meets your needs depends on a person’s lifestyle. But it also depends on how much money you’re putting into the productions, how often you’re releasing and on your volume of use. You can definitely be making a substantial amount of money with 200,000 viewers.

“You can monetize in different ways. There’s money from advertisers who buy ads on your channel directly through YouTube. Those are the pre-rolls and banners you see running on YouTube.

“There are also opportunities for approaching a channel and saying, “Hey, you’ve got this great audience. I’d love to work with you.” These can include custom endorsements, integrations and sponsorships. This is where you are able to make higher rates. You have more control over your message. It can be an important.’’

What kind of characteristics do you need to be a YouTube hit either as an artist, personality or corporate channel?

“To create a channel or video strategy you have to be dedicated to it. It really can’t be something you do on the side. You need a strong focus and the willingness to put in the time.

“We’ve seen channels with huge subscriber bases that have been making videos for five or six years. They focused on the audience building before monetization and all that follows it.

“I’m sure for the first couple of years they weren’t making money from their videos.

“Some people want to put out of one or two episodes without taking the time to build the audience. They often feel disappointed with the results and give up.

“That’s why it’s very important to look at how expensive your concept is to produce on a regular basis. If you can’t replicate it a hundred times and keep it interesting, then it’s probably going to be tough to build an audience.

What kinds of trends are you seeing?

“We’re seeing more than exponential growth towards a number of users. We’re actually seeing the watch time of those users growing over 60 percent year over year.

“We’re seeing that reflected in all of our metrics. It’s good for advertisers, and it’s good for viewers because the content is getting better.

“In terms of the platform itself, we’re seeing that it’s heavily dominated by younger audiences. For kids programming there’s all kinds of crazy viewership numbers and interesting content to boot.

“For example, there are huge numbers in the ‘unboxing’ videos for kids. (Example: a 2-year-old unboxing video for a Sponge Bob Squarepants Play Doh toy has over 55 million views.)

"You have Let’s Play videos, which are videos in which YouTube creators film themselves playing video games, and they narrate and comment on the process. Those kinds of videos are massive on YouTube.’’

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