By Ryan Walsh
Anyone who uses social media has thought to themselves at least once or twice about what it would be like to be an internet star. Whether it’s the gateway into the world of celebrities or the opportunity to generate a lifetime of wealth, it’s no secret that being famous often comes with a number of perks. There are those who wish to influence others and make a change in the world, and also those who merely crave attention.
The truth is that whatever the reason may be, you’re interested, otherwise you probably wouldn’t be reading this. But the question is how? How could an ordinary human being like you possibly stand out among the millions of other people? The answer is simple: Learn from someone who has already done this successfully.
Famous YouTuber Tyler Oakley started out no more ordinary than me or you. As an undeclared freshman at Michigan State University, Oakley had no intentions of achieving fame when he began uploading videos in 2007 to keep his friends updated on his life. After his channel gradually increased in popularity, Oakley saw this as an opportunity to start conversations that he felt deserved more attention, including topics like suicide prevention and LGBT rights. Now over ten years later Oakley has gained over 7.8 million subscribers on his YouTube channel and has been recognized by many influential people, ranging from talk show host Ellen DeGeneres to former president Barack Obama.
On March 27, Oakley sat down in front of students at the University at Albany to discuss his experiences with internet fame. Throughout the event, he offered sets of advice to those seeking an effective presence on social media.
Everybody has a platform.
Many beginners give up before they even try to obtain stardom online because they don’t think they have what it takes to become famous. Oakley, however, believes everyone has the potential.
“My first video got 5 views,” he said. “And then the second video got like 10 views, and I was like please, no autographs.” For Oakley, humor was a huge element that helped him find his voice on YouTube, though it still took lots of time and lots of learning before he developed his platform. He repeated several times that it doesn’t matter whether you have 10 followers or a million followers. “You have a platform, whether or not you call yourself a YouTuber or an influencer.”
He also thinks it’s important to acknowledge the different tools that the internet offers you and use them to your advantage instead of limiting yourself to one outlet. “Sometimes with a YouTube video I’m like ‘how do I articulate all of my feelings into 8 minutes?’ On the podcast, I have 30 minutes to really dive into something. For a lot of the things that were a little heavier, I opted into talking about them in my book.” Combining all of these methods is a very practical way to build yourself up, so start experimenting with what works best for you.
Content matters most.
Once you find your platform and discover what works best for you, prepare effective ways to establish it. After all, people only follow you because they want to see the content you put out.
“I really try to think of content that I would have benefited from,” Oakley said. He loves making his videos “funny and idiotic,” but often times touches upon subjects that he feels are important. “What isn’t out there that I think people need to have conversations about?”
Oakley has dedicated a large portion of his platform for activism for LGBT rights and other social issues including education, mental illness, and healthcare. Whatever your passions may be, explore them and people with similar interests will be drawn to your content, but don’t try to copy what anyone else is doing.
YOU are essential to your own platform.
People follow your content and subscribe to your pages because of YOU. The biggest advantage you have over everyone else online is your own unique personality: your experiences, your stories, your opinions.
“The more authentic I was and honest I was with what I was going through, the more universal it actually appeared to be,” Oakley said. “Now, having gone through sharing those things, I am more comfortable doing it because I know from experience that it hits home and helps.” As you become more relaxed in your own personality, your audience will find you.
Be sure to highlight what separates you from everyone else and figure out how to incorporate that into the content you post. Oakley’s experiences as a gay millennial caught the attention of millions of people, but his story is only one of many unique narratives. “There’s not just one type of person. There are so many variations of what you might label as all the same. Once you dig a little deeper you’ll find that there are so many different ways to be gay, or to be black, or to be Muslim, or to be whatever you are.”
Don’t overdo it.
“You don’t have to change the entire world in one moment,” Oakley said. Making change requires a certain level of patience tied together with a great deal of determination. Before you decide to use your platform to speak out, you should ask yourself what your motives and intentions are. Oakley has a mental checklist that he follows:
“Is this something I should say? Is this something I should say? Is this something I should say right now? Is this important for me to use my platform to say? Or is this something I should let somebody else say? Am I even qualified to even be talking about this? If it passes all those tests, I’ll jump in.”
However, Oakley has learned over the years that there are many topics that aren’t within his territory for input. So instead, he’s used his platform to support or promote others. “More often than not, it is not my place and so I just kind of favorite tweets that I agree with or quote tweet things and say ‘read this thread because it’s important.’”
The internet can be an amazing tool for opportunities, but it can also be a very dangerous place. Especially in the public eye, your mistakes have the potential to be seen and judged by millions of people within seconds.
“I want to do my best, and I don’t want to disappoint people. One slip up of anything regardless of intention can and will have an impact, and it doesn’t matter what your intentions were if you negatively impact the world like that.” Oakley thinks that mistakes are inevitable, but learning from them and correcting yourself can be a learning experience for not only you but those in your audience too.
“I’m going to mess up. Everybody is,” Oakley said. He believes that patience and leaving room for growth are an essential part of being responsible. “I try to be as patient with people as I can because I would want to be granted the same patience if the roles were reversed.”
“If you’re thinking about starting, start today because a year from now you’ll wish you started a year ago,” Oakley said. “You will suck at first. Your videos will be terrible, but you will get better and better.” Even as a professional, Oakley continues to make mistakes every day, but just like you and me, he is human. “Recognize the power you have. There is so much that you are capable of doing.”
Before leaving his seat on stage, Oakley shared one last piece of advice:
“Do the damn thing.”