Advertisement on YouTube is not where it needs to be right now.
Time and time again, the platform is under fire for its lack of moderation, inappropriate content and poor choices with its advertisers.
The 'Adpocalypse' in 2017 saw advertisers pull from the platform in droves after their products appeared alongside xenophobic and offensive content.
This led to many YouTubers seeing their revenue streams cut and their content demonetised, and the platform hasn't fully recovered since.
YouTube is trying to repair itself, but the sheer scope and accessibility of the platform makes it difficult to moderate. With brand safety in such a state of disrepair, what can the platform do to restore trust, not just with its advertisers, but with its creators, networks and partners?
Road to recovery
Earlier this year, Fullscreen Media absorbed Machinima, one of YouTube's longest-running multi-channel networks.
Fullscreen's VP of distribution, Mark Williams, spoke to us about brand safety on the platform and steps it can take to restore its prowess as a marketing paradise, without companies fearing for their reputation.
Williams suggested five steps that can be taken to improve and restore trust in YouTube:
- Increase inventory transparency
- Increase recommendation engine transparency
- Increased oversight (manual and algorithmic) into content being monetised
- More transparency and increased access to various brand safety filters
- Improve/Increase capabilities around third-party brand safety verification
"While there is not yet a 100 per cent brand safe solution, these steps would go a long way to helping brands feel comfortable utilising the platform," Williams adds.
Keeping a brand safe
Brands need to feel as though their products are safe on YouTube. And in the current climate, that is becoming more and more difficult. Williams suggests a few safer approaches that companies can take.
"Brands could focus on media buying opportunities within the platform that are more transparent (MCNs)," Williams says.
"They could also leverage detailed targeting to both positively target the audiences and content brands are intended to reach, but also implement a detailed negative targeting set to ensure brands avoid unsafe environments.
"It's also an idea to utilise third-party verification to provide additional insights into content and audience quality on the platform.
"The reality is that no one can guarantee brand safety in all places, all the time - especially when looking at user-generated content. Brands must be mindful of potential pitfalls, and proactive in terms of following trends on the platform."
YouTube recently announced that it would start demonetising videos that display inappropriate or offensive comments. While some agreed with the platform's move to encourage moderation, others called the move unfair and highlighted that creators are not entirely responsible for other people's comments.
"Comment sections are the double-edged sword of social media in general. They create a place for curated feedback and comments, but also provide a prime location for pervasive/abusive activities," Williams explains.
"Demonetising videos with offensive comments does pose a risk to creators, however, as this can be managed simply by removing the comments section altogether. Effective community management can help to mitigate the risk."
With the risk of demonetisation ever-present, creators need to step up and find new ways to protect themselves and their content, in order to survive on YouTube.
"The ‘sledgehammer’ approach is to disable comments on any video/s that the creator thinks could be problematic, but comments can be a vital tool for video performance, engagement and views," Williams says.
"Authentic conversations/comments are one of the main reasons user-generated content platforms have grown so much over the past decade.
The reality is that no one can guarantee brand safety in all places, all the time - especially when looking at user-generated content. Brands must be mindful and proactive.
"We recommend instead that talent utilise YouTube's filters, which can help them proactively block hate speech or inappropriate use of the comments section. Talent that fosters positive communities don't typically have demonetisation issues like these, and in the rare case where they do, fan communities are highly effective at policing the talent's comment section and protecting the talent's channel and image."
Is YouTube really that important?
Digital marketing is becoming more and more alluring as places like YouTube become staples of entertainment. With over 1.9 billion monthly active users, it's a hotbed for advertisement.
However, 300 hours of un-checked content is also uploaded to the platform every day, which poses an unmitigated risk for the brands that choose to promote their products there. So what are the benefits of advertising there over other, safer mediums?
"YouTube has a multitude of benefits, including the fact that a bulk of YouTube’s audience is the hard-to-reach ‘cord-never’ population of millennials and Gen Z," Williams says.
"Tapping into this audience is extremely valuable for advertisers. YouTube also provides access to a significant population of users who are engaging with video content.
"What is most unique about this platform for advertisers is the capability to manage paid media delivery and the growth of their audience/channel within the platform. All social media is about earned media, engagements, and virality. YouTube uniquely brings the television viewing experience into a digital environment where these metrics can be measured and optimised."