Don't sleep on YouTube

The platform's position at the top of a Pew Research survey of social media use among teens shows its staying power.

Youtube application

The business press tends to pay attention to the newcomer companies in the midst of a meteoric rise (or fall), and familiar players making big moves. After all, who’s up and who’s down allows a narrative to be constructed, and offers examples to extrapolate conclusions about the current environment.

But across the US business landscape, there are examples of success being forged by leading firms who go about their business with less fanfare.

Sometimes, the fact that they’re leaders can seem like old news. But there's a reason they're at the top.

That comes to mind when reviewing new survey results released this week by the Pew Research Center that analyzes social media habits among teens aged 13-17. Pew analyzed usage of the top social platforms this year, and how that’s changed since 2014-15. As always, the headline numbers offer a look at the movers:

  • TikTok is rising: A newcomer since 2014-15, it has the second-highest share of usage among teens of any social media app.
  • Facebook is falling: Its share of teens who say they use the app has dropped from 67% seven years ago to 32% today.
  • Instagram & Snapchat are gaining. They've jumped into the third and fourth position.

But look at the chart, and another name stands high above the rest:

(Source: Pew Research Center)

YouTube has the highest share among teens, with 95% saying they use the app.

Plus, it didn't show any movement over the last half-decade. Its top ranking and staying power is what makes it so interesting.

Launched in 2005, the Google-owned video app was the original platform where things went viral, and it's still at the top. About three-quarters of teens visit YouTube at least daily, while one in five teens said they visit YouTube “constantly.”

To be sure, YouTube has evolved over the years. Most recently, it has been expanding in short-form video as it watches TikTok’s rise. YouTube Shorts crossed the milestone of 1.5 billion monthly logged-in users earlier this year. Videos under one minute saw 135% growth in views in Q2 2022, according to the H2 2022 Social Video Trends report report from Tubular Labs.

Notably for ecommerce professionals, it has made a number of recent moves to expand shopping and engage brands. This includes:

  • The introduction of shoppable Shorts, launched in partnership with Glossier.
  • An expansion of live shopping that made the ecommerce broadcasts available to all creators.
  • A partnership with Shopify that allows merchants to display and sell items from a store catalog directly on YouTube.

But its video format, open nature that plays to the internet’s strength in offering a vast and diverse library of content shared by the platform’s users, and discovery tools that show users more content continue to form the bedrock of a sticky platform.

It's not in the news as much. It never had a Cambridge Analytica scandal, nor did it take a big hit from iOS 14 like Facebook and Meta's properties. It doesn't have the China connection or fresh buzz of TikTok. And it's not in line to be purchased by Elon Musk like Twitter.

But YouTube is still there at the top, with content ranging from video games to unboxing to TV clips to the latest music video.

For all the talk of Gen Z building new habits, Pew's data shows that most are still using YouTube. It helps that YouTube plays to a particular affinity for visual and experiential content that seems to be coming through in this generation.

Demographics may play a role, as teen boys proved to be more likely than girls to say they use YouTube, according to Pew. However, the “vast majority of teens use this platform regardless of gender,” Pew says. YouTube is also among the two platforms used most by Black and Latinx teens.

To be sure, this is one measure. But given the importance of the teenage demographic in determining what’s next, it’s an important one.

While capitalism's boom and bust cycles produces plenty of trends that come and go, every category has the companies that seem to hold firm, despite the changes.

For those looking to build a foundation for the next company with staying power, studying the successes of these stalwarts is a good place to start.

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