I Studied YouTube's Audience for Three Years. Here's What I Learned.

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When I moved from Israel to New York three years ago, I was excited to learn everything I could about my new country, new city and new job.  I moved to the city to work for YouTube, specifically to study the many people who watch YouTube -- the one billion people.

Besides wrapping my brain around the challenge of putting a human face to that huge number, I was also well aware that my knowledge of YouTube was really just a set of assumptions based on my personal experiences.  As a Millennial it was obvious to me that my generation (and younger generations) grew up with YouTube.  Everyone I know uses it in a million different ways: to learn how to do something, catch up on videos everyone's talking about, get ideas for only-on-YouTube kinds of recipes, etc.

But I wasn't convinced that was true for other generations.

I also didn't want to repeat known facts.  I was aiming at revealing new insights -- untold stories -- about the engagement of consumers on YouTube. What can marketers learn about their target audience from what they watch on YouTube?

Challenge accepted.  Instead of trying to tackle all one billion users at once, we went about it one group at a time, embracing the spirit of "launch and iterate."  Every few months, we chose one group and did a deep dive to understand what they care about, their attitudes towards brands and industries and what role technology (and of course, YouTube) plays in their lives.

Instead of just poring over numbers and research studies, we stepped outside the office and into people's shoes, spending time with them in their homes and workplaces.  We hosted viewing parties where we'd lock ourselves in a room and watch hours of YouTube videos.  Those parties taught us what these groups binged on, what they laughed at, and what moved them.  When surprising or interesting themes emerged, we pressure-tested the behaviors with additional quantitative research.  And here is my personal account of what I learned.


One of the first segments we studied was that highly sought-after group -- Millennials. Going in, I knew two things: Millennials love YouTube, and Millennials love their smartphones.  What I didn't know was to what lengths they'd go to make the video viewing experience on mobile as comfortable as it can get.  Visiting Millennials across the country, I was so impressed by their creative inventions!  Take a look at this collection of their hacks in this video:


Young parents

The other thing that surprised me is how much Millennials are growing up!  In my mind, Millennials are forever 18-34 years old.  But they're growing up, and more of them are becoming parents and redefining parenting for their generation.  Millennials are tackling parenting differently than the generations before them.  Tanika, a 30-year-old mom from Atlanta told us, "We're not adhering to gender roles.  My daughter jokes that she's never seen me wash a dish.  We want our daughter to see herself as an equal person in the world who is worthy of her work, her thoughts being respected."

Millennial parents break down the stereotypical gender roles, and dads are involved more than ever.  We saw that play out in how dads engage on YouTube.  Dads are more likely than moms to look for parenting guidance on YouTube, and to use YouTube to connect with their children.  You can explore that research and more insights here.

Gen Xers

Of all these stories, a Gen X story was the one that touched me the most.  In one of our research expeditions we met Mattie, a 47-year-old Gen X-er from Longview, Texas, who had just lost his job when the company he worked for went out of business.  As he was trying to decide what to do with his career, he thought about what he loved as a child, and his dream to open his own golf business was born. Having no prior professional experience (and no access to golf professionals where he lived), Mattie learned proper putting, grip and stance on YouTube.  He used YouTube tutorials and videos from past live events to build a putter business with his dad from the ground up.  See his story here.

I love getting to know YouTube users up close and personal.  One billion is a lot of people, and everyone watches YouTube for a different reason and in a different way. But one thing I've learned is that there is so much we can learn about a generation from looking at their YouTube behavior. People's engagement with YouTube is deep and meaningful -- and is really a reflection of what matters to them in life.

Read more at thinkwithgoogle.com/youtube-audiences (or snack on these short videos to get insights on some of the audiences we studied).

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