Most Connected Brands 2020 – YouTube (10th)

The ‘forgotten’ tech brand

Given the ubiquity of YouTube, it is remarkable how little media attention is paid to the video streaming service compared to other major tech brands. What started as a site for sharing family and entertainment videos has become the moving wallpaper of the modern world, adorning our lives with billions of hours of footage and influencing everything from childcare to culture to politics.

For UK consumers, YouTube certainly doesn’t blend into the background. It has been in the Top 10 Most Connected Brands in the UK for the past three years running.

Like other tech brands in our index, the site scores especially highly on Buzz (127) and Dynamism (123). Despite the launch of paid subscription services, its basic product remains free, giving it a high ’value for money’ (121) rating.

Increasingly, however, consumers are recognising the tradeoffs that come from free tech services, hence its relatively lower scores for Satisfaction and Social Responsibility (both 103). In YouTube’s case, the company pursued a relentless strategy of increasing consumer engagement to build revenue – the more hours of videos users watched, the more opportunities there are to sell ads.

As part of this strategy, it developed algorithms to keep users engaged. At first, this involved simply finding similar content – cat videos begat cat videos – but the site shifted to more sophisticated recommendations.

What even the founders of YouTube didn’t fully grasp when they launched the site was the power of moving images to inform, not just entertain. For consumers, watching something being explained by a real person is far more engaging than reading an article and the site now plays a pivotal role in the way millions learn about and perceive the world.

This is particularly true for those aged under 34, for whom YouTube has likely been a central part of their lives from a relatively young age. For 18-34 year-olds, YouTube sits fourth in our index, compared to 11th for 35-54s and 27th for those over 55.

However, the confluence of these trends has created a potentially dangerous situation for the brand. YouTube has become one of the central distribution points for misinformation, conspiracy theories and fake news. For users who simply stumble across something even semi-related, YouTube can often promote more extreme content.

Governments, the mainstream media, and the public have increasingly taken note. Perhaps this is one of the reasons for YouTube’s fall in our index from eighth in 2019 to 10th this year.

In response to this reputational threat, the company has now accepted it has a responsibility not to promote misleading or radicalising content.

During the Coronavirus crisis, accurate information has been of vital importance yet also seriously challenged. YouTube has responded swiftly and well, taking down thousands of videos promoting false and dangerous information. Under videos relating to the virus, there are prominent links to official and reliable sources of information.

It is easier to address unsubstantiated conspiracy theories than more complex and fraught political issues, such as identity politics or climate change. The challenge for YouTube will be whether it can adequately address itself to these issues without alienating the many diverse users that have made it such a central part of the way they consume information.

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