Perhaps you’ve considered the idea of starting a Youtube channel. Or perhaps you’re just curious what goes on behind the scenes once a person becomes somewhat successful at gaining a large audience. Either way I’ll share with you what I’ve observed over the last three and a half years of running a travel vlog focused on the Philippines (PH).
In the beginning, you have zero subscribers. Zero videos. And zero issues. You’re only concern is deciding what the focus of your channel will be. In my case, I had no intention of ‘starting a channel‘, or even vlogging when I got started. I signed up for a Youtube channel way back around 2006 and for six years I did NOTHING with it. Zero. I had no use for it, so it just sat there dormant all those years. Then, I moved to the Philippines. I had enough on my plate just settling into a country I’d never been to before, not even for vacation. I was moving to the Philippines literally sight-unseen. I didn’t know anyone here except for my girlfriend, a Filipina, that I’d been seeing in California for 2 years prior.
So, there I was. In the Philippines. Taking photos and shooting video with a very small digi-cam I had brought along just for fun. After shooting a few videos for my kids, I figured I would just email them but realized that wasn’t very effective due to the slow bandwidth in the PH. And then I remembered my dormant Youtube account. Instead of sending emails with a large attachment, I simply uploaded the video once and then emailed the link to my kids. At this time I was only using Facebook infrequently. Little did I realize I had just begun a “channel”.
It wasn’t long before people I didn’t know were commenting on my videos. I have to say, looking back on it, I miss those days when all I had were maybe twenty videos and less than a hundred subscribers. I didn’t have to moderate comments. People were uniformly supportive and positive about sharing their own experiences at locations I was visiting.
Things coasted along nicely like this for about six months. Then one day a viewer sent me an email, asking how much money I was making off my videos. I asked him, “What money? Why would I get money for sharing my videos?” He was shocked to find that after six months of posting videos I still hadn’t ‘monetized” the channel. I was too busy experiencing the PH to even think about it. I still thought of Youtube as just a video version of Pinterest. Post your stuff just for the sake of sharing it. So around May of 2013 is when I officially decided to monetize the channel and make more of an effort to address the world at large, not just my immediate family.
The Money Came Pouring In. (Not exactly.)
The way Adsense does their payout, they only pay you if your earnings for the month are over $100. My first three months I didn’t even come close. It took an accumulated 4 months before I got my first $100 direct deposited to my bank, but it was exciting none the less. I continued with the channel largely because it was fun to share the experiences I was having with a larger group and I was making lots of new friends, many of which I met in person during their visits to the PH. I got a slightly better video quality out of a new smartphone my Filipina girlfriend bought me (how rare is that? very rare.) and I made a point of chronicling my explorations from Mactan, then Bohol, Panglao, Moalboal, Dumaguete and finally to Bacong.
When I first began I simply put up a silent banner of my website and then snapped directly into my video. As time went on I decided to add some royalty-free music and eventually a snappier short intro. I began at first with a combination of what I call “show and tell” videos and “topical” videos. The show-and-tell videos were of places that I found interesting. I narrated as I went along, just going with the flow of whatever was happening. Much like bringing someone along, via the camera. I never did use any scripts and the one time I tried using notes it only distracted to where I couldn’t concentrate on doing the video. The topical videos I would sit down with the camera on a tripod and share whatever observations I had made that week on the PH culture, dating life or being an expat. Very simple format.
Meanwhile, I was building up a large library of videos along the way. Soon I had my first 100 videos online. Then 200. When I reached my 500th video I did something fun to commemorate the milestone. By this time I had gotten a GoPro Hero3 Silver Edition camera at the request of my viewers. I didn’t even know what one was until they mentioned it. I’m glad I listened to their input as the GoPro gave me a much better quality of resolution to share what I was seeing along my travels. Before I knew it, after 2 years of “vlogging” I had over 10,000 subscribers and still climbing. (in 2016, I passed the 20,000 subscriber mark.)
As for the money, it was increasing. Instead of $100 a month, it soon doubled. Then tripled. I began to think maybe this wasn’t such a bad idea after all.
And Then Things Got Weird
I would say that things were at their pinnacle, in terms of earnings and overall positive experience right around the 2nd year mark. Even up until early 2015 things were overall going fantastic. And then things began to shift.
The first change was very subtle at first. Unbeknownst to me, things were going on with Google, who owns Youtube and Adsense, which began a slow decline in earnings via Adsense. Thinking it was just me and my own performance, I put more effort into being consistent with my uploads, providing engaging topics and information useful to my audience, the expat travelers. In addition to my usual ‘show and tell” and topical videos, people were curious about my personal life and what the dating scene was like from my own experiences. So I began to share a bit about my dating life, girlfriends and thoughts on being single in the PH.
It was these two items, a turn in the tide of Adsense’s place in this new online-ad marketing frontier it had pioneered and basic human nature in regards to ‘celebrity’ status that marked what I consider the beginning of a decline in the overall experience. By late 2015 it was obvious from the earnings charts that despite having far more videos than the year before and several thousand more views and viewers per month.. earnings were steadily dropping. This is when I knew it was not a matter of my own personal efforts, but something was going on in the industry. It took a lot of digging around but I finally found an analysis online that put it all into perspective. The online-ad marketing bubble had been officially declared busted.
By this time (2016) I was well networked with many vloggers. They were experiencing the same downturn in earnings. Even vloggers who were covering niches outside of the PH-Expat experience. Some of them went into denial and wrote off a year of decline as just a ‘temporary adjustment’. But no, I’d seen this same thing happen when I invested in tech stocks up until 2000 and the same when I was a realtor in California during the 2006 real estate crash. You just can’t fight that kind of momentum with blind hope.
Meanwhile, as all this was happening slowly in the background, another element was coming into play. Back when I was a tiny channel with only a few hundred viewers, life was simple and the people were all positive in their interactions. But as my subscriber list climbed up to 20,000 so did the malcontents of society who find that their blood boils to see anyone else succeed where they are failing. And not only other vloggers. In fact I’ve only had issues with two vloggers. One of them has since been blacklisted from the PH and his channel is now even more non-relevant than ever. The other ‘vlogger’ has a channel which, after a year and a half, has barely reached 1,000 viewers and most of those are not supportive. They just want to know when he crashes and burns due to the fact that he is so full of vitriol to the world in general.
I keep in context the fact that, while the 2nd vlogger has made a point of doing all he can to slander and spew hatred at me, I’m really just one of many targets he has hate for. It’s not just me. He has issues with Samoans, with Fijians, with Filipinos, with women, with other expat vloggers and any expat who dates adult, younger women. It’s not that I did anything to deserve such hatred from him. He simply hates a long list of people. My one consolation is that anyone with any sense quickly sees that this person has issues and is no one to be taken seriously. For that reason I’ve never bothered to make a single response video or engage him in his lunacy. I have much better options for spending my time in the PH than trying to reason with a fruit-cake.
So, aside from two vloggers, the real downturn was in the many critics that come out of the woodwork when you are a “public figure“. I don’t use the word ‘celebrity’ in my case because I just don’t think it applies. But I am on the public radar of the expat community and when you factor in how many grumpy, angry, contentious and negative expats there are in the world.. suddenly it was no surprise to find myself the target of every criticism under the sun. It got to a point that it was truly ridiculous. A case of, “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” type of situation. If I dated an older woman, I shouldn’t have because I don’t want to deal with kids. If I dated a younger woman with no kids, that was ‘wrong’ just because they said so. If I broke up from a bad relationship, I was quitting too easily. If I stayed in a relationship, I’m wasting her time. I found that no matter what course I take, there will always be that 2% who are convinced they have it all figured out, despite lacking 99% of the details involved.
At first I tried to reason with these critics and even devoted several videos to addressing their concerns. But I eventually found that it was not a matter of lacking reason, information or logic to be the problem. The problem was that some people just NEED someone to criticize. That’s it. If they weren’t criticizing me they’d be doing it to someone else. And likely they are accustomed to not being challenged on their faulty claims. So when I did take a patient course to show them the error of their thinking.. they got even more upset. It was truly a lost cause with these armchair critics who know everything and still managed to make a mess of their own expat experience. Many of them were ranting from their own home country with nothing but bitter memories about the Philippines and chose me as their target.
Those are the kinds of people that made it necessary to begin screening comments each day as they came in. Many of these people ended up blocked because they consistently had nothing but negativity and ill-founded accusations to offer. They will make blanket, negative statements like, “..all filipinas are scammers…” or “.. you can’t trust any expat…”. This only tells me they themselves had a rotten experience and came to some very dramatic conclusions to deal with it. Conveniently, they never took any personal accountability for their own decisions that led to their demise. It was always “someone else’s fault“.
Now, even though these two items became a bit of a downer, 98% of the people make it worthwhile. Most people appreciate good information or just an interesting video on some place they’ve never been to before. The vast majority of subscribers are very cool people who enjoy the channel. Over the last three years I have met well over 250 viewers in person and I can honestly say that each visit was a good, pleasant experience that was nothing like the critics I was dealing with online. Several of them I keep in touch with still via Facebook and others have become very close friends that I spend time with in person and care about.
So now, here it is mid-2016. It’s been almost 4 years since I first stepped off a plane and entered the warm air of the Philippines. I’m glad I fell into this whole vlogging experience for all the new friends I’ve made. One thing I’ve learned is that being a ‘public figure’ does come with a cost to your privacy, so you just have to kinda roll with that. Some people can, others can’t. If you value your privacy, do not start a video channel. I have watched videos by guys who do videos about non-controversial niches such as auto repair or simply driving around the USA in a recreational vehicle and they have the exact same story to tell about irrational critics and ‘trolls’ who pester them like a bad flea until banned or blocked.
I’ve recently decided to do my topical discussions in a podcast format. I believe audio is more conducive to that sort of message and video is not really needed. And even though the money is not there like before, I will still continue doing my original video format of showing places around the Philippines that are new to me. And while I can understand a natural curiosity viewers have about my personal life, I’ve decided to pull that out of the limelight for the most part. If I have a change in status, I’ll do a short video update. But I’ve found that not enough good comes from sharing too much about personal relationships or the natural changes that can occur. Other vloggers have had the same bad experience. It’s just the way things work with large groups of people when you are highly visible on a public medium.
So, I suppose for a person like me.. online video is a ‘part‘ of my life, but only a part. I enjoy doing the audio podcasts and I’ve always enjoyed writing so I will put more time into those avenues. Just like most people, I have a lot going on off-camera. I have a girlfriend, an aging Mother, insane traffic to deal with in the PH, a social life with other expats, bills, creative projects and still SO many places I want to see in Southeast Asia. So my advice to anyone thinking about starting or continuing a Youtube channel is this;
#1) Fame is over-rated. It’s practically a figment of collective imagination. It’s not real. Thomas Edison is famous. Jesus, famous. The Beatles, famous. Buddha, the Rolling Stones, Barney the Dinosaur, William Hung, Hunter Thompson and so many more.. all famous and yet months go by we don’t even think about many of them. In real Life, being a decent human being is more important than being ‘famous’.
#2) Don’t do it for the money. With the passage of time, money is like sand through your fingers. It comes and goes. But what people will do on Youtube to get some views/money is downright abhorrent. If you have something positive and good to share, then do it for the sake of helping others or even mildly entertaining them. But don’t do it for the money alone. I’m not saying don’t monetize your videos, do that. If you can make a little something for the time and creativity you put into it, I’m all for that. But money should not be the sole reason for starting a channel. Otherwise you will cave in to doing whatever you think will bring in the views and possibly compromise your own code of ethics.
#3) Learn to be thick-skinned. Out of 1,000 people who watch you do or say something.. anything, a percentage of them will outright hate you for it. Simply for the fact that you are doing something and they are not. It’s part of life. In the Philippines they call it the, “Crab Mentality”. They just want to drag you down to their level. Other people have bonafide psychological issues and it’s not your job to fix them. Just ignore them and enjoy what you do.
After 49 years living in Southern California, USA, I decided to move to the Philippines despite never having been here before. I spent a year getting all the information I could online and in July, 2012, I took a leap of faith and transplanted myself first to Mactan and then began my trek through Cebu, Bohol, Panglao, Moalboal, Dumaguete, Bacong and now living in Cebu City, here in the amazing Philippines.
Starting in January of 2019, I will begin a slow trek through Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and possibly Malaysia, China and Japan. My itinerary is open with no big rush since I hope to share in detail what each place is like as I enjoy it for months at a time.
I am a single man taking an honest look at all that Southeast Asia has to offer, one day at a time. I hope you find my channel informative and/or entertaining. 🙂
I hope you will make use of the links I provide as they help to support some of the costs of making this channel possible. Thanks!