What YouTube can teach brands about growing up.

By Luke Sklar and Amber Hudson

When I heard YouTube turns 9 this week my first reaction was, that’s it….Nine?  I mean, it feels like it’s been around for ages (hmmmm, maybe 9 in Tech Years is more like 35).  But the fact is, YouTube is still a kid, entering the “middle childhood” years (ages 9-11). Here’s what childhood development experts tell us about 9year olds:

  • They are more emotionally mature and are better able to handle conflicts
  • They are increasingly independent from the family (Google, watch out)
  • Peer pressure kicks in strong.  But those who feel good about themselves are more able to resist negative peer pressure and make better choices.
  • They start to experience the physical changes of puberty
  • They are less egocentric and start to see the point of view of others more clearly
  • They are more socially conscious, more interested in bettering the world and helping others (source:  CDC.com, WebMD.com)

We think YouTube is doing a nice job of trucking along this developmental path.  It’s come a long way from cat videos and awkward kids lip-synching to Britney Spears.  It now has Funny or Die, Jimmy Fallon is all over it and it has launched superstars like Justin Bieber.  It allows little girls to play “Let It Go” over and over again until their parents’ ears bleed.  And have you heard of the new HBO show Silicon Valley…HILARIOUS!  The pilot episode aired on YouTube. (More to come on this show next week as we attempt to explain that one!).

YouTube is starting to smarten up and grow up, and has an estimated $5.6 billion in annual revenue to show for it.  But we think it has a long way to go.  The real question is, what kind of adult will it grow up to be?  Is it on the path to success and respect, or will it pull a Fred Savage and fizzle out while still young?

So the lesson for your brand is to pinpoint where it is on the development path.  Then pave the way for success into adulthood by keeping it fresh and relevant and managing it through those hormone-filled teenage years.

By the way, here’s how YouTube looked in 2005 vs. today.  Now that’s a kid with style.