3 Questions YouTube Creators Should Ask to Avoid Brand Partnership Pitfalls

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October 25, 2022

You’ve been in the YouTube game for a while and your audience is growing. As you gain traction, a brand partnership might be on the horizon as a new opportunity for revenue. Maybe a brand has reached out wanting to leverage your audience. Or perhaps you’re ready to start pitching yourself to companies. 

No matter what stage you’re in your YouTube career, entering a new brand partnership is a big deal. Partnerships are a give-and-take relationship; the perfect brand deal is an effective, authentic collaboration where brands and creators are aligned on audience, mission and more. A brand partnership shouldn’t just give a brand more access to your audience—it should benefit you as well by supplementing your income, sponsoring and supporting fresh content and offering new networking opportunities. 

But good things don’t come easy. Problems can arise in new brand deals, so it’s important for creators to be mindful of who they partner with—or risk their reputation. Red flags can include clashing brand values, lack of oversight, or even unfair compensation. Considering three questions can help creators look out for these red flags and potentially harmful partnerships:

Does the Brand Align with Your Values? 

In order to ensure a brand is the right fit for you, ask yourself if you would support the brand outside of a partnership. Do you already love their products? Do you support their mission? If the answer is no, it’s probably best to skip the deal in favor of something else. Otherwise, the content could come off as inauthentic, and could therefore jeopardize the brand’s reputation and your own following. 

For example, technology company and smartphone maker Huawei partnered with Gal Gadot for the release of one of their phones in 2018. But when the actress promoted the new device, Twitter snitched and revealed that the tweet actually came from an iPhone. The small slip-up resulted in bad press for both parties. In a similar scandal, creator Scarlett London was under fire for a partnership with Listerine in which she shared a heavily staged promotional photo of her morning (complete with tortillas posing as pancakes and an aptly placed mouthwash bottle). The lack of authenticity was a source of major criticism that sparked a discussion about reality vs. social media, especially when it comes to brand campaigns.

When in doubt, always opt for the partnership that will be the most authentic to your interests and experience. Creating paid content for your go-to suitcase as a travel creator or your favorite makeup brand as a beauty creator are the best options to effectively reach your audience, without breaking their trust. 

Does the Brand Take Creator Safety Seriously?

Creator safety is an ongoing challenge. In a recent study, 95% of creators reported experiencing hate or harassment at one point in their career. Only half of those creators felt that they had appropriate resources to deal with these situations—a gap brand support can help mitigate. Creators, especially those who are new to brand collaborations, deserve to have the support of their partners to alleviate the burden of negative comments and simply guide them through this new stage of their career.

Though YouTube recently launched their Creator Safety Center and monitors for hateful comments and harassment, things are bound to slip through the cracks. A trustworthy brand keeps a close eye on paid content from their creators and is quick to step in to remove comments or offer advice if things take a turn for the worst.

Even before content is posted, brands should be working with creators to align on content and ensure that the content being shared isn’t something that could get you in trouble. Or else, you could be looking at a $300,000 fine like Floyd Mayweather after promoting a crypto company that ended up being a scam. While you should never post anything you’re uncomfortable with, a good brand partner won’t ask that of you from the start. 

To choose a reliable and trustworthy brand partner, start by doing your own research. Look at other creators who are current or past partners of the brand. What kind of content are they creating? Does the relationship appear authentic and collaborative? If a creator is no longer working with a brand, try to find out why the relationship ended. Gathering as much information as you can from someone in a similar position can help you make an educated decision that will prioritize your safety—not the brand’s goals. Ultimately, you want a brand that understands that your success is their success.

Will You Be Compensated Fairly?

Creators at all stages deserve appropriate compensation for any brand deal. While some may be content getting paid with free products, others are unsure about how to ask for more. But even if you have a small niche following, the value you offer to a brand looking to engage with that audience is worth more than you think. 

Prior to entering negotiations, have a clear idea of what you would like to get out of the deal. Start by thinking strategically about your rate. Stay up to date on shifting trends by connecting with creator peers in communities like r/NewTubers on Reddit. Typically, 2% to 10% of your total following is a good base rate (ex. If you have 50,000 followers, 2% would make your base rate $1,000). From there, you can make adjustments that fit each deal. 

New York-based creator Cece Xie recommends adjusting based on the level of engagement you have from your audience or more variable factors like your credibility in the industry or how much you need the extra income. Similarly, wellness creator Alexis Barber recommends adding charges depending on specific deal terms. For example, if a brand wants exclusivity, she would add 50% to the original cost.

Prioritizing your interests can be difficult when a brand is dangling a contract in front of you. But be firm—especially if you’re a creator from an underrepresented or marginalized community, keep a close eye on brands that might be under appreciating your efforts. Brand deals are partnerships, after all, and you deserve to benefit from your hard work.

Finding the right partner is a challenging process, but if you know your worth and your priorities, it’s a rewarding feat. The effort that goes into vetting a brand deal will pay off; you’ll end up working with a brand that shares your goals and a partnership that is mutually beneficial.

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