Video is, without a doubt, the most preferred content format on social media amongst Gen Z audiences who flock to the big three social video channels (YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok) to engage with influencers, brands, entertainment, news, and millions of hours of all sorts of random nonsense. 


So, let’s cut to the chase. If you are not producing video content, you are unlikely to be found by a generation totally absorbed by video content consumed on their mobile devices. 


Online streaming platforms have democratized video, making it accessible to anyone with access to a smartphone. Moreover, the smartphone has taken something previously the sole reserve of major media companies and made it child’s play. 


But just because something is simple doesn’t mean there is no room for innovation. When you consider how far online video has come in the last 18 years, it’s become quite a grown-up medium.   


YouTube: A Brief History

Way back in April 2005, Jawed Karim, YouTube’s then 25-year-old co-founder, posted a video to the fledgling video-sharing site of two elephants at the San Diego Zoo. At the time, the video was dismissed by much of the media as a “nondescript affair.” In a world where the broadband connectivity required to stream the video without significant buffering was still a long way off for many users, it’s hard to imagine how this 19-second clip would change the internet. 


Alphabet (the company previously known as Google) clearly understood the value of YouTube from the start, paying $1.65 billion for the site less than two years after its launch. This relationship with Google is critical to both sites’ success. YouTube provided a firehose of content deployed directly into the Google ecosystem. Meanwhile, Google guaranteed a steady flow of traffic to YouTube. YouTube might not be the best online video streaming channel (Vimeo jumps to mind as a more flexible solution), but it is almost certainly the best connected.   


YouTube video content has an incredible influence over SEO, with relevant videos often appearing on the first page of search. Therefore, any half-decent SEO strategy should include YouTube videos alongside your broader content marketing strategy. 


Is YouTube Still Relevant in 2023?

Fast forward to 2023, and YouTube is widely recognized as one of the world’s most popular search engines, a phenomenally disruptive media outlet, and an incredibly influential online marketplace. However, the real beauty of YouTube is that it has remained true to its original vision — a place where anyone with access to a camera or smartphone can upload and share videos with a global audience. This has allowed a new breed of influencers to challenge and completely overwhelm traditional mainstream media channels. If you are looking for evidence to support these last few statements, consider the meteoric rise of YouTube stars like KSI and Logan Paul and the crazy money people will pay for their Prime energy drinks. 


Social Media Influencers

While YouTube has been highly influential in launching the careers of numerous high-profile influencers, it has also inspired much of the social media landscape. It’s hard to imagine what sites like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok would look like without YouTube’s lead. To the casual observer, YouTube doesn’t look too different from its original iteration. However, it’s important to consider how these competitive social channels have forced YouTube to invest in innovation to remain competitive. 


What’s New at YouTube?

Recently, one of the most significant updates to YouTube has been the rolling out of YouTube Shorts. This TikTok clone is designed to support the vertical video format favored on social media apps. As Shorts have become more critical to YouTube audiences, YouTube has invested heavily in the medium. Improvements include more granular analytic tools highlighting the value of Shorts to creators. YouTube has also introduced the ability to create custom thumbnails for video shorts. 



YouTube content creators now have access to improved data in their Studio Analytics suite that gives them a breakdown of the number of subscribers gained for different types of content. This includes “traditional” video content, live video, and the new Shorts format. Previously, creators only had access to the number of views by content type. As a mobile-first technology, YouTube creators also have access to a breakdown of views by content type in the Studio Mobile app. 


By breaking this information down, creators will better understand the type of content their audience prefers, enabling them to pour more significant resources into creating content that resonates the most. 


YouTube will undoubtedly be hoping that this information will lead to content creators focusing more effort on perhaps previously under-utilized strategies. For example, users might be surprised to learn how successful their Shorts videos are compared to their standard video output. 


With TikTok videos grabbing much of the social media limelight and stealing YouTube’s reputation as the home of online influencers, Shorts is an obvious priority for the channel. 


Custom Thumbnails for Shorts

To hammer home YouTube’s emphasis on the importance of Shorts, the streaming site has also enabled content creators to create custom thumbnails for video Shorts. 


Custom thumbnails were previously only available for YouTube’s traditional format videos. A custom thumbnail enables the video creator to include images and text (essentially a CTA) to encourage users to click on the video. This feature is currently only available on Android devices and will be available soon on iOS. 


Although the custom thumbnails will not be visible on the Shorts feed, which automatically plays videos for users to swipe through, they will be seen on: 

  • The channel pages in the Shorts tab 
  • Recommendations on YouTube’s home page 
  • Videos listed in the subscriptions tab 
  • YouTube search results 


Learn More

To learn more about how the marketing experts at emfluence can help you plan and create more engaging video content and understand how this content influences your customer acquisition and SEO strategies, contact us today at 


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