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The most common thing brands don’t understand about working with YouTube stars

Get used to giving up control.

Kyle Hanagami interviewed onstage at Code Commerce.
YouTube star Kyle Hanagami.
Keith MacDonald for Vox Media

When big brands craft an advertisement for television, they’re used to being in control. But when they craft an advertisement in the YouTube age with an influencer, they need to be ready to let go.

That was the message from YouTube and one of its star creators, choreographer Kyle Hanagami, at Code Commerce in New York City on Monday, where the pair offered something of a tutorial for how brands can speak to their audience by entrusting the internet celebrity to get it right all on their own.

That’s the most common misconception that brands bring to the table.

“The biggest one is that they’re going to get to tell Kyle what to do,” said Tara Walpert Levy, the Google executive who works to link YouTube creators with brands. “The No. 1 thing that matters most in influencer marketing — it really is picking a creator who’s a good match for you, and then trusting them and letting go of some of the control that many big brands, in particular, are used to.”

Hanagami gave a good example of this working pretty well: Samsung sent him one of its new phones and asked if he would make a video. They wanted to see what the choreographer, who has 4 million YouTube followers, could do with it.

“What am I going to do with one phone that’s going to feel authentic to my audience?” he wondered.

So instead of just the one phone, Hanagami asked for 20. Samsung obliged. And then he taught a master dance class on YouTube where each of the dancers filmed themselves on their own Samsung phones, practicing how to dance on camera.

“That was a very organic way that felt like it made sense with my audience,” Hanagami said. “It didn’t feel forced at all. And that only comes when the brand trusts you.”

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