How to Make Money From YouTube’s New Shorts Platform
YouTube Shorts could give TikTok some serious competition
YouTube Shorts could give TikTok some serious competition
Ever since Snapchat launched the format--and TikTok made it blow up--shortform vertical video has been everywhere. Instagram jumped on the vertical video bandwagon with its Stories and Reels features, and Facebook (which owns Instagram) cloned the format as Facebook Stories. During the pandemic, vertical video has exploded, with the average teen watching 80 minutes of TikTok per day.
Now, YouTube is getting in on the action too. Earlier this month, the company (which is a division of Google) launched Shorts, a new feature which allows creators to upload shortform vertical videos to the platform, adding in many TikTok-like enhancements, from music to colorful text to images. Shorts display on YouTube channels along with a creator’s existing videos, and YouTube surfaces them in dedicated areas in the YouTube app, too.
The best part? YouTube has signaled their attention to help creators monetize Shorts and transform them into a solid, news revenue stream. To that end, the company has committed to paying creators at least $100 million for their Shorts through 2022. Importantly, you can monetize Shorts even if you’re not in the YouTube Partner Program, which means that Shorts monetization is available even to small or brand new channels. We’ll explore Shorts monetization in much more detail below.
YouTube is a video and advertising behemoth, with over $15 billion per year in advertising revenue, billions of which gets passed directly on to creators. I already make thousands per year from my YouTube channel. Given the platform’s clout, reach and revenue, it makes a ton of sense to get involved with Shorts--especially since you can get in on the ground floor.
Here’s how to make YouTube Shorts, what kinds of Shorts content does best, and how to earn a piece of that sweet, sweet $100 million Google pie.
How to Make a Short
Making a Short is simple. If you have a YouTube channel already, the feature is already available to you if you live in the US or India (it will likely arrive soon in other places.) If you don’t have a channel yet, you can easily start one for free.
Once your channel is live, download the YouTube app to your phone, open it, and press the large + sign at the bottom of the app to create a new piece of content. You should see a button to Create a Short.
Press the button, and the Shorts camera will open. You can hold down the red button and take a 15 second vertical video right away. You can also click the gallery at the lower left to open your phone’s gallery and select a video you shot before. (I tend to shoot my videos in advance outside the YouTube app, edit them in Adobe Premiere Rush, and then upload them from the gallery). You can switch to selfie mode, adjust the recording speed, or add music.
Music, in particular, is an area where YouTube should have a strong advantage. TikTok allows creators to embed clips, but YouTube works directly with artists or agencies in many cases, which likely gives it the potential to negotiate better terms with artists, and to include a broader range of songs in the future. You can also remix audio from a variety of YouTube videos.
Once you’ve shot or selected your video, you can add several features, including block-letter text which appears over your video (adjust the duration by using the Timeline button). You can also trim your video, removing either the beginning or end, and add filters. These are standard features across nearly all shortform vertical video apps. At launch, Shorts has far fewer features than industry-leader TikTok, but you can expect YouTube to add more quickly.
Finally, you provide a caption for your Short (up to 100 characters) and publish it. Your Short will go live and appear alongside the other videos on your channel.
What to Create, What Does Best
What kind of content should you create for your Shorts? YouTube has a detailed guide which gives some ideas and inspiration. Firstly, the guide says that one goal of shorts is to “enable the next generation of creators”. That’s a big clue — TikTok’s biggest audience is the under-20 set, and YouTube is likely trying to engage this same audience. Youth-culture-oriented Shorts, therefore, are likely to do well.
The guide also describes Shorts as “bite-sized storytelling” and talks about the “joy of short-form video”. Again, there are several clues there. Storytelling is absolutely key — vertical video in general, and TikTok in particular, thrive on mini-narratives which you can consume in 30–60 seconds. Maybe that’s a dance-off, a pet getting dressed in their Halloween costume, a person receiving and unboxing a product, or you learning something important about your industry. Either way, storytelling is key.
So, too, is the idea of “joy.” TikTok definitely has a dark side, too, but the most popular videos are often silly, well-meaning, and light-hearted. Joyfulness — in the form of dancing, funny stunts, exciting new products and the like — is a big theme on TikTok, and it appears that Shorts is focusing on the idea of joyful content, too. As a creator, that suggests that you should focus Shorts on upbeat, easily-shareable topics related to your channel’s overall topic area.
Shorts also focuses on mobile-first creation. As the guide points out, the first YouTube video was a short clip with a mobile aesthetic, taken at a zoo. Since then, YouTube videos have become increasingly polished and produced. That makes for great content in some contexts, but it can also alienate low-budget or brand new creators, who worry that if they don’t have the perfect thumbnail or a professionally edited video, they can’t succeed on YouTube.
Shorts appears to be intentionally challenging those assumptions, encouraging creators to make content quickly and to keep things raw. The guide says that “random, real, and unfiltered videos are celebrated” on the new platform. I love this, as I’ve always avoided creating YouTube content which looks overly produced.
One important tidbit: YouTube suggests adding metadata to your Shorts after you upload them, including a full description. They also encourage you to add the hashtag #shorts to your video’s title. And they say not to add a custom thumbnail to your Shorts, since it won’t appear anywhere that Shorts are shown. None of this is obvious from the Shorts interface.
Where do Shorts appear? YouTube’s guide says they’ll show up in the new, dedicated Shorts tab in the YouTube mobile app, on the YouTube home screen and in YouTube searches, and on creators’ channel pages. Since YouTube is sinking at least $100 million into the program, they’re very likely to promote Shorts elsewhere, or even create a dedicated Shorts app down the line.
The guide provides some additional best practices for Shorts. If your channel isn’t a fit for shortform content, YouTube encourages you to create a dedicated, new channel for Shorts instead. They say you can publish Shorts as often as you like, but imply that daily Shorts content would be nice, saying frequent publishing “can be beneficial”. Subscribers who elect to receive notifications from your channel won’t get notifications when you publish a Short, so there’s no concerns about overwhelming them with new content.
The guide also says to “spice it up” by adding “enhancements like creative lighting, costumes or locations” to your Shorts. Again, the emphasis is on mobile video, so going on-location and shooting with your phone is very much encouraged. The guide also encourages creators to “grab the attention of viewers while they scroll”, hooking them “within the first few seconds of your video”. If you’re used to conventional YouTube, where a 5–10 second intro is fine, then change you your strategy. Drop the intro and dive right into your Short, or do something dramatic up front and then introduce yourself after you have your viewer’s attention.
Another big difference between normal YouTube and Shorts? Normal YouTube is very relational — many people keep coming back to the same creators, and develop a relationship with them over time. Shorts is different — most people who view your Shorts will not have seen your other videos. For that reason, YouTube says you should create “standalone pieces of content, without the need for context on your brand.” If a totally new visitor can understand and enjoy your Short within 5 seconds of viewing it, you’re on the right track.
YouTube plans to publish a Shorts Report each month sharing additional insights. So far, popular Shorts appear similar to popular TikTok videos. They feature things like people cliff-jumping, performing pranks, dancing, or demonstrating products in creative ways. One popular product-focused clip shows a person using a knife sharpener to sharpen a horribly rusty knife, and then using it to slice a tomato. Another, which has millions of views, shows a person painting a wall in under 1 minute by aggressively applying a paint roller.
Again, as with TikTok, all of these are visually appealing and have an element of storytelling to them. Even for the successful product clip, there’s a clear beginning, middle and end. We see an incredibly rusty knife which can’t cut anything. A person’s hand uses the company’s knife sharpener on it. Suddenly, it can slice a tomato beautifully! Linear narratives with compelling visuals are the key to success on Shorts, as with TikTok.
How to Make Money With Shorts
Of course, any professional creator will immediately look at Shorts and wonder “How can I monetize this?”. Longform YouTube videos provide lots of opportunities for monetization through ads — there are pre-roll ads which can be several minutes long, popover ads which display over a video, mid-roll ads which show up in the middle of very long videos, and post-roll ads which segue from one video to another.
With Shorts, the goal is to encourage viewers to jump rapidly from one video to the next. That leaves precious little room for advertising. TikTok has done reasonably well with promoted videos, bringing in an estimated $1 billion in 2020. But attributing ad revenue to specific creators is harder with promoted videos, since they appear between creators’ videos, rather than displaying on the same page as the video itself, as with normal YouTube ads.
For that reason — and to encourage adoption of the new platform — YouTube created the Shorts Fund. Again, the fund will distribute $100 million to Shorts creators in 2021 and 2022. YouTube gives some indications of how this will work. Importantly, creators need not be YouTube partners to earn revenue from shorts. As with TikTok, this encourages new creators to join the platform. As YouTube says, “Anyone is eligible to participate in the fund simply by creating unique Shorts that delight the YouTube community.”
Each month, YouTube says, they’ll “reach out to thousands of creators whose Shorts received the most engagement and views”, rewarding them with payouts from the Shorts Fund and asking for their feedback about the platform. Elsewhere, YouTube says that creators can qualify for between $100 and $10,000 per month depending on their Shorts performance, if they’re selected for a payout from the fund in a given month.
If you qualify, you’ll get an email and YouTube app notification during the first week of the month, and will have to claim your reward by setting up an Adsense account (if you don’t have one) by the 25th of the month. Payments will go out between the 21st and 26th each month. There’s some indication that content must be original to qualify — reposted videos from TikTok with watermarks may not apply, or might even disqualify your channel from rewards.
If the specifics of qualification seem vague, that’s because they are. YouTube is refreshingly honest about two aspects of the Shorts program: they intend to monetize it for the long term, and they’re not yet sure how this will happen. In their blog post about the Shorts Fund, YouTube says that “The Shorts Fund is the first step in our journey to build a monetization model for Shorts on YouTube. This is a top priority for us, and will take us some time to get it right.” If only other platforms in the Creator Economy were so candid.
In the future, YouTube says they will “develop a long-term program specifically designed for YouTube Shorts” monetization, and also “expand our Shorts player across more surfaces on YouTube” to increase the audience for Shorts, while also “iterat[ing] on ads to better understand their performance.”
Basically, YouTube appears to be saying that they’ll ultimately sell ads via Shorts, but that they’re still working on that. Likely, they need to attract advertisers to the platform first. Until there’s a robust ad economy built up around Shorts, YouTube is seeding the pot by throwing in $100 million of parent company Google’s money, to ensure that creating Shorts is worth creators’ while.
Again, that’s a refreshing stance, given that many platforms launch new features and expect creators to develop content for free, on the hopes that monetization opportunities will appear down the line. YouTube is making it clear that if you try out Shorts as a creator and do well, you’ll get paid via the Fund now, and will hopefully have a chance to monetize in a more sustainable way down the line.
There’s one more benefit to Shorts if you have an existing channel. People who see your Short and subscribe to your channel will count towards your total subscribers for monetizing your channel, winning Creator Awards, and the like. That’s huge. If you’re planning to launch a new channel, creating successful Shorts could be a fast way to hit the 1,000 subscriber threshold required for monetization on YouTube, even if you’ll still need to build your way to the 4,000 watch hours which are also required of monetized channels. For established creators, Shorts could be a great way to bring in new subscribers, who will then go on to watch your fully-monetized longform videos.
If any other company launched a new shortform vertical video platform, most people probably wouldn’t bat an eye. But because Shorts comes from YouTube — which has a long history of creator-friendly monetization, a massive audience, and the power of Google backing it up — the new platform is a must-try for any video creator. The addition of $100 million in financial support is a lot of tasty icing on the cake.
If you create shortform vertical video already — or you already have a YouTube channel — try Shorts out. It could be a great way to further monetize your content, or to build a new subscriber and income stream for your channel. If you’ve never used YouTube before, that’s an even better reason to give Shorts a try. Breaking into YouTube can sometimes be hard — with day-one monetization and a potentially broad reach, YouTube is offering unheard-of perks to new Shorts creators.
TikTok may be the dominant vertical video platform for now. But with YouTube entering the fray, they’re about to get a serious run for their money.