Tiffany Ferguson on her YouTube journey, the ethics of monetization, and building something beyond her name
I had the pleasure of chatting with the one and only Tiffany Ferguson, a fourteen-year veteran of YouTube known for her internet analysis commentary series, one that has amassed a total of 692,000 subscribers since 2007.
In her series, Tiffany researches and discusses an abundance of current happenings relevant to social issues and media, some of which we spoke about together.
Our conversation included Tiffany’s thoughts on money, brand sponsorships, growing a business beyond her name, and the complicated nature of being an anti-consumerist creator in a capitalist society.
So what exactly is internet analysis?
Pulling from her film and media studies, Tiffany analyses pretty much anything you can think of on her channel, and while she says she keeps it conversational and light, she always includes thoughtful insight regarding deeply pervasive topics and current social issues.
“On my main channel I give my opinions on certain topics from social issues to media and it often includes some media criticism. But it’s also very conversational in tone. I like to raise questions.” – Tiffany Ferguson
Introspective, irreverent, witty, and endlessly curious, twenty-five-year-old Tiffany displays all of these traits and more in her videos, with topics spanning from Obnoxious Closets of the Super Rich to Analyzing the Karen Meme to The Power & Responsibility of Having a Platform.
Tiffany’s YouTube journey: how she got started
Answer: with her mom’s Motorola Razr. Actually, though.
“I always wanted to be a performer. I liked the process of putting things together but the first videos I recorded were on my mom’s Razr. I tried my hand at some animation with Microsoft Paint and then I begged my parents to buy me a little point-and-shoot camera to record sketches and music videos.” – Tiffany Ferguson
As it was, at the ripe old age of a fifth-grader, Tiffany made her entry into the world of YouTube.
Slow but steady growth
After twelve years of part-timing YouTube, while going to college for film and media studies, Tiffany went full-time in 2019.
For the first time, she was able to pay her rent and her bills from the money she received as a creator.
“My channel kept growing and for the first time in my life, I was comfortable. I was used to being a broke college student and then I was making enough money to pay off my student loans, start a retirement account, and have free money. That was major.” – Tiffany Ferguson
Knowing YouTube payments could fluctuate, the very first thing she did with her extra money was pay off the credit card debt and student loans she accumulated over her years in school.
Within six months, she was debt-free.
Selective and conscious consumerism
It’s nearly impossible not to consume anything in a capitalist society, but Tiffany makes a point to be selective about what she consumes and promotes, making sure not to mindlessly consume things.
Tiffany mitigates her personal and public impact on the environment however she can, whether that be through veganism, limiting her consumption of fast-fashion through clothing rentals such as Nuuly, or focusing on buying secondhand from places like ThredUp.
But it’s tricky.
Living in a capitalist society means you kinda have to participate, so Tiffany makes do as best she can, wrestling with the questions when they arise.
Brand sponsorships: why they’re complicated
Tiffany doesn’t shy away from the occasional Starbucks drink, but she also knows the difference between herself as an individual consumer and the responsibility she has as a public figure when endorsing a particular company.
“What I’m willing to actively promote and stand by as a brand is where it gets complicated.” – Tiffany Ferguson
The short and sweet of her approach to brand partnerships is: it’s never simple.
Selecting brand partnerships: Tiffany’s criteria
First and foremost, the company needs to align with her values, so she researches every brand to ensure the companies that sponsor her are reputable.
Sustainability is important to Tiffany, so she often prefers digital products over physical. This is both because they use fewer resources to create and often are free or have free trials, something she likes for her audience so she knows they won’t spend any money they can’t get back.
Tiffany is also specific about how she incorporates products into her videos, treating them like the paid ads they are by giving them a ninety-second to two-minute time slot within her content.
“I won’t sacrifice my video to fit the brand deal. The sponsor has to fit into the place that I have given it.” – Tiffany Ferguson
While many brands nowadays are interested in more integrated product mentions, Tiffany knows that doesn’t work for her.
Knowing her value as an independent creator
As an independent creator, Tiffany said, it’s hard to know your worth, what to ask for, and how to negotiate a fair fee.
A major decision Tiffany has made in recent years has been to acquire a management team, one that helps to arrange her brand deals. “I can see in the amount of money they secure me versus what I would have asked for that I was undervaluing myself,” Tiffany said.
Moving forward: building something beyond her name
In one of Tiffany’s more recent videos, she talks about why popular Youtubers stop uploading. Specifically, and the point I was most interested to ask her more about, she says she thinks it’s wise to build something beyond your name that doesn’t relate to having to be so relevant.
Beyond the risk that comes with basing a business on being a public personality, for Tiffany (and many other creators) it’s also mentally exhausting and stress-inducing. As she discusses in the video, one of the reasons popular YouTubers fade away is because of the immense pressure they feel to create content for more and more people.
And Tiffany can relate.
In thinking about how she might build a business separate from her name, Tiffany has several ideas. One of her musings is in the vein of taking on a producer role or working with a creator collective to support other small channels, always keeping in mind how to center the creator and avoid the exploitation that she’s experienced from MCN’s (multi-channel networks).
Balancing mental health with audience engagement
A significant conundrum for Tiffany is the balance between maintaining her mental health and engaging with her audience.
To protect her sanity, she tries to minimize the number of comments she reads on her videos, but in doing so she distances herself from her community. Lately, she’s been missing that community and is brainstorming ways to engage and conversate with them without sacrificing her wellbeing.
But monetization is a conflicting concept for her, and there aren’t many ways to build intimate communities without creating a paywall.
“When you get to be a big channel, the only way to create intimacy is for fans to buy it…in most spaces, there has to be some kind of gatekeeping because otherwise how do you keep it small and intimate? Money is tough and I’m conflicted about it all the time.” – Tiffany Ferguson
Regardless of whether she decides to focus more on her podcast, shift into a network or producer role, or write a handbook for creatives (another Building Something Beyond The Name idea of hers), what I do know is that Tiffany Ferguson will most certainly remain a voice worth listening to in the years to come.