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Who: Justin Tse
What: VidCon takeaways; challenges of living outside the US market; and keeping up with the industry’s busy product release schedule.
Where: Anaheim, California
Occupation: Consumer Technology and Lifestyle Influencer and Full-Time Student

Amidst the crazy ‘fandom’ of VidCon, we had the chance to sit down with Justin Tse, a 20-year old content creator from British Columbia who operates a YouTube channel focused on consumer technology products and reviews. A full-time student who grew up watching many of today’s tech YouTube stars, he was inspired to create his own channel back in 2012. 

Q: VidCon 2017 was your first VidCon ever–what were your key learnings and takeaways?
My first VidCon experience was great! The convention is less attended by tech influencers, so for me, it was mostly an excuse to go to LA and see what other industries outside of the technology space are up to when it comes to digital video and influencer marketing.

My VidCon advice: Connect with as many people as possible to expand your network, schedule meetings with creators and brands you want to meet, and attend as many industry panels as possible to gain perspective on how brands are approaching the influencer marketplace.

Q: What’s it like being a content creator in Canada? Do you think you’d receive more collaboration opportunities if you lived in the US?
Being a content creator in Canada has its difficulties. Logistically, certain products can be challenging to obtain–mostly due to lengthy delivery times and customs charges. However, I have noticed continuous improvements around these shipping hurdles over the past few years. Being on a small island (Victoria, BC) creates more challenges, including the absence of an Apple Store!

Living in the U.S. would open the door to a larger set of opportunities, mostly due to product availability and the larger scale of tech brands engaging in influencer marketing. To complicate things further, brands have their own unique influencer marketing approach: Some operate at a continental level for campaigns, while others have separate divisions for Canada versus the US.

Most of my brand deals are with smaller American brands and influencer marketing agencies like Collectively. These partners continue to work with me despite the fact that I live in Canada because the bulk of my audience is located in the U.S. When it comes to large multi-national brands that have separate marketing divisions per global region, I have noticed a significantly smaller set of opportunities for Canadian creators.

Q: When did you start engaging in brand collaborations?
Once I hit a couple hundred subscribers, I began receiving very small products from accessory manufacturers. I was a young teenager at the time, and this ignited my motivation to start producing videos more consistently about products I enjoyed. I started getting offers for paid brand collaborations once I reached around 25K subscribers, but I didn’t feel confident enough to actively pursue them until I hit the 100K mark.

In recent years, I’ve noticed that it’s easier for smaller, emerging channels to receive more opportunities when they’re first starting out. This is likely due to the fact that more brands are engaging in influencer marketing today. Even though there are more opportunities to go around, I do think the tech space is crowded and it’s harder for a new channel to rise from the bottom today.

Q: On average, how many tech companies, agencies or brands reach out to you each month about collaborating? Are the majority of those collaboration opportunities paid?
The frequency at which I receive opportunities is seasonal, and fall is high season. On average, I receive about 20+ emails per day from brands interested in collaborating–this number increases during big brand campaign ramp-ups around seasonal events like back to school. I actually enjoy receiving and responding to emails, and I make it a point to read every single one. Typically, I respond within thirty minutes (if I’m not traveling) and I often find myself up at 3 AM sending a quick response to an overseas company. The majority of opportunities are for product reviews, but there is definitely a fair share of paid opportunities as well. I try to keep dedicated promotions down to a minimum, about 1 in 6 of the videos I produce, while in-video integrations and placements are far more frequent.

Q: How do you plan your editorial calendar to mirror current trends in the tech industry?
Producing tech content requires that I stay up-to-date on the evolution of products within the market. For tech creators, sponsored content collaborations are extremely market-reliant and coincide with product release schedules that span the whole the year. In other industries, like food or lifestyle, I see more collaborations tie back to general brand messaging and awareness, while most tech collabs are product focused.

I use the summer months to produce as much original, creative content as I can so I have time to focus on collaborations come September. A lot of brands drop new products in the fall, leading up to the holiday season, so there are more collaboration opportunities during that time. It’s also important for me, as a tech reviewer, to review all new products (or as many as I possibly can) in order to provide my audience with the most up-to-date information on the products they might be interested in.

"On average, I receive about 20+ emails per day from brands interested in collaborating–this number increases during big brand campaign ramp-ups around seasonal events like back to school."

Q: What are the hot products for tech influencers to be talking about at the moment? As we head into fall 2017, the hottest sets of products due in the tech industry are smartphones. September alone has been busy, with Samsung’s new flagship brand LG unveiling a new phone in Berlin, the release of Google's Pixel 2 last week, and of course the 10th-anniversary of Apple’s iPhone. From a business and performance standpoint, the lineup of smartphones due to come out from now until the end of 2017 is strong and the releases mean lots of video content to shoot!

Q: How do you maintain relationships with your audience and create content for them? My approach to audience development is rooted in high-quality content and authenticity: Be transparent about my opinions on all products and create engaging creative content that reflects my personality.

I also reply to all comments that are left on my videos, and I believe all creators should make this effort regardless of audience size. Developing an understanding of my audience is crucial to creating content that my subscribers will actually watch—this is an ever-evolving process and there’s always room for improvement.

Personally, I have intentionally leveraged my millennial student status to reach potential subscribers in that same demographic category, while also being careful to create content that would be valuable to other older audiences as well. My primary goal is to provide people with valuable information about the consumer technology space and its products.

Q: What types of videos receive the highest engagement from your subscribers? The videos that seem to have the best recurring engagement are my office and desk setup related tours. They’re a lot of work, but I have fun producing them. After VidCon, I actually began working on a new desk setup series called “Setup Makeover”, where I go to other YouTuber’s houses to help them makeover their setup!

Q: What’s your strategy for distributing your YouTube videos on other platforms? Utilizing mainstream social media platforms that complement the YouTube channel and my personal brand is the best way to distribute YouTube videos on other platforms. My favorite platform outside of YouTube is Twitter, although I am present on all major social media platforms. I like Twitter because it’s a quick and easy way for my viewers to stay up-to-date with me and my content—as it provides a medium for me to interact with my audience in real-time every day.

It's important for me to find ways to adapt and maximize engagement on each platform, as opposed to focusing on just one, because social media is constantly evolving and new platform features are introduced quickly and disrupt the status quo. For that reason, I stay active everywhere.

Q: Facebook got a lot of spotlight at VidCon as a platform worth investing in for video creators–are you actively trying to grow your audience on Facebook? Facebook was my primary distribution platform outside of YouTube at one time, but over the years I found myself focusing on Twitter and Instagram while Facebook became my “forgotten platform.” I still try to stay up with what Facebook is doing with video, and I do believe it’s the most experimental platform for video right now. It provides highly detailed audience demographic insights and analytics, in addition to offering audience-targeting options to creators. As it continues to evolve as a video player, I’ll continue to consider my strategy on the platform.

Q: Since we met up at VidCon, Facebook introduced Watch–a video-viewing platform that will host creator-produced content and Facebook sponsored video series. What’s your take on Watch, and would you consider using the platform to share your video content? Platforms are constantly experimenting with new ways to distribute video,and I try to stay informed about all of the new ways to distribute and advertise. More recently, I’ve also seen apps that encourage influencers to live-stream and interact with an audience to educate them on products that are easily made available for purchase within the app (Unboxed, Nice, iam8.tv, etc.). In my opinion, Facebook Watch is just another experiment, and if I see a viable reason to experiment with it, I would be more than happy to test it out. In the meantime, I’ll continue to put the most effort into producing high-quality content and catering to my audience by providing them with the tech news and reviews they want.

"My approach to audience development is rooted in high-quality content and authenticity: Be transparent about my opinions on all products and create engaging creative content that reflects my personality."

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Q: What’s the most important trend within the YouTube space today that you think will have the most effect on the future of YouTube? It’s constantly changing, but it's clear that the 2017 trend is drama, drama, and drama!  The video business is all about watch time and capturing the attention of an audience– so whatever can achieve that will be the ongoing trend as we move into the future.

Q: In a recent survey we sent out to our community, we asked how they identify with the word “influencer.” Do you call yourself an influencer? The term “influencer” is met with love and hate. I know people who hate the term, but I believe it’s an accurate word to describe what we do.

At the end of the day, we use our personalities to interact with audiences that (hopefully) trust our opinions and perspectives on consumer products and other topics. My goal is to educate my audience on consumer buying decisions based on my own experiences and to share how certain products measure up to others in the market, or to ones I have previously used. In this way, I have a certain amount of influence.

The term is broad and there are likely different opinions across influencers and industries, but I personally resonate with the title “consumer technology and lifestyle influencer” and do see it as an accurate description of my occupation.

Q: What are your plans for evolving your channel?  I would love to integrate more travel and lifestyle content into my channel, tying it back to consumer technology. I love tech, but my other interests include cars, travel, clothing and shoes, sports, and food. I would like to find more ways to integrate my broader interests into my video content. This summer alone I have traveled to Vancouver, LA, Toronto, Montreal, and New York!

Q: Who are your dream brands to work with? Honestly, there are a lot of “dream” brands that I would love to work with. Some represent  big industry players, while others are brands that I admired as a kid. I would love to work with global food brands such as McDonalds or Starbucks, airline carriers, and auto companies. I recently got back from a weeklong trip with Jaguar Land Rover Canada and their Formula E race team, and that was one of the most incredible experiences I have had as an influencer. I am very fortunate to work with many great tech companies, but as I hope to integrate more lifestyle topics within my videos, I am looking forward to more collaboration opportunities in food and travel!

Collectively collaborators represent a diverse group of premium talent—including visual artists, photographers, professional athletes, actors, dancers, models, writers, editors, videographers, chefs, nutritionists and more. Find out how you can work with them.