“The stats don’t bother me – I barely check them. I just get on with the process of making videos.”
If a YouTuber tells you that, they’re not telling you the truth. It’s a bit like saying, “oh, I don’t care about trolls – I never let them ruin my day. I just get on with what I’m doing.”
That’s not true, either. It only takes one bad comment to spoil your day and plant that horrible feeling in the pit of your stomach which urges you to click the ‘reply’ button and let rip.
We’re all human. Numbers are addictive. Bad comments are unavoidable. But I was getting far too obsessed with the former. My YouTube subscriber count was the one element of my business with which I interacted constantly throughout the day.
Something had to change.
The problem with YouTube Studio
For the uninitiated, let me give you a quick introduction to the YouTube Studio app.
This handy little tool is available on pretty much any mobile device and is designed to help YouTubers keep an eye on their metrics and interact with their community. It’s really well designed, works pretty much flawlessly and is gamified to the hilt.
The first thing you see when you open YouTube Studio is your current subscriber level, and then a brief overview of your views, watch time, subscriber growth, and estimated revenue for the past 28 days. Then, you get the infamous ‘Latest video performance’ section. For a YouTuber, this is akin to a daily rollercoaster ride. It is utterly horrible.
You may have heard YouTubers say stuff like, “it’s so nice when you get a 1 out of 10!”, or, “ugh – that feeling when it’s a 10 out of 10”. They’re referring to the way YouTube grades your latest video’s performance, in which said video is pitted against the previous ten by placing it in a league table, based on the number of views achieved from the time of posting.
There are so many issues with this. Firstly, it is horribly addictive and a massive time suck as a result. Secondly, it suggests that YouTube judges your proficiency and popularity as a creator based on your last video’s performance. Thirdly, it completely ignores the fact that many videos achieve their peak performance long after the initial publish date.
I dearly wish YouTube would remove that league table, or at least not make it quite so prominent. It’s one of the least useful and most potentially harmful metrics for YouTubers.
But the subscriber count is far worse.
My subscriber count addiction
The subscriber count in YouTube Studio is updated on the fly. That means, if you enter the app and pull-down-to-refresh, you’ll get the latest number.
That number fluctuates. You might gain a subscriber. You may even pick up another ten subscribers. But, equally, you could lose one or two.
On 10th November, 2021, my channel lost 299 subscribers. In one day. I still have no idea why that happened, but the significant spike that took place the day before suggests there may have been an influx of spam accounts. Whatever the reason for that huge loss, it illustrates how volatile that number is, but, equally, how much it means to us creators.
The problem? We have ZERO control over that number as creators.
The subscriber count is a vanity metric. I’d argue that it matters the least when compared to the number of views your channel receives on a daily basis and those all-important retention graphs. But because YouTube places so much importance on it (every reward they send you is based on that number), we’re sucked into this world of incessantly checking the number of subscribers our channels pick up each day.
For me, it was becoming far too obsessive. I never counted how many times I refreshed the YouTube Studio app each day, but it was worryingly high. In fact, it was probably the first thing I did whenever I picked up my phone.
As a result, I noticed every single win and loss. I’d get excited by perceived momentum, and panicked when things appeared to be heading south or hitting a plateau.
So, I decided to stop checking my YouTube subscriber count for a week.
This is what happened.
I missed it. Immediately.
I felt disconnected from my channel as soon as I stopped checking the subscriber number. It was a really unnerving feeling, actually; as though the subscriber count was somehow acting as confirmation that I was actually running this business.
Not checking it made me feel like I was neglecting it. Taking my eye off the ball. Allowing the channel to freewheel carelessly into the path of oncoming traffic.
This is, of course, utter nonsense.
I missed those small wins, though. The moment when you pull-to-refresh and discover that you’ve attracted ten new subscribers is a wonderful feeling. Now, I had no way of knowing if that was happening. It was almost as if I was leaving things to chance.
What if all of my subscribers jump ship as soon as my back is turned?
Thankfully, this feeling didn’t last.
Avoiding stats altogether is tricky (damn you, YouTube!)
Hands-up – I fell off the wagon a couple of times. Although not through choice.
You see, despite my desire to go cold turkey with the subscriber count, I still needed to use YouTube Studio on my Mac and, occasionally, on my iPhone. After all, if I didn’t, my videos wouldn’t get uploaded and I’d neglect my audience by ignoring their comments.
This is again where YouTube’s obsession with subscriber numbers becomes far too evident. It is plastered everywhere and usually in the largest, most prominent font on the page. You cannot miss it.
So, I did indeed catch a whiff of my subscriber number when going about my daily business as a full-time YouTuber. Sorry.
However, after a few days, it felt different. I didn’t care as much. It interested me, of course, but it didn’t feel like the obsession it once was. If anything, I found myself far more concerned with simply getting on with the task for which I’d entered YouTube Studio in the first place, rather than being distracted by that arbitrary number.
Clearly, something within me was changing.
It gets easier
Not checking your YouTube subscriber number has a compelling impact on the way you view the growth of your channel. By not witnessing every peak and trough, you take a much longer-term view.
After two or three days, I started to forget exactly how many subscribers I had on YouTube. Was it 61,000? Had I hit 64,000 yet? Or was it less than both of those numbers? I genuinely couldn’t remember. And, if I did steal a glance at the total during my YouTube Studio sessions, I had no idea if it was bigger or smaller than the last time I spotted it.
Since going (nearly) cold turkey, it was clear that the subscriber count still mattered to me as much as it had before, but the growth or decline wasn’t such a big deal anymore.
Like combating any addiction, avoiding your YouTube subscriber count gets easier the more consistent you become at focusing on other things. Thankfully, this is a busy profession, which means there’s always something more productive to be doing, rather than continuously checking the number of people who have hit that ’Subscribe’ button.
Distracting myself from the subscriber count was hard at first, but it only took a couple of days to make it a habit.
Has it changed me?
Yes. In the best possible way.
I no longer check my YouTube subscriber number continuously throughout the day. I’ve reached a point where I can nip into YouTube Studio and give it a glance, but that only happens a handful of times each day, and I’m now far more focused on the original reason for entering the app. What’s more, I’m confident I can reduce that urge even further.
I’ve also scheduled a YouTube stats session for myself every other Friday. The idea is to take a far more insightful look at audience growth over a meaningful period of time.
I feel happier, too. Before I began avoiding the subscriber number, I was starting to feel that the channel was stagnating. “Oh great,” I thought, “as soon as I go full-time, the channel starts to plateau.”
Having taken a step back from the stats, I’ve realised that simply isn’t the case. It’s still growing; I’m still building my subscriber base. I’m simply no longer a pointless number-peeping cog in the YouTube Studio machine.
If you’re a YouTuber and you know that you’re checking that app far too often – give it a go. Stop checking it and get on with more productive tasks. It makes a massive difference to your mental health as a creator and enables you to get on with the business of creating.
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