YouTube creators are gaining in popularity and influence thanks to the relationships they're developing with fans. With that in mind, director Ben Tricklebank and writer Charlie Short teamed up with Lionsgate and five YouTube Creators to release "District Voices," a YouTube series inviting fans into the world of "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1." Here, they share five lessons in making authentic branded content alongside YouTube creators.

Written by
Ben Tricklebank , Charlie Short
December 2014

We are living in a new age of authenticity. DIY content creators are emerging as media heavyweights. They build personal, authentic relationships with their fans and have unique sway over their audiences. To them, fans feel more like friends. And because of that personal connection, they can activate millions with a click of the "publish" button. What can creatives like us learn from these modern media moguls?

As the director and writer of "District Voices," a YouTube series inviting fans into the world of "The Hunger Games," we worked with Lionsgate and production company Tool of North America alongside five YouTube creators. We matched YouTube creators' real-world talents with industries of "The Hunger Games" districts to bring the fictional nation of Panem to life. YouTube creators who bake, for example, were transformed into District 9 citizens who bake, with help from authentic costumes, props, and set design from the latest "Hunger Games" film.

On set, we challenged the YouTube creators to expand fans' experiences of their districts, while the creators helped us understand how to engage their unique audiences. Here are a few of the lessons that stayed with us about how to make authentic branded content in partnership with YouTube creators:

Partner with the right YouTube creator for your brand

For brands and YouTube creators to have successful, symbiotic relationships, they have to share more than an audience. Ideally, there's an organic link between creator messaging and brand messaging. For "District Voices," we chose Feast of Fiction out of dozens of foodie YouTubers because they're already known for recreating foods seen in movies and television. "The Hunger Games"-focused content we created together felt as on-message for them as it did for us.


Then work together to help them do what they do best

Our first partnership on "District Voices" was with ThreadBanger, a pair of creators who recycle and repurpose materials into DIY crafts. Rob and Corinne are loved by fans as much for who they are as what they do, so we worked closely with them to develop a script that let their personalities come through. When creators leave their mark on branded content, it feels more authentic to their fans, increasing the likelihood that their audience will share and engage with it.


Have a secret to tell

For the "District Voices" series, we were lucky enough to have access to props, costumes, and tech from the "Mockingjay - Part 1" film. That access gave our creators something special to share with their fans. iJustine, for example, took a ride in a Peacekeeper vehicle built for the film. Her excitement in the video below is so genuine and contagious that it doesn't feel forced when she explicitly asks her fans to talk more about "The Hunger Games," generating buzz ahead of the film's release.


Always keep the cameras rolling

Don't be afraid to give fans a glimpse behind the scenes. The YouTube audience appreciates a simple, straight-to-camera approach, and they're used to getting the inside scoop from their favorite creators. FightTIPS, like the other creators, used our "District Voices" behind-the-scenes videos to speak directly to fans. Fans get the insight they want, and brands get points for telling the whole, authentic story.


The end of a video can start conversation

Creators use YouTube not to broadcast a message but rather to cultivate a community around conversation. Veritasium, for example, creates scientific demos and experiments, and host Derek Muller asks his audience to predict the outcome or answer a question in the comments. We made sure he had an opportunity to use this technique in his "District Voices" behind-the-scenes video. Be sure to watch how he engages his fans toward the end.


If we're living in a new age of authenticity, then YouTube creators are the new—authentic—celebrities. They're famous for who they are in real life. They've built followings based on their passions and personalities. Their fans love them for their character, not for characters they play.

For that reason, partnering with YouTube creators looks and feels different than traditional celebrity endorsement. You've got to find the right YouTube creator so that the brand story doesn't feel forced, let the creators' personalities come through, tell a few secrets, and invite the audience in. Ultimately, all of our lessons come back to one golden rule of partnering with YouTube creators: Keep it authentic. Keep it real. They always do.