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MrBeast has broken the curse of influencer success

Lindsay Dodgson   

MrBeast has broken the curse of influencer success
  • MrBeast has broken the influencer curse of rapid growth followed by swift cancellation.
  • He's no stranger to controversy, but his exponential growth hasn't been tempered by it.

There's a familiar pattern in the world of people who skyrocket to fame on the internet.

Often, a period of massive success is followed by a nosedive in popularity, followers, or both.

Sometimes, this is because the creator is "canceled" for perceived wrongful behavior. Other times, the influencer doesn't evolve over time, and their audience loses interest.

MrBeast seems to have broken that mold. He's been a content creator since 2012, and although he's no stranger to controversy, his exponential growth hasn't been tempered.

Some attribute it to dumb luck, but others think Jimmy "MrBeast" Donaldson has changed content creation forever and set a new standard for what content creators can aspire to.

Amazon vs. MrBeast

Donaldson, YouTube's biggest star, is on track to have the most-subscribed channel in the world, steadily creeping up on Indian music label T-Series at 258 million subscriptions.

He also recently signed a deal with Amazon Prime to host a competition show called "Beast Games" on the streaming service.

Importantly, he is changing how influencers are viewed by traditional media.

There's been tension between influencers and traditional media for some time, with huge internet stars getting ignored when they show up to red-carpet events and complaints when YouTubers or TikTokers attend events such as the Met Gala. There has long been an attitude that those who won their fame online aren't as worthy as those who found it via more conventional routes.

Donaldson's business success may show how this power balance is beginning to shift.

Jamie Nudelman, a social media growth expert at the digital marketing consultancy Viral Marketing Stars, told Business Insider that Donaldson has become "more powerful than traditional media."

He added that Amazon Prime and other entertainment platforms have two options: "Try to beat him or win alongside him."

"Truthfully, Amazon Prime needs MrBeast more than MrBeast needs Amazon Prime," he said.

Donaldson is far from the first successful YouTuber, with many now mainstream creators starting off on the platform, including Justin Bieber, Liza Koshy, and Bo Burnham.

"It's quite likely that MrBeast had many more 'mainstream' offers before this, but he waited for the right opportunity," Rachel Pedersen, a social media and marketing coach, told BI.

"It does seem that we're entering a time where mainstream media is looking for fresh content to grace their platforms."

The cancel curse

Influencers have risen and fallen since their genesis.

Notably, there was Dramageddon in 2018, where a vicious feud left YouTube's beauty community in tatters and set the stage for more wars in the coming years (Dramageddon 2.0 and Karmageddon) that led to audiences seeing some then-beloved creators, including James Charles, Shane Dawson, and Jeffree Star, in a different light.

Many influencers have tried and failed to continue successful businesses once their star has faded. Jaclyn Hill, for example, recently closed down her cosmetics brand, and the once-reigning "Brit Crew" is now rarely heard from.

Nudelman said Donaldson differs from these cautionary tales because he doesn't seem to be changed by money or the pursuit of materialistic possessions.

"You don't see MrBeast wearing gold chains or buying a luxury mansion," he said. "MrBeast wakes up in the office and has a desk where he works and does the same things every day."

It's not all praise. Donaldson has an unusual setup with his business, calling employees "friends of friends." He has also faced allegations of a toxic workplace and has been accused of being a "white savior" by some who believe he is exploiting some of the people in his videos for views — specifically, those who were given cataract surgery or access to clean water in several African countries.

Donaldson has referenced his critics in social media posts, saying that despite his desire to use his money "to help people" and promising to give all his wealth away before he died, he was still branded as "bad." He hasn't responded directly about his work culture, but a spokesperson told Time that safety on set was "incredibly important and taken very seriously."

Nobody is safe from cancellation, with influencers increasingly facing backlash for not just the things they have done, but their political and ethical beliefs too. Internet celebrities appear more approachable than traditional ones, experts previously told BI, leading to "parasocial relationships" and more sensitivity around their actions.

It may be that Donaldson's time is on the horizon. But, Nudelman said, it seems unlikely. Donaldson is tough to criticize because he puts all his money back into his content, which enables him to help more people.

"He's still charitable during his controversy, which is hard to hate on," he said.

Changing the media landscape

Most people are not cut out for content creation full-time, said Pedersen. Donaldson has said this himself, suggesting people underestimate what it takes.

Working with friends and people who he trusts seems to help with Donaldson's longevity, Pedersen added.

"His primary focus is philanthropy, which brings joy to the giver and the receiver," she said. "And he has stayed true to his patient, humble, consistent roots."

His content has also changed significantly since the early days when he played games and performed challenges in his bedroom (like counting to 100,000 in one sitting).

"Most content creators ride on a trend and then get stuck in it," Nudelman said. "MrBeast adjusted his strategy and content because he knows what worked back then, doesn't work today."

Liz Germain, a YouTuber with 100,000 subscribers and an influencer marketing expert, told BI Donaldson has always been a bit introverted, which has helped him keep his eye on his long-term vision.

"His vision drove him to keep going, even when it wasn't working — and that's a big secret a lot of new creators have yet to grasp," she said.

Germain added that Donaldson obsesses over his content and analytics, making improvements to every video. Recently, he said he wanted to slow down his content and move away from the over-the-top, fast-paced genre he became known for.

Donaldson can experiment like this because his reach and impact "is infinitely bigger than the Super Bowl, and it's not going anywhere any time soon," Germain said. He's everywhere on the internet, soon to be on TV, and even in grocery store aisles.

"The man has changed the entire media landscape," she said. "More importantly, he's proven that it's not only possible to build a successful brand based on placing charitable giving at the forefront, but that it's also extremely profitable when you do it with heart."

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