Over the past decade, developments in the social media landscape have given rise to an exponential growth in people’s power to grow and cultivate their personal brands. Virtually every aspect of life has touched by this societal shift, creating an ecosystem in which the concept of personal agency maintains great significance.
YouTube sensation and social media influencer, Amber Whittington, is a leading example of this movement.
Amber originally started her YouTube channel to help others struggling with the question of sexuality and identity, using comedy, vlogging, and honest conversation as conduits for open interaction and expression. She has since transformed her online presence into an influential force on social media, using humor and motivation to broadcast to a loyal following of over 600,000 YouTube subscribers.
“I love to do what I do for so many reasons,” Amber said in an interview with IVY Magazine. “Not only am I able to work for myself while doing something that I enjoy, but the fact that I can touch so many people is what makes it worth it. Whether it’s through comments, emails, or meeting my subscribers in real life — and hearing them tell me that my videos made them feel good about themselves or changed their life in some way — that is happiness for me.”
Amber sat down with IVY Magazine to reflect on her journey to YouTube stardom, how to create content that cuts through the noise and inspires, and the conceptual tools needed to accrue a following in today’s digital landscape.
Amber is an IVY Member (LA). Connect and collaborate with her here!
What was your inspiration for starting your own YouTube channel?
Creating Ambers Closet was an accident. My sister, “Ashtons Closet,” was already a YouTuber, and when I did a sister tag video with her, a lot of the comments were asking me to start my own channel.
About a month later, I decided to try it. I threw up a video and a few days later I had thousands of views and 1,500 subscribers.
I wanted to keep up with my channel because I didn’t see anyone that looked like me or represented me on the Internet. I really started my channel to explain what I went through growing up bi-racial and being afraid to come out of the closet. I feel like it took me too long to be completely secure with myself, so I wanted to share my story to help anyone else go through what I went through, to be where I am now.
Many people find it difficult or intimidating to get on camera and let loose. How did you become comfortable in front of the lens — was it natural or did it just take time?
It was definitely a process, but I have always been a goofy and entertaining person. Before YouTube, I was creating cell phone videos for Facebook. But in high school my electives were Economics and Drama, so I think I subconsciously prepared myself for both futures.
How many videos did you post before you started to gain traction? And when did things really start rolling in — was it one big hit or many small successes?
After a week of posting my first video, I had thousands of views and 1,500 subscribers. I was blown away. I did videos for a year and a half as a hobby, before I realized I could make money from them.
A little after my first-year mark, a few of my videos started to take off. I had two that reached over 500k views, and one that started to rise into the millions. That really helped jumpstart my channel and reach over 200k subscribers within the first two years. After that, it’s been a slow and steady grind, growing 100-200k subscribers a year.
Over the years, YouTube has become saturated with vloggers. How has your voice been able to stand apart from the rest?
I actually started vlogging before it had a name. I started showing clips of my real life. My first video to go viral was actually a vlog of me visiting my mom!
I think what made my vlogs stand out from others is the fact that I am real. I really let viewers into my life. They saw my old relationship grow, my nephew get old, my ups and downs. Most vloggers only show you what they want you to see — and sometimes, it’s a facade.
What is the most meaningful thing a fan has ever said to you?
Some of my subscribers almost bring me to tears weekly, especially when I meet them in person. The most memorable have always been the ones that say, “You saved me from wanting to commit suicide. You made me realize that I am amazing for who I am. I love myself because of you.”
Most of them have grown up in a place where their small society makes them feel like outcasts, or that something is wrong with them for being a different race, dressing different, or because of their sexuality. My videos, as well as others on YouTube, are an outlet for them to get out of that place.
What kind of sketch or topic is the most fun for you to shoot and why?
I love creating videos that have to do with what is going on in the world at that time, or that is related to something happening in my life or one of my close friends. Most of the time they are things that others can laugh at and relate to as well. I just like to put a dramatic spin on the subject!
Many IVY members have expressed interest in starting a channel, but have yet to take the plunge. Where do they even begin?
I think it’s all about knowing what you want to create, and knowing what and who your audience will be. Think of it as creating a business plan. Do a SWOT [strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats] analysis and figure out where you differ from other creators that may be in your lane. Then figure out your target market.
What’s the best way to start to accrue a following? Should you tailor content to fit your following as it grows, or should you keep exploring new topics and formats?
It really depends on what category your content falls into. If you are not directly personality-based, such as How To videos or tutorials, then the goal is to produce the cleanest/sharpest content. If you are personality-driven, then I believe being as open and real as possible is the goal.
I think it’s always safe to pick a specific niche and conquer that before trying other things. I started with fashion, discrimination. and LGBT topics before getting into vlogging, skits, and the like. I allowed my following to tell me what they wanted to see from me.
How do you find the time in the day to juggle fitness, blogging, business, and everything else you do?
It is really hard. I would say organization, but most things come up last minute, so I am always juggling multiple things. What I am good at is putting priorities first. If I only have time for a few things, I try to mesh them together — for example, record a video at the gym while working out.
I try to schedule my days to have some time at home working on the computer or filming/editing videos, then a few days for hosting or attending events.
Who is your creative inspiration or role model?
A few of my friends, my girlfriend, and my sister are my inspirations. I see them hustling and being amazing at what they do, and it is inspiring and drives me to keep going.
My dad was definitely my role model growing up. He was so successful and still to this day attracts all the attention when he walks into a room. It was amazing to witness.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
I think it was a lot of different things my dad would say to me growing up, like: “Don’t be afraid to be yourself”; “You’re a star and you will shine in everything that you do”; “People will love you for who you are”; and “Keep your mind focused on your goal and you will get anywhere you want to be.”