Four years ago, an account named “PewDiePie” uploaded a video to YouTube. It was about Minecraft. The video featured what sounded like a young man laughing heartily at an unlucky zombie that had gotten stuck in a tree. Fast-forward to now, PewDiePie’s channel is the topmost subscribed channel in the face of YouTube. Felix Arvid Ulf Kjellberg known on YouTube as PewDiePie, is a Swedish gamer, vlogger, comedian, and YouTube celebrity who plays video games and records his commentary and facial reactions through audio and webcam.

According to YouTube, the most subscribed user is PewDiePie with over 42 million subscribers. The PewDiePie channel has held the peak position since December 22, 2013 (2 years, 3 months and 25 days), when it surpassed YouTube’s Spotlight channel. But not a lot of people are impressed with his metrics as many forums and discussions believe that PewDiePie has fudged some of his numbers with vanity statistics.

It’s not surprising that you can purchase YouTube views, likes, comments and subscribers in order for the video, or brand, to appear more popular than it actually is. This is akin to taking Adderall for studying for your tests, it’s both immoral and against the YouTube terms of service. However, popularity is a powerful tool to have, but it’s completely hollow if not genuinely deserved. In PewDiePie’s case, it could be that he wants to strengthen his brand with the skyrocketing number of followers. If you think about it, YouTube is a good platform to build yourself as a brand.

Many users have claimed to be buying views on YouTube to boost their popularity. It adds to their social proof – that they actually have a lot of followers or that they have influence over the social media platform. Having more views makes your ranking on search engines higher, giving you better Search Engine Optimization options. Either way, if your focus is to have more followers and more views, buying YouTube views is one way but if you are more focused on getting organic engagements to pump up your actual popularity, then you should read on.

How it Works and Why It Doesn’t

A quick Google search can bring you to a long list of websites offering the service with similar rates in different packages. Some offers are as low as $10 for 5,000 views. They claim to offer views, likes, and comments from “genuine” users. By genuine, they mean, an account with all the basic information they could create but of course this is different from actual users with legitimate subscriptions, interests and engagements.

What does that mean? It’s just a bunch of servers logged in to different account names and auto-viewing the video from different countries. Even these reviews are pretty clean that these are bot-farms or something similar. The comments are auto-generated as well and are typically a jumble of the same phrases over and over.

Why does it not work?

Well, the automatically generated comments create several problems:

  • The comments are a mess. Auto-generated comments are typically full of misspellings and significant grammatical errors that result from using software to jumble a couple phrases into several hundred. Not unlike the common literature within spam mail, these comments immediately look disingenuous, or at least written by a partially illiterate person. Either way, your fake audience destroys their own credibility, along with their positive testimonies.
  • They don’t stir the pot. Contributing discussion fuels a user’s passion and support of the video’s content, promotes shares across social media, and greatly enhances search rank within YouTube. The auto-generated comments interrupt the current conversation with a messy ad, offer little value to further conversation, and they cannot reply. If comments are purchased in excess, genuine conversations can be buried forever.
  • It looks obvious. Since all the comments are derivative of the same few phrases and keywords, it seems nobody watching has any individuality, differing or dissenting opinion. Any genuine comment will have an individuality, which sticks out like a sore thumb, and makes the long list of fraudulent engagements even more obvious.

When it Works

Buying views may be useful when you are creating a fresh campaign or YouTube Channel and have no social resources, such as a strong social media following, or a public relations team. If used in very small amounts, it can help the campaign in its infancy, but becomes more problematic in later stages.

All the numbers need to correspond, otherwise your views, likes and subscribers look very lopsided. That can be fixed too, for the right price – as there even YouTube subscribers readily available. Lopsided views-to-likes is only acceptable if the content is believed to be heavily embedded across the web (such as any real viral video), however, that’s clearly not your market. The only reason you would be buying views is to seem popular on YouTube, right? In case you hadn’t noticed, nobody will see your stats on an embed, anyway, so consider what this looks like to your target audience: the YouTube user.

A video with even a million hits, but less than a thousand subscribers, illustrates a broad disinterest in your content; defeating the purpose of feigning popularity.

The only other time buying engagements works is when the product or service requires such low commitment to the potential customer, such as being free or of very low cost. The more commitment required by the potential, the more convincing they need, and the more skeptical they become. If they recognize an unethical marketing practice, you might have destroyed any future relationship with them.

Who Uses Sponsored Views?

More people than you think, but mostly the entertainment industry. Music record labels buy views all the time in order to establish a new artist, album or song, by feigning its popularity. This is a priority for the entertainment industry because popularity is one of the biggest reasons for an audience to take an interest: to understand what’s popular in today’s culture. Politicians on both sides of the isle have been in the news for buying social signals. It’s about sensationalism: making people believe that this is relevant to them. Buying views for music videos is not uncommon knowledge, however, since many users will comment on how fast the video acquired over a million hits in a single day, despite low subscribers, likes or legitimate comments. Also, the high viewership seems to stop after the first day, and dwindles thereafter.
At the end of the day, it’s up to the individual who may try these “digital drugs”. After all, it is not illegal.