I know I might come off as a jerk for asking, but it’s a serious question all streamers with ambitions of growing have to answer. Myself included. Streaming is a highly-crowded, hyper-competitive, and top-heavy space where zero viewers is the norm for most.
Furthermore, there are inherent challenges that come with consuming live streaming content versus anything else online. Asking someone to carve out hours of their day to go to your channel and engage with you through the chat is way harder to do than to watch a much shorter YouTube video or view a social media posts that get propagated in other people’s feeds. All of this makes live streaming as a medium one of the most difficult forms of online content to consume.
If you want potential viewers to make that effort, you have to provide them with value equal to or exceeding the effort they put into watching you. Let’s talk about our value as live streamers and what we can do to make our streams more valuable.
Understanding the Pillars of Value
How do you provide value as a streamer? Explaining “value” can be an incredibly difficult subject, as the particulars of what people find valuable are subjective. Also, everyone’s value proposition is going to be a bit different. Whatever your value proposition is, it needs to be something that viewers are willing to make the effort to watch.
As a means of simplifying the discussion, I lean heavily on stream coach Ashnichrist‘s 4 Pillars of Value. It’s a great way of categorizing the different types of value that one can offer as a streamer. Here goes:
The 4 Pillars of Value
Whether you’re playing video games, cooking, hosting a pool party, painting, or just chatting with your viewers, any types of value you provide can fit into one of these four pillars. Odds are, your value will be some mix of these four, rather than putting all of your XP into one. Let’s talk about each pillar in more detail.
Knowledge is power. Viewers will tune into your stream if you have valuable knowledge worth sharing. For example, if you’re a great fighting game player, you can add value to your stream by sharing tips on how to improve.
You don’t necessarily have to be an expert at games in order to provide educational value. Much of my time on Twitch is spent watching streaming experts such as Harris Heller, Devin Nash, and Nutty. There’s an entire world of subjects available to you, from cooking, to music production, to knitting, to pretty much anything something would be interested in learning about.
While I think there’s a tremendous opportunity for streamers with a heavy-slant towards education to stand out, you don’t necessarily need to build your entire channel around it. My channel is gaming-centric, but our conversations often lean towards the subject of streaming. Still have a ton to learn about the medium, but I regularly share my knowledge in hopes that it helps other aspiring streamers improve their shows or start one. Adventure Rules frequently uses his stream to share resources relating to Black Lives Matter. Whenever there’s an opportunity to share knowledge with your community, do it!
Do you consume any content that motivates you to push forward in your life? Though Twitch might be short on personalities in the style of Tony Robbins, you can make a positive change in someone’s life by inspiring them to take on the world ahead.
Though I haven’t exercised in ages, I tune into TominationTime for fitness advice and encouraging words that might push me to actually play more Ring Fit Adventure someday. On a more subversive level, I’ve spent a lot of time with Anime Study Girl while working on projects. Those lo-fi beats serve as my backdrop for being productive.
What sort of motivational value can you offer to your viewers? Again, you don’t necessarily have to construct your platform around motivation. However, there might be a way to provide some form of motivation to your audience where it makes sense.
Entertainment is a broad pillar that encompasses a wide-range of activities that viewers could find entertaining. This includes everything from speed runs, esports tournaments, entertaining reactions, musical performances, money guns, 100 Baby Challenges, mukbangs, and more.
I think this is the pillar that most streamers trip over. Many rely too heavily on their gameplay to provide all of the entertainment. There are no shortage of gameplay-only streams or streams where the player almost never talks into their microphone. Unfortunately, with so many other streamers and VODs out there covering that exact same game, your standard issue play isn’t going to stand out unless you do something different.
Consider finding a different angle when you play games. Within the world of Animal Crossing: New Horizons, villager hunts have come a very popular way of streaming the game. As a Super Mario Maker streamer, playing viewer-submitted levels is a great way of creating a deeper level of engagement with your audience. When I play Stardew Valley, I put a heavy emphasis on my misadventures in the dating scene. Are you #teamjaley or #teamjabigail?
More importantly, find ways to add value to your gameplay through your voice and your face. Maintaining a steady commentary is a great way to keep viewers engaged as you let them into your thought process. When cropped right, your camera is going to work wonders for you when it captures your amazing facial expressions during exciting moments. If you’ve got interesting questions related to the game, ask them to your viewers to start a conversation. Of late, I’ve made heavy use of a voice changer and special effects to help present myself as a larger-than-life personality. In a world where everyone is playing the same games, you are the value proposition.
Also, consider going beyond the bounds of gaming itself. There are so many facets of life that aren’t being streamed. Maybe you have something to offer the world that isn’t saturated on Twitch yet. For example, Athena over at The AmbiGaming Corner sings and plays the guitar between gaming sessions. These interludes are a great opportunity to share her talent with the world and a unique way of providing entertainment value within the gaming space.
Though I’m not the most talented spray paint artist, viewers really enjoyed watching me paint on stream because it was something seldom seen on stream. Think about all of the things you do or enjoy and consider shaping that into a stream!
Relational value comes from the connection you create with your audience. This includes those who directly interact with you in the chat and those who only lurk but feel like you’re their friend. This value proposition is incredibly powerful in the world of radio, podcasts, and live streaming, as you care about these creators on a more personal level.
If you watch my shows, I lean heavily on this pillar. I do everything I can to reply to every message in the chat. I try my best to get to know at least a little bit about everyone who engages with me so we can carry on a more personal conversation. I also take many intermissions throughout my gameplay sessions in order to tell stories from my personal life and partake in more involved discussions. Even if you’re not watching my content live or if you’re just lurking in the chat, I go out of my way to create a space where it feels like you’re hanging out with a group of friends.
I see other streamers in the #coolkidsofwordpressontwitch community do this as well in a myriad of ways. Many have special chat commands to shoutout specific viewers. Later Levels used to use hand-picked sound effects when certain people enter the chat. However you go about it, put in the effort to build your community.
Not only is this bond an amazing value proposition for viewers, it’s the best value proposition for me as a streamer. Through this process, I get to meet cool new people from all over the world who share my interests. The longer they stay with me, the better we all get to know each other. For all of the work that it takes to make my stream work, the relational value you give me in return makes this worthwhile.
Of course, be mindful of boundaries. You don’t want to share too much personal info that shouldn’t be online. Be careful of who you let into your inner circle. You can be friendly with everyone, but you’re not obligated to become BFFs with everyone in the chat. Also, be careful to not inadvertently dox those in your chat. All of this can be tricky to balance, so proceed with a bit of caution.
Bringing it All Together
What is your channel’s value proposition? The more you understand your value, the more you can improve upon it in order to create a show that others want to be a part of.
Use these 4 Pillars of Value as a starting point. How does your stream provide value in any of these categories? Is there one or two that you should focus on? Maybe you can find ways of tying them all together as part of your overall value proposition? Whichever way you go, making a conscious effort towards understanding your channel’s value and refining it will get you farther than just playing video games on stream without a plan.
Furthermore, the overarching value of your stream is you. You can go anywhere to watch someone play a game. But they have to come to you for your unique information, motivation, entertainment, and relational value. Play this up as much as you can.
Your most important tool when it comes to providing value is your voice. Make sure to use a microphone and talk into it constantly. I see so many streamers who seldom use their mic because they don’t know what to say or because they’re shy. When you stay silent, all you’re providing viewers with is a nondescript gameplay-only feed that they could get anywhere else. If you’re struggling to keep a conversation going, maybe this guide I wrote on the subject could help fill in the gaps.
Furthermore, I strongly recommend using a camera. Being able to see the streamer’s face, reactions, and space they’re in adds so much value to everything you do on stream. You’re no longer a game-playing robot or a disembodied voice in the ether. With a camera, you become a human being that viewers can identify with.
Despite being camera shy in real life, I go to great lengths to provide value to viewers through my cameras. I ensure that my face is well lit and that my cameras are positioned to show it clearly. My room is decorated with a ton of items that viewers may find visually-appealing. I make use of multiple cameras during intermissions so that you can see me in full view as we’re chatting. A number of segments I run require visual aids, from Show & Tell to the money gun celebration. Having a camera unlocks so much of your value when you use one and take it seriously.
You don’t even necessarily need a good camera to make a positive improvement. As long as the viewers can see your face well enough and you have the ability to “look them in the eye” (by looking directly at the camera), that human connection is amplified tremendously.
As an alternative, you could use a FaceRig avatar. Mr9Lives uses it to great effect, as they’ve built their entire online persona around being a video game playing tiger. Whether you model your face after an animal or anime character, at least there is an avatar that viewers can see and connect with. Don’t underestimate the value of being able to attach a voice to a face!
Even something as lo-fi as an animating GIF of your avatar or a static image of your avatar on-screen can help associate a face with a voice. Above is an example from TriformTrinity, who uses a drawing of himself in the corner of his screen. LilyPichu will sometimes use an animated GIF of herself as an alternative to using her camera. At the very least, it helps viewers associate a face with your voice, which goes a long way towards creating that connection.
In closing, if you want your channel to grow, your stream has to provide value to others. Understanding this concept and putting in the work to improve your stream’s value proposition will go a long way towards creating a stream that others will make the time to watch. I’m constantly working on my value proposition and will probably continue to do so for as long as I’m here. How will you improve the value of your stream?
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