With more than two billion videos served every day — almost double the prime-time audience of all three major US television networks combined — standing out on YouTube so that your clips win attention, go viral and perhaps even graduate to a meme is never going to be easy. There are a few ingredients though that every YouTube clip needs to have if it’s to beat out the music videos and the lolcats to win views and build an audience.
The most important, of course, is interesting content. That might appear obvious but it’s actually rarer and more difficult to create than it sounds. More than 24 hours of video content is added to YouTube every minute, so information that’s entertaining enough to be worth watching and original enough that audiences haven’t seen it before is actually relatively rare. When it does appear on the site, it quickly snowballs, building up large numbers of views.
Like the secret ingredient of a Hollywood blockbuster, there’s no failsafe formula that makes up good video content. On some clips, it might be a free practical instruction (such as this video demonstrating how to draw a skull); on others, it might be an original use of graphics in post-production (such as in this clip by a professional director which has generated almost half a million views). The good news though is that the quality of content can override production values. Although many of the most popular channels on YouTube are run by professionals — such as Popstar Magazine’s channel, with its exclusive interviews with teenage heartthrobs — YouTube is famous for the home-made appearance of its videos. That means that Geriatric1927, an 82-year-old widower from England, has been able to build up more than 53,000 subscribers and an incredible total of almost 8.4 million views just by sitting in front of a camera and reminiscing about his past. There’s no fancy editing, no graphics and no attempt to bring in friends to shoot the breeze or play with props. It’s simply the ability of unusual information and good stories to attract an audience.
Everyone Loves the Underdog
Part of the appeal of Geriatric1927 is that he’s not supposed to win, any more than Susan Boyle was supposed to have a nice voice. YouTube’s homemade quality has made it the place where the underdog can make an appearance and win the mass support necessary to battle against the big boys. When the production looks enthusiastic rather than professional and the talent genuine rather than manufactured, audiences can feel that they can put one over on industry by pushing forward their own champion. When the champion succeeds, they get to feel that they spotted them first. Their champion’s success is their success too.
The biggest recent beneficiary of the desire of YouTube’s audiences to discover and promote a potential winner is Justin Bieber. After being discovered on the site by music marketer Scooter Braun, Bieber was brought to Atlanta, Georgia to record demo tapes. At that point, the music company would have traditionally taken over the promotion process. But Braun kept Bieber on YouTube, continuing to upload videos.
“I wanted to build him up more on YouTube first,” he told The New York Times. “We supplied more content. I said: ‘Justin, sing like there’s no one in the room. But let’s not use expensive cameras.’ We’ll give it to kids, let them do the work, so that they feel like it’s theirs.”
That was a bit of smart marketing that combined the professional quality content of Bieber’s teen appeal with the underdog championing that’s unique to YouTube.
Show Don’t Tell
YouTube-manufactured Justin Biebers are relatively unusual, and not everyone can or wants to be a teenage sensation. For businesses, YouTube is more likely to be used as another way of distributing useful information that supplements the content on a blog. That content is often didactic. It teaches viewers something that they didn’t know previously, paying them for their attention with valuable knowledge.
When broadcasters do that on YouTube, the principle for success is the same as that in most storytelling: to show, not tell. TigerDirect, for example, is an electronics store which attempts to build a customer base by teaching audiences about the benefits and features of the products they sell. Its TigerDirectTV channel on YouTube contains a series of videos that discusses cameras, gadgets and computer equipment. Most of the clips are shot in a studio, with the presenter at a desk holding the item he’s discussing. But the channel isn’t afraid to get out of the room and take the camera to the great outdoors. In a clip discussing the difference between G and N wireless routers, for example, three presenters set up two routers on a long empty road and continued driving until the signal from each faded. The presenters could have said that G routers are good for 20 yards, N routers for much further but by demonstrating the difference physically, they created much better — and more memorable — content.
Although success on YouTube can come from an amateur appearance, professionalism can work too.
It would be great to say then that you can either go for shaky camera work and win the support of the underdog or bring in a crew and create a professional-looking show. As long as the content is interesting and entertaining enough, you’ll be a success. But it’s not that easy because there’s another element that’s vital for success on YouTube whatever your approach.
You have to do the marketing.
Put up a video on YouTube and you’re not going to get views unless people know you’re there. That means adding comments – intelligent, helpful comments – at the bottom of related clips. It means talking about the clip on your own website. And it means continuing to add new content on a regular basis so that you maintain your audience and don’t lose viewers just as your popularity starts to build. All of that takes time and effort — which is why it’s so much easier to film your cat getting stuck at the top of the curtains.