Choosing an Online Video Platform: Playing the YouTube Game
This is a guest post by filmmaker Robin Schmidt a.k.a. El Skid.
In Part 1 I talked about picking YouTube as the correct platform for our project Super Massive Raver, for the plain and simple reason that it had the greatest access to an audience of any of the current options. When looking to monetize video online I think you have to be pretty circumspect and accept that the general public are highly unlikely to pay for video content unless you give them a compelling reason to do so.
YouTube partnership will start generating revenue from views but it’s not a source of income that’s ever going to make you a big stack of money. However, YouTube allows you to build a big audience, build loyalty, and once you’re there, you’ve actually created a compelling reason for people to buy something from you. It may not be video, but once you’re seeing big views on YT then you’ve created opportunity. What you decide to do with that opportunity once you have it is entirely up to you. You could sell merchandise, you could do public appearances, or you might even be able to sell the work itself, in limited edition hard copies, or bundled into some kind of mobile app. The fact is, whatever you do, you have to build that audience and build a hunger for your work. And that is why I chose to go with YouTube. More views, more potential customers for other things you could sell them… video is just the hook.
So, how on earth do you play the YouTube game? We’ve all marvelled at badly shot videos of cats meowing enjoying 12 million views when our own videos barely scrape 100 and wonder why this is happening. It’s important not to be distracted by this because that kind of insane viral activity simply isn’t going to happen to you, or me, or any of us. Truly viral video isn’t really explainable and it’s certainly not something you can build any kind of strategy around. No, you just have to knuckle down and do the hard work. It’s a chicken and egg problem -– if no one’s already watched your video, no one else will watch it. If no one’s already subscribing to your channel, no one else will want to subscribe. Even if you make jaw-droppingly beautiful videos it probably won’t make any difference.
YouTube is a numbers game, the higher your numbers (views, channel views, subscribers, friends) the more likely people are to stick around and see what you’re up to. In other words, success breeds success. But how on earth do you get started in the first place?
Firstly, you have to be very clear about what you’re creating. Comedy is by far the most successful type of content on YouTube, followed by How-Tos, then music videos. The rest is all a bit of a mess and pretty hard to profile but by and large, the audience on YouTube is young and this is what they watch. I threw my lot in with comedy, wrapped in a little bit of visual FX and animation, a pretty tried and tested formula:
This is not to say you couldn’t build a channel that focussed on the dwindling supply of rape seed oil in the mid west but I don’t think anyone would ever watch it!
Playing the YouTube social game
Now, before you even start posting videos the key thing is to make sure there are people who will actually watch them. You do this by making friends with people and gaining subscribers. And you do this by watching other people’s videos, seeing which ones you like, which match the kind of content you’ll be creating and writing constructive, useful comments on their videos. Most comments are asinine and pathetic so a good comment always makes a channel owner take a bit more notice. You can also write messages on their channel pages. The temptation is to go to the big big channels and try and make friends with them. No chance. You’re much better off looking for small channels who are also trying to build their viewership and connecting with them. One of the worst features of YouTube is the messaging and inbox which is so un-user friendly it just kills me. Tracking messages, responding to them, keeping on top of your friends requests, is a complete nightmare. Another problem is the bot-detection engine which requires you to write a security word once you’ve written a certain number of comments (about five as it turns out) and this can become insanely annoying. You will also run into another problem which is that of making too many friend requests. After making ten or so friend requests you will encounter the message ‘You have made too many friend requests. Please try again later.’ This is YouTube going into spam prevention overdrive, and for good reason of course, but it does mean doing your work on YouTube itself is a massive and completely soul-destroying pain in the danglies.
By far the best way to engage viewers on YouTube is not to send them to YouTube at all, but to embed your videos on other pages and drive them to those sites via Twitter and most importantly of all via Facebook. YouTube is a horrible site to navigate around but people love Facebook and spend a great deal of time on it every day. For me, the best way to build a YouTube audience is actually via Facebook. Create a page for your channel and use all the social media tools at your disposal to bring people to that page with the key message of subscribing to the channel. The reason you want people to subscribe to your channel is that, every time you upload a new video all your subscribers get that video in their inbox. Automatic, no hassle, it just goes there. In essence the YouTube channel is really just a shop window for your videos, and a record of your stats. The hard work and the engagement actually happens on other platforms that are much easier to control and to direct people to. Go figure. I started off doing all my work on YouTube and it just became incredibly frustrating incredibly quickly. It’s horrid. Build other social media streams into your strategy and it will all work a lot better. If you can bring in a community manager to deal with your Facebook, Twitter and YouTube presence so you can focus on doing the actual work because it’s so much work on its own.
Once you have some kind of relationship with other YouTubers, then start posting videos. Posting regularly makes a big difference as its actually very hard to do and people value that connection with you. Also, think about who you might be able to collaborate with on YouTube. Are there YouTubers in your area who make videos you like, can you offer them anything, can you gain access to their followers through working with them. Build those relationships and you’ll quickly gain a much bigger following. Box4Box is quite a common relationship whereby you feature a channel on your frontpage and they feature you back. Again, you have to earn the right to do this. I all requires a subtle approach but it’s by far the best way to get your channel seen. Again, having some solid numbers, and some solid video product on your channel is really important. As is picking the right design – I see so many awful looking channels I just switch off instantly. Design a background and make it distinctive.
After you’ve been going for a while, posting regular videos, seeing good numbers, and definitely up to 1,000 subscribers or so, then apply for the YouTube Partnership program. If you’re successful it will allow you a bit more leeway to create a bigger viewership and they give you more control over the design of your channel, with buttons for social media activity and it should make the process a little bit easier.
A key strategy as a YouTuber is to earn “Honors,” little badges that sit on your channel and instantly tell people that you’re successful. We have two on our site, 21st most viewed (This Week) – Comedians – United Kingdom and 22nd most viewed (This Month) – Comedians – United Kingdom. Not the most prestigious, for sure, but they instantly tell your viewers that you’re the real deal. You get these once you start seeing decent numbers on your videos. The goal is to make it into the top five of these lists as people like seeing what’s being watched by other people. As always, if you’re placing high on a list, then more people will watch. In part 3 I’ll talk about some of the slightly more underhand strategies you can use to build your views, not quite so innocent I’m afraid…
I’m Robin Schmidt, also known in music video circles as El Skid. I’m a freelance director, editor and latterly cameraman, as well as doing all sorts of other bits and pieces like graphics and voiceovers. I am not a director of photography. And never will be. I’ve been working in music video, corporate and extreme sports up till now but my big love is drama, which is easily the toughest directing game to gain any kind of foothold in. I set up the production company Chrome Productions in 2002 which served as a brilliant apprenticeship for learning key skills, but I’ve now left to pursue drama, not necessarily in the conventional way, but in a way that reflects the changing landscape of filmmaking today, and the one that does away with all the bullshit that seems to float around this business. Earlier this year I won the Bahamas 14 Islands Film Challenge and earned the right to work with Canon as a pro envoy for video and convergence (a fancy term for shooting on DSLRs). I was also named one of Moviescope Magazine’s ‘One to Watch’ which must mean I’m doing something right!