What Brands Don’t Understand About YouTube

YouTube just released its first Brand Channel Leaderboard, featuring channels that have had the most success attracting repeat viewership, shares, and engaged fan bases. But how well are brands actually doing on the video-sharing platform?

According to Touchstorm’s Video Index, only 74 of the top 5,000 channels on YouTube belong to brands, which Touchstorm CEO Alison Provost called “a significant brand fail on one of the most important platforms today.”

YouTube even acknowledged this shortcoming with the newest edition of their Creator Playbook, which—for the first time—is completely geared towards helping brands.

“With the rise of viewership on YouTube, especially mobile, brands can’t really afford skepticism,” says Damon Berger, co-founder and CEO of What’s Trending, a YouTube show and Internet hub that covers the web’s hottest trends. “They need strategies that fulfill creative and audience building goals unique to their brand.” (Full disclosure: I used to work for What’s Trending.)

Here’s what brands need to know before jumping in.

YouTube stars are the key to engaged viewers

Imagine telling a popular person to recommend your brand’s product to their friends. Maybe they’ll mention it to a few people. On YouTube, they’ll mention it to millions.

For brands, YouTube creators offer built-in audiences of loyal and engaged viewers. They’re are the ones you want to learn from—and work with. Having built their own multi-channel networks from scratch, they’re the most successful people in the space, and they know how to make a creative and conversational sell.

For the Fiesta Movement program, Ford armed 100 influential YouTube creators with Ford Fiesta cars and recruited them to produce innovative and entertaining videos with their vehicles, guided by missions such as #fitness, #adventure, and #AmericanIdol.

Even celebrities have collaborated with YouTubers to bring attention to the causes that they’re passionate about. Matt Damon appeared on a few original YouTube channels—such as Live Prude Girls and lisbug—to gain support for his campaign. And Mary-Louise Parker got drunk and baked brownies with Hannah Hart to promote a Weeds contest that benefits Hope North.

Obama even brought attention to Obamacare by inviting a group of YouTube influencers to the White House. The young creators shared their opinions on healthcare, education, and economic issues, while the POTUS indirectly harnessed the each of their fan bases.

Identify your audience, find crossover with YouTubers’ subscribers, and see if they’d be willing to collaborate. But make sure you have a solid pitch.

“We’re at a point on the platform where YouTube stars understand their worth to their audiences and the marketplace,” Berger says. “These stars have audiences in the tens, if not hundreds of millions, and for them to work with a brand, it really needs to be the right fit for them.”

For guidance, check out Fanbridge, a program created last year to connect brands and YouTubers.

YouTube is SEO on steroids

YouTube is a social network. It’s also the second-largest search engine in the world, outdone only by its owner, Google. If you want to improve your SEO and make Google happy with your brand, you might as well jump on its video-sharing site.

And now, thanks to a recent integration between YouTube and Google+, one post on YouTube earns your content exposure on three different platforms: YouTube, Google+, and Google Search.

By connecting your YouTube channel with a Google+ page or profile, every YouTube video you upload will be automatically shared with your Google+ circles. Or take it live with Google+ Hangouts on Air, and upload your live streams after for on-demand viewing.

Brands can also boost their content’s SEO by including metadata on their uploads, such as tags, descriptions, and links to related videos and social channels. As Berger points out, “YouTube has changed the way that brands of any size can distribute video content and activate an audience using the social functions of the platform.”

It just might be the easiest place to drive conversions through storytelling

Perhaps one of the coolest storytelling tools that YouTube offers is Annotations, which allows YouTube creators to insert pop-up messages and links directly into their videos. These can be used for calls to action, such as encouraging viewers to subscribe and directing them to related videos, or to enhance the storytelling experience with speech bubbles, highlights, pauses, or additional information.

As a rule, subtlety doesn’t win on YouTube’s social network. When providing metadata for your content, anticipate every question viewers or potential subscribers might ask, and put the answers right in front of their faces once the video ends.

It’s not always about going viral

Instead of gambling on an attempt to go viral, be smart about using your resources to create original, serialized content that will keep your viewers coming back for more.

“Viral is awesome, but it’s not necessarily a scalable business,” Berger says. “Building community and conversation, in addition to going viral, are the hallmarks to success on the platform.”

Red Bull is no stranger to virality, with its groundbreaking live stream of Felix Baumgartner’s space jump and action-packed Danny MacAskill videos, but what keeps their 3 million+ subscribers coming back for more are dozens of playlists of original, high-quality content.

Michelle Phan may not be considered a viral sensation like Psy or the Harlem Shake, but she uploads videos every week that receive over a million views, and she’s amassed over 6 million subscribers thanks to her trusty makeup tutorials. To tie in branding, she’s represented countless makeup brands over the years, and she finally launched her own line in collaboration with L’Oreal last summer.

Consistency will also help you turn viewers into subscribers, which is much more valuable. The YouTube Playbook notes that when subscribers view your content, they watch for twice as long as one-off viewers do. Subscribers are the ones who will buy your album year after year and stand in line for the concert. Viewers are the ones who’ll get the 99-cent single on iTunes and play it for a weekend.

You want that first group. You want the ones who will travel across the country to chase your reunion tour.

And above all, you want to climb that leaderboard.

Image by Amanda Walgrove

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