Posting a video on YouTube is one thing. Building an audience on the platform is quite another.
Though many marketers just consider YouTube a free video hosting service, it actually has a dedicated audience comparable to Netflix, Hulu, or any cable network. In 2016, YouTube surpassed the top 10 cable programs in regular viewership, and as of this year, the platform averages 1.9 billion monthly users. I’m one of those people.
For more than a decade, I’ve been an extremely dedicated viewer of ASMR YouTube channels. ASMR is the autonomous sensory meridian response, which is a needlessly fancy way of saying “my skin feels tingly when I watch videos of people whispering and delicately handling random objects.” My foray into the world of YouTube ASMRtists (as creators call themselves) is a great example of what you and your brand want followers to do.
I began watching ASMR by plugging the term into the search bar anytime I wanted to calm down. After clicking around for weeks, I found a few creators whose work I liked, and I subscribed. When those creators collaborated with others, I followed the CTA to those channels and subscribed if I liked their uploads. Without making the conscious decision to do so, I recalled details about each channel and what they liked to talk about. Watching them for years, I saw their divorces play out, with one particular ASMRtist moving into a new apartment, describing her new job, and eventually getting married again. I joined the chorus of supportive commenters when one ASMRtist was incarcerated, and felt a surge of happiness when, nine months later, I got a notification that he had been released and was making videos again.
There are a ton of platform-specific quirks to keep in mind if you’d like your brand to have a real presence on YouTube. If the idea of joining a large community puts you off, you can always keep hosting your videos quietly, and no one will be the wiser. However, if you want to rack up subscribers and eventually hang a silver, gold, or diamond play button on your company’s office wall, here are some guidelines, starting with the simplest one.
Trick out your channel and leave no field empty
Before you post any content to YouTube, make sure your channel’s about page looks professional. Starting a YouTube presence without an on-brand header image, avatar, trailer, and channel copy is like having an unverified company Twitter account. You can make it work, but you’re cutting yourself off at the knees by giving your audience a chance to doubt you.
Check out Nintendo’s YouTube channel, but keep in mind the entertainment brand has been on the platform since 2005. The header art is specific to the platform, and the people managing the channel pin timely ads to the company home page. They also list the brand’s sub-channels in a sidebar. If you click Nintendo’s “Playlists”, you’ll see related content gets grouped into small packages. These videos auto-play, one after the other, similar to the way Netflix simply fires up another episode of The Office if you’re binging through it. If your YouTube channel operates like any other TV channel, your playlists are your programming. Present them with as much gusto as HBO does for Game of Thrones.
Get your audience to watch regularly
Your editorial calendar on YouTube should look a lot like the calendar you use for your blog. Not every piece of content has to belong in a larger collection, but planning out a series can keep you on track.
Volvo manages a YouTube channel specifically for its trucks, and one of the best series it released on its channel was 2016’s “The Search,” a full season following professional driver and fuel efficiency advocate Christian Scheiflinger as he interviewed like-minded people. The episodes referenced the season’s larger narrative arc, which led up to the moment Scheiflinger picked three of his subjects to enter the Drivers’ Fuel Challenge World Final. It’s certainly possible to watch a single video, but the way the content is structured, you’re going to want to see the season through if you start.
Though “The Search” felt like a docuseries, Volvo’s longer running series “Welcome to My Cab” recalls MTV’s stylized reality shows from the early aughts like Pimp My Ride, Room Raiders, and Next? Each episode focuses on a professional truck driver as he or she gives viewers a tour of their cab, which is more interesting than it sounds. Thanks to Volvo, I learned the cross-country truckers spare no expense decking their cabs out with their hobbies and passions, whether that’s Rihanna or death metal bands. Because “Welcome to My Cab” episodes are short, funny, and rarely mention Volvo’s products outright, it’s exceedingly easy to take in more than one episode in a single sitting.
Don’t be afraid of CTAs
For a while, it was a somewhat of a meme to mock how Youtube creators end videos by saying “be sure to like, comment, and subscribe!” But, compared to other social media sites, the platform is the most amenable to asking outright for engagement. Occasionally, you’ll see a brand tweet something like “RT if you agree,” or an Instagram influencer will ask followers to “sound off in the comments,” but YouTube’s capacity for calls to action is unrivaled.
Even if you don’t want to mention your brand in your videos, you can always promote other series on your channel. For example, GoPro tags related content throughout its clips using YouTube’s editing tools. If someone mentions a subject, links to related videos pop up for a few seconds, not necessarily interrupting the flow. This is a commonly used tactic on the platform, and it doesn’t tend to carry the same negative connotation that pop-ups and banner ads do.
The same way you’d never publish a blog post without filling out meta-data for SEO, you shouldn’t publish YouTube videos without a full explanation of the series in the description box. Link to other episodes, link to your company’s website, and use that space as a resource doc attached to every piece of content. Since YouTube content can occasionally be distracting, do all you can to keep your viewer engaged with your work. They should never have to dig around to find it.
Join the community and engage with other creators
It’s very rare for a YouTube channel to take off and build an audience in a vacuum. Because most independent creators are entrepreneurs, they’re able to negotiate collaborations with other influencers by avoiding public relations red tape. Below, watch two insanely popular YouTubers and authors, Hannah Hart and John Green, collaborate on a video for Hart’s channel, My Drunk Kitchen.
If you’re a company publishing content to your YouTube channel, take your brightest stars on tour and feature them in your other series. Reach out to other YouTube creators in your industry and see if they’re taking submissions for guest spots.
And don’t slouch in the comments section! Make a practice of watching content from other creators in your field and let them know what you think. Link to the channels of creators you admire, let them know you’ve subscribed, and consider filming reaction videos to their biggest features.
Commit to a variety of video formats
If someone set an egg timer and said, “Name every type of YouTube video in thirty seconds!” I guarantee you wouldn’t even scratch the surface, no matter how deep into the platform you tend to get.
Among the video formats appropriate for branded content are docuseries, live Q&As, unboxing videos, comedy sketches, event coverage, how-to explainers, animated explainers, and man-on-the-street montages. Below, you’ll see Samsung’s UK channel collaborating with Slashgear.com in an “extreme unboxing video,” a blending of several genres
Make sure your YouTube channel has video content of every run-time, format, and tone you think works for your brand. Of course, if you’re a financial brand, you probably don’t need to do an unboxing video, but you can certainly upload short, lively Q&As with one of your funniest advisors alongside a serious short documentary about getting out of debt. That way your audience always has something to sink their teeth into, regardless of how much time they can devote to engaging with your work.