Monday, 5 March 2012

How to become a YouTube celebrity

Someone I know named Bobby gave me a bottle of wine in exchange for a future consulting job a while back, and this week he called in the favour. He wanted me to take a look at his YouTube channel and give him advice on how to improve it so that he could start to generate a following.  Yay! I'm helpful! Also this, like many things, is a marketing problem.

A marketing problem?

I've said this many times on this blog, but it bears repeating.  

Marketing is not just promotion.

Marketing is an organizational function and set of values for communicating and delivering value to a customer. Always, always, always have the customer in mind and what they need.

Reminds me of that Dale Carnegie principle from a few weeks back: Frame things in terms of what other people want. And other people want interesting content.

Top YouTube Content

If you are looking at being a YouTube sensation, then your product is content. I'm no YouTube celebrity myself, so the best place to start the research is by looking at the people who made it big.

A quick glance at the top 10 most heavily subscribed YouTube channels reveals mostly comedy. One channel is homebrew special effects, and one is video game trailers, and the rest are all quick-cut comedy dialogue. The top rated channel is a guy commenting on other people's funny videos.  

I can't help but notice that these videos have a fairly high production value and even the fellow who just commented on other people's videos had a whole team of people working on it week to week. In addition it makes sense that the most subscriptions belong to the comedy channels - it's a subject that has a wide appeal, and can be viewed casually. Drama often involves more of a mental investment.

Another place to look for Internet fame is the viral videos.  These seem to be mostly one-hit wonder, flash in the pan videos.  They become popular because they stand out of the crowd and they get shared around and around, by the right people.

The popularity of these seems to be mostly shock value, and it might be difficult transforming the instant fame into something more long-term.  Rebecca Black's follow up video, for example, wasn't nearly as popular as "Friday" because it wasn't as much of a train wreck.

As we move down the list of heavily subscribed accounts, it gets more varied. Music video channels are in the top 50, and further down the list the how-to channels start appearing.

Now let's look at Bobby's channel:

It seems if Bobby wants to be a YouTube superstar, he'll have to do quick-cut comedic commentary and wear funny costumes. If, however, he is content to be a known quantity on YouTube, then there's a lot more freedom in terms of content.

Looking at what Bobby has now, it's a nearly blank slate with just a few experimental videos on it. I will begin with some observations:


Many of Bobby's videos start with explanations of what's going to happen, and there is an uncertainty in the monologue.  In a real life conversation this would be normal as it anticipates a "yeah" or "uh huh" response from the other person.  In a video, however, it feels somewhat awkward because we're being prompted for a response we can't give. This is why the highly subscribed channels are in-your-face annoying.  Observe the difference:


Versus telling

Sherri informs me that this is called the "no dead-air" principle and is what radio DJs are trained to do.  It is the exact opposite of what a good conversationalist does, which is leave spaces and speak more slowly so people can jump in.

Content Focus

In general it is easier to promote focused content than general content. For example my blog has had trouble getting viewers and subscribers because it is very general. I like to talk about business and promotion and school and news and self-help, and all sorts of things.  I have a friend who has a website about trainspotting. This is so much more specific. It's an online magazine/newsletter about where certain train engines have been spotted around the continent in the past month. It's a much narrower segment of people interested in this but he's got over 8000 regular subscribers.

Bobby's content isn't focused yet, because it's still in the early stages, and most content has to go through an exploratory process before it finds its niche.  But by choosing one aspect of the content and starting from there, the channel as a whole becomes easier to relate to.  People like knowing what to expect, same as regular TV.  When they tune into Bob Villa, they want him to build a house, not play the saxophone.

That said, if Bob Villa were to play the saxophone on his show, it would probably go over well as long as it was an aside, and he ended up doing some sort of renovation to a house in the end.

Production value

Now, this is YouTube, and people can generate a following without spending hours editing video, however some editing can smooth rough edges and make the videos more pleasant to watch.  I'm no film student, but here's what I see in some of the better videos:

  • Background music: This can really help to set the mood of a video, and signal to the audience how they are supposed to feel about the content
  • Lighting: Getting a few halogen lights in the room can make a big difference in the shot
  • A set: Depending on the type of show you want to do, a set can help people connect with what they're watching.  Doesn't have to be expensive or permanent.  A sheet in the background hiding the cluttered shelves can help.
  • Small edits: If you're trying to do weekly content by yourself, you might not have time to do all the quick-cuts that the pros do, but getting rid of the "walk-up-to-the-camera-and-turn-it-off" shot at the end can be good.  You can also creatively cut when you botch a line without too much work

Regular Posting

People need to know what to expect to feel comfortable with content, and getting new content up on a regular schedule makes a big difference. Posting every, say, Tuesday at 5pm will train people to visit your site at that time. If you miss posting, people will notice.  Even with this blog, if I'm late putting up a post I can count on hearing about it from my few faithful regulars.

Cats and Women

Now, I'm not saying that every successful video has scantily clad ladies and cute, adorable kitties, but it sure makes it a lot easier...


YouTube has become a lot more competitive since its inception and people realized that it was powerful and they could become famous and make dollar bills with it. Standing out from the crowd now means carrying a certain level of quality and professionalism that wasn't required before.  Still, with a little thought and effort it is still very possible to get some good content that can generate a decent following.

But content alone is not enough to get followers, which leads to promotion. But that is a subject for another day.


Anonymous said...

check this one out a wannabe channel !

Lori said...

Hey Nathan,

Good advice here, I was just talking with one of my web business buddies not 10 minutes ago about doing more videos. Just have to find time to get a better camera.
As far as editing goes, I use windows movie maker, it is simple to learn and very quick to use for simple edits.

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