As YouTube scales up, independent creators are increasingly looking for standards and strategies to increase views and revenue. For years the most successful YouTubers have run their channels like networks, adopting tricks and routines to keep and grow audiences. The audience and potential ad revenue has never been greater, so obviously more people are looking to get into the game.
YouTube and the International Academy of Web Television have partnered for a year’s worth of events in New York and Los Angeles for producers to hone their craft. The first of those events was last week Wednesday; I attended the New York event, held in Google’s Chelsea Market offices. The speakers were:
- Sofia Sheth, Coordinator, YouTube Next Lab (moderator)
- Rob Barnett, Founder/CEO, My Damn Channel, MyDamnChannel
- Franchesca Ramsey, YouTube Creator, chescaleigh and chescalocs
- Rebecca Lando, YouTube Creator, wcfoodies
- Tina Cesa Ward, Exec. Producer/Writer/Director, Anyone But Me, Good People in Love
- Daryn Strauss, Creator, Downsized
It was a good line-up, many of the names familiar to the New York community and the web at large. With such a diverse roster — in terms of format, audience, style and marketing strategies — it was a pretty interesting and informative discussion. Many of the panelists referred to the YouTube Creator Playbook, which includes a number of the suggestions listed here and some more. Here were a few of the key points.
How do you keep viewers’ attention in the pivotal first fifteen seconds?
Everyone stressed that the first few seconds of your video should be eye-catching and concise. Lando said Working Class Foodies starts with a very brief title card and explanation of the what the episode’s about. Ramsey underscored the importance of either making jokes or a catchy introduction to the content. Barnett said creators should stay away from anything “obtuse.” Viewers need to know what the video’s about almost instantly, unlike television or film specifically, which has some more time to guide viewers in. “We don’t have any of those luxuries afforded to us,” Barnett said. Nevertheless, web dramas often don’t have the luxury of zippy opens, so both Ward and Strauss said creators should stay away from long opening credits and jump right into a scene.
How do you use social media?
“We’re not allowed to sleep anymore. It’s just unnecessary!,” Barnett joked. Annotations, calls-to-action, asking for viewers/subscribers, likes are all key (and all in the Playbook). “You gotta ask for it,” he said. Ramsey agreed: “you really have to give people an assignment…you really have to spell it out for them” — point directly to your subscription button, latest video or Twitter handle. Ward stressed the importance of connecting with and being available to fans, which was so critical to Anyone But Me‘s success: “There’s this dedication that follows…We don’t even really have to market our show anymore…They just become very loyal to you. They want to help you.”
When should you upload content?
There was some disagreement over the best solution, but almost everyone agreed regularity is key, and the “traditional” model of once-a-week works best. “You just do it like a TV channel,” Lando said. Ward said weekly or biweekly releases build anticipation and made the excellent point that this offers more opportunities for promotion, as opposed to uploading all episodes at once. Strauss experimented with a number of release schedules and found some variation. Viewers can be trained, she said. Ramsey doesn’t have a set schedule, but highlighted the importance of maintaining a presence on other social networking channels if you don’t. But Barnett said since there’s so much content out there, “using the old world rules is essential.” In premieres and teasers — classic strategies — it’s expedient to be able to say “tune in every Wednesday.”
How do manage outreach for publicity and promotion?
Each person had different strategies. When soliciting press like blogs, many said sending personalized emails — and stroking egos — is effective (note to readers: it’s true!). Strauss had a spreadsheet of publications and people she wanted to contact, and she made sure to know the distinctions between various communities and publication styles. Ramsey, Ward and Strauss emphasized working through communities affiliated in your show. “It really was what launched us,” Ward said. Ramsey suggested looking at the “As Seen On” link featured on YouTube videos similar to yours to see what blogs are covering your area and told everyone to remember that YouTube-y elements like bumpers and annotations sometimes don’t work with the aesthetics of specific blogs.
How do you program around events, holidays, etc.?
“It’s essential,” said Barnett, mentioning the announcement the upcoming season of the comedy series Leap Year on the day of the panel, February 29.”You can’t overlook the obvious.” Ward said the Anyone But Me team has historically made publicity pushes around pride month (Anyone But Me focuses on two young lesbians). Strauss said Downsized is a topical show, and she incorporated news to make it fresh. Lando does the same more directly, creating playlists for holidays and doing specials like a “butter beer” recipe for the release of Harry Potter. Ramsey created Christmas cards and regularly watches trending topics (hence her famous Sh*t White Girls Say to Black Girls), but urged creators to be creative. “You can create your own tentpole. Hello: Shark Week.”
There was a lot more said at the panel, but if you join the IAWTV and come by you’ll get everything!