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Making it big on YouTube by doing it small

By January 25, 2012Opinion

You aren’t famous until someone’s mama knows who you are – Chris Rock


YouTube has become a certified media empire, with a billion accounts, 4 billion views per day  and with one hour worth of video being uploaded every one second. A distribution model where it is global, instantaneous, free and where new shows are being discovered and other shows are getting axed. Many experts are now calling it the anti-establishment where one doesn’t need to go through casting calls and there are no gatekeepers you need to impress.

But the downside to this vast and competitive market, where big money can be made, is that the majority of videos posted on YouTube sink without trace.

Big Brands are seeing opportunities where a few years they would not have thought twice about YouTube. YouTube’s advantages is that there is a global viewership and one that can actively engage with the video makers. The audience gets to interact with the product and give instant feedback.

You can see why television networks have something to fear because of Youtube’s ambition to bring a whole new sphere of content to the viewer and also with the recent comments from Google chairman, Eric Schmidt stating Google’s ambitious 2012 plan to have Google TV embedded in all all the televisions you see in shops.

In this last six months, I had the opportunity to tackle the YouTube beast with a show called The Social Life. We recognised that especially in New Zealand a show about the digital lifestyle was missing. So, I put together a team made up of the new media savant, Lewis Bostock, the sassy and funny Katie Du-Fall and the super editor, Chris Tarpey, to meet my expectations and vision for the Social Life project.

The Social Life aimed to provide insightful and thought provoking video content for our audience. We realised, unlike doing a show on traditional television, this was a whole different ball game. We had to do our research, especially from the best YouTubers out there, and see how they captivated their audiences. The pattern we noticed is that it is about getting the comedy and quality just right.

The show had a relative modest goal. The Social Life team set out to achieve at least 1000+ views with each episode. After several episodes into the season, we were shocked [in a good way] that our videos were racking in well above the deemed successful requirement of 1000+ views per episode.

And by so doing, we were lucky enough to learn that the ups and downs to making it big in web broadcasting is by doing it small. Some of the lessons we learned included:

1) Content has to have the right balance of seriousness, comedy and reliability.

Through the production of the Social Life, there were two important key factors to achieve – a lightness of touch and reliability. We realised that it was important to always have a backup plan because once you’ve promised your audience a delivery schedule, you need to stick to it, otherwise your audience will lose interest.

Regarding comedy, the team came up with early concepts that translated into amazing content but one thing that we didn’t embrace enough was to put a smile on viewers’ faces. Top Youtube partners like your Ijustine, Revision 3, Digital Rev and others all show finely balanced serious content and comedy. The best example of balance between serious content and comedy is the recent Legend – drinking and driving ad

2) Targeting the right niche – do your research.

At a party last year, one of my good mates gave me an earful about The Social Lite [the predecessor to The Social Life] on how I was targeting the wrong niche audience with my content. With hindsight, he was 100% percent spot on. With The Social Life, the team had to go back to the drawing board to come up with content that fitted our audience better. When producing your show on YouTube, make sure you do your research on your audience and you’ll find that making content becomes so much easier.

3) Connect personally with your fans.

One of my regrets is that we didn’t close the series by thanking our viewers and supporters. A bond had developed between the show’s hosts and the audience and we could have acknowledged that better. A great example of this is Wong and Laatsch of Freddiew who rented an RV for 30 days and travelled across America to personally engage with their fans.

Once you’ve dedicated the time and effort into producing an awesome YouTube channel, make sure you have time to say thank you to your followers to acknowledge their faith and loyalty to the show.

4) Collaboration

Another regret is that we didn’t work more with New Zealand’s YouTube community. YouTube collaboration is vital to your success if you have a long term goal for it. The likes of Shaycarl, Kassem G, Ray William Johnson, Ijustine have all appeared in each other’s videos to ensure the mutual growth of their videos. Another note on collaboration is it has to be with a YouTuber that is relevant to what you are producing. Otherwise, you can be seen as “audience” jacking.

5: Optimise for search

Optimising for search has become a vital part to your YouTube strategy because now there is an opportunity to earn advertising revenue from Google. Google ad rates on videos go for between $1 – $3 per thousand views. One can see that making a living on YouTube can be quite hard but with the right strategy in place, a six figure income doesn’t seem impossible at all. Taking the time to make the tag words relevant and search friendly will make your videos seen readily in search results and help you grow your media empire.

Is The Social Life a success? Yes and no. Yes, because we’ve achieve the target we set out to achieve and no, because in the world of YouTube, we still have a long way to go to get a mass audience of engaged viewers.

I hope this article inspires other aspiring video content producers because there is no better time than now to create interesting content and carve out a YouTube niche or identity. There are no short cuts, just a lot of experimentation to find out what works and to build on that.