Since launching our channel back in 2011, we’ve often been asked by our viewers how we achieved our success on youtube. We’ve spoken on the subject vaguely from time to time in video updates on a channel that has long been abandoned (WarialaskyDaily), but I’m not sure that we’ve ever taken the time to describe in detail what our process has been. I think that’s because the answer to the question is both simple and complicated. It’s important to note that, because of the ever changing nature of online media, we’re still very much part of a learning process with regards to refining a model that works for us. However, after nearly three years of dedicating ourselves to making online content full-time, I would say we’ve gathered some valuable experience that we’d like to pass along to you. There are really only a few key concepts you need to focus on in the beginning. Doing this will help you define what type of youtube channel you want to build, and how your model should be structured.
Focusing On The Right Things
I’m not sure I can count how many times I’ve been asked the question, “How do I get more views on my videos?” Like I mentioned earlier, the answer to questions like that are both simple and complicated. The answer can be as simple as this: make great content. That’s not a very satisfying answer though, considering “great content” is a completely subjective term, and most people are probably wondering how they can make “great content”. That’s where things become a little more complicated, but it’s also where you should really be placing your focus. Rather than asking, “How do I get more views?”, what you might want to ask instead is, “How do I make videos that people will want to watch and share?” I believe that putting your focus into getting more views is missing the point, because if you're creating “great content” your video is going to be seen. Your viewers will make sure of that.
“Great Content” = Sharable Content
First, let’s try to define what “great content” is. Considering it is a subjective term, let’s try to keep our definition as universal and applicable to the youtube platform as possible. As viewers on youtube we have several tools available to us to give feedback on the videos we watch. The simplest of these is the rating system, a thumb up or a thumb down. Generally, at least in my experience, a video has to be pretty good in order to get me to click on the thumbs up button. It has to be something that stands out from the dozens and dozens of videos I watch on a daily basis. In short, I don’t tend to rate a majority of videos I watch. I only tend to do it when something impresses me or when something really pisses me off. Another tool given to us is the comment system. If we watch something that evokes a particularly strong response, we can express those feelings via discussion in the comment section. Again, in my experience, I tend to use this tool far less than I use the rating system, and it only happens when I’m either greatly inspired and entertained, or when I’m severly disappointed or upset. The last tool I want to talk about, and probably the most important in determining whether you’ve created a “great” video, is the share tab.
I don’t think it’s a secret to anyone that creating sharable content is incredibly important to growing your youtube channel, but determining how to make sharable content can be a little tricky. The obvious answer is to keep a close eye on current trends and breaking news stories and base the videos you make on those trends and topics that are already garnering lots of attention. There are some great resources out there to help you keep track of this stuff (http://youtube-trends.blogspot.com/, https://www.youtube.com/keyword_tool, and http://www.icerocket.com/ are just a few), but while this is all important, I’m not convinced it’s the most important piece of the puzzle.
The Huffington Post recently released an article that analyzed why certain content gets shared more than others. It’s definitely worth reading if you have some time.
While this doesn’t apply to youtube alone, it is still very interesting to see which factors drive people to share the content they see online. I found this paragraph to be particularly interesting.
“People also share for selfish reasons, like narcissism.
In fact, eight of the top 10 most shared articles in the past eight months were quizzes (seven from BuzzFeed, one from the NY Times). Why quizzes? Because when we share our quiz results, it fuels our identity and ego. Others will learn more about who we are, what we value, and our tastes. Think about the last time you shared a quiz. Do you really think 90% of your Facebook friends actually care? No, but the few that do will know what a cool person you are. Similarly, sharing an opinionated piece about a hot issue, such as gay marriage lets others know where we stand on the issue.”
People share a video when they feel like it says something about them; whether it taps into childhood nostalgia, demonstrates ‘superior’ taste or sense of humor, or simply applies to the aggravations and frustrations of daily life. If you can tap into those needs people have to share their lives with others - if you can elicit a strong emotional response from your viewer and the content makes them feel like it could define a part of themselves - then you’ve got what I would define as “great content”. Having a solid like to dislike ratio isn’t enough. Creating discussion in the comment section isn’t enough. If you’re seeing strong results on both of those fronts then you can be confident that you’ve created a “good” video, but if people aren’t driven to share, then I don’t think it can be defined as “great content”. A “good” video will please the few who see it, but a “great” video will grow your viewership, strengthen the loyalty of your subscribers, and bring opportunities that you would have never been given otherwise.
Let’s look at a few examples from across our channel to illustrate what I mean. On June 21st, 2012 we released a video called Thumbs Up For Rock And Roll. It was an attempt to create a video based solely on a trend we saw at the time - a very popular video with the same title. I’ll provide a link below for reference.
Because this video was so popular, we decided to try to tap into that success and create a video about this child twenty years later. In our video, the child grew up to be a successful motivational speaker who was asked to speak at a large, well broadcasted event. The punch line is that this man is still giving the same advice, word for word, that he was giving as a child; a clever idea if I may be so bold to say so, but it’s missing a key element. The problem is that it creates no sense of emotional attachment for the viewer. At best, this video will provide a quick laugh (if they’re in on the joke) and nothing more. If you look at the statistics, it is undeniable that this video falls under the category of a “good” video, but not a “great” one as we defined earlier. It’s garnered a little over 31,000 views, has a pretty solid like to dislike ratio, and generated quite a few comments… but it only has 12 shares. Watch our video below and click on the statistics tab to see what I mean.
One week later, on June 28th, we released a video called Real Life DLC. One click on the statistics tab will reveal a strikingly improved result as compared to the previous week. Click on the link below to see what I mean.
Why, though? What was the difference? Why did Real Life DLC get six times the number of views, six times the number of comments, a much better like to dislike ratio, and over 200 shares? The answer lies within the second element of creating sharable content that I alluded to earlier. In this video, we built all of our visual effects (the look and feel) around a popular video game at the time, Batman Arkham City. That is the first element in creating sharable content, but it was not the theme of our video. We based our theme on the universally despised business practices of large corporate video game studios which are exploited through paid downloadable content. This shared frustration between millions of players around the world was the emotional grab that drove people to share the video. It made the viewers say to themselves, “Gah! I hate when companies do this to me!” and they turned around and showed it to their friends who feel the same way. From these two examples we can quickly see why I am so convinced that an emotional element is SO much more important in creating “great content” than just being current timely with your trendy video topics. In my opinion it is the most essential aspect to creating a “great” video and growing your influence on youtube. For an even better example of this, where we totally nailed this emotional element, check out the statistics for our video, Console Wars, which has almost 1,000 shares despite having 20,000 views less than Real Life DLC!
Consistency is also an absolute key element to success on youtube - more so now than ever before - and it will only become more important as time goes on. I say this because with each passing day youtube becomes more saturated with high quality content, making it more difficult for your videos to be seen. People will be reluctant to subscribe to you if they look at your channel and see that you upload very infrequently. On the flip side, people will be quick to subscribe if they look at your channel and see a consistent stream of entertainment. Consistency is like a promise to your viewers that lots of entertainment is available now and will be coming quickly and frequently to your channel in the future. It gives them a reason to want to stick around, and provides something to look forward to. It maintains incentive to check back even if your videos aren’t hitting their front pages (which happens a lot now unfortunately).
This begs the question though, how frequently do you have to upload to be considered consistent? Is it one video every day? One video every month? What is the target you should aim for?
Unfortunately that’s not so simple a question to answer, because it depends on the kind of videos you’re making. If you have a channel like ours, creating videos with heavy visual effects, then a daily upload schedule is obviously out of the question. Even a weekly schedule, while not impossible, is severely limiting. I would say a great rule of thumb is this: the length of time it takes to create “great content” should dictate your upload frequency. If you have a vlog channel, and it takes you a couple of days to accumulate “great” information that you’ll need to talk about in your videos, then upload every couple of days. If you’re a gaming channel and it takes you two weeks to research the game you want to make a video about, upload every other week. If you’re a VFX channel and it takes you two to four weeks to create a “great” video, then upload once or twice a month. What you can’t do, however, is let your upload frequency exceed the amount of time it takes to create “great content”. If you do that, your subscribers will forget about you, youtube will fade you out of viewers’ feeds, and when you release a video again… you’ll see an immense decrease in viewership. We’ve been there, multiple times, and it can be very frustrating - especially when you can reflect on a time when you were consistent and seeing a steady increase in viewership.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard something like this: “I’d love to start a youtube channel, but I don’t have anyone around me who is willing to help.” As true as this may be for many people, it isn’t a good excuse to keep you from working hard and building an audience for yourself.
Let me explain what I mean. If you’re reading this it’s likely that you at least have some interest in filmmaking and visual effects. Let’s say you want to start a youtube channel, but you don’t have any friends who share the same passion for the craft that you do, and they won’t help you on your projects. You can use that as an excuse to do nothing, or you can come up with a creative solution to your situation and use your skills in a unique way. Let me share some links below.
This video was done by one of our viewers. This is a great example of a vfx artist who used his skill to create a hilarious, popular video all on his own. No need for a big film crew, expensive and time consuming pre-production… none of that. He just took a viral clip and made it his own. Brilliant work.
This channel, Action Movie Kid, is run by a vfx artist who is employed at Dreamworks. All he does is come up with a cool effects shots he’d like to try, uses his son as the on screen talent, and gets to work.
Devin Graham (DevinSuperTramp) is another great example of this principle. Knowing Devin personally, I can tell you that he wants to make big budget feature films. However, when he started his youtube channel he was limited, just like you may be now, but he didn’t let that excuse get in his way. He may not have had any friends around him willing to make movies, but he was in a location where people were doing really cool stuff, so he decided to film them doing it. He went out and used his skills in a creative way to build an audience and a channel that has grown and thrived enormously. Was this his end goal? No. Is he closer to reaching his end goal today because he started DevinSuperTramp? Yes. The opportunities that have come his way have been amazing, and it will only get better the longer and harder he works.
I can say the same thing about our channel. Making short VFX videos on youtube was never our end goal. We want to make big budget feature films. We still face many limitations in that regard, but I can say that we are much closer to reaching that goal today than we were three years ago. We have learned a tremendous amount about filmmaking and visual effects, and have been given opportunities to do amazing things that never would have come had we not just gotten together and said, “Let’s do something!” Every year those opportunities have grown for us, and every year we find ourselves a little closer to our end goal… but our success has only come through hard work and dedication. Don’t let excuses rob you of opportunities! Just because I have two friends who were willing to go all in on this with me doesn’t mean I couldn’t have made it work on my own. You just have to find a way, no matter what limitations you have.
Final Tip - The Importance Of Networking
I will be completely straightforward with you about this one, we suck at networking. I am confident that the number one reason why we haven’t seen more major success is because despite making lots of “great” videos, there are still very few people who know who we are (especially in our local area). Making a concerted effort to find viable collaboration opportunities can be a time consuming process, one that takes you away from what you want to be doing, but it is a vitally important thing to do… and it will be well worth your time.
Two good websites to get you started are vidstatsx.com and socialblade.com. These websites are great because they monitor the statistics of almost every youtube channel in existence and give you the ability to compare them with other youtube channels. This means that you can easily find other channels that have a similar influence to you on youtube in terms of daily views, subscribers, and so forth. These are the channels that will be most likely to collaborate with you because both sides stand to gain an equal amount from the endeavor. Compare this to trying to get a collaboration with Rocket Jump when you only have a couple thousands subscribers. In that situation you are the only one who stands to gain anything from the collaboration, so Rocket Jump will not be enticed to work with you. Finding channels that are on an equal level with you is very important in that regard.
Now you might be asking, “What if there aren’t any youtube channels of similar influence anywhere near where I live.” My answer to that is that while being in the same place is convenient, it isn’t necessary to have a successful collaboration. If you're a VFX artist, you don’t need to be in the same place to offer your skills to another channel. If you do sound design or music production, you don’t have to be in the same place to have a successful collaboration. Again, this goes back to what I was talking about in the last section, find a creative solution to your limitations. Find a way to offer what you do to people who may live in another place. The internet gives us the opportunity to communicate and work with people all over the world. Use it.
Another question you might have is, “What if I’m just starting my channel? What if I have no subscribers at all?” My answer to that is that collaborations don’t need to be restricted to youtube channels alone. One of our most successful collaborations came with the Men’s Chorus at BYU back when we were just getting started. Living in Provo, UT, we have great access to a lot of the facilities and talent that come out of BYU. A couple years ago we wanted to do a Skyrim video, and as you are probably aware, the Elder Scrolls franchise has one of the most iconic theme songs in all of video games. Skyrim’s score contains one of the most impactful renditions yet, and it’s popularity became rampant after the game’s reveal trailer. In a short amount of time it was all over youtube in various videos - including remixes beyond count, so we decided to jump on that bandwagon. Our unique selling point however, would be that our remix would contain the 180 voices of the amazingly talented BYU Men’s Chorus. We had a friend in the music program at the school who also happened to be in the choir, and he introduced us to the conductor. She loved the music and was totally on board from day one, and we were quickly able to get a recording of the Men’s Chorus to use in our rock mix. It was an amazing opportunity, and the reason it worked so well for us is because it became the interest of the Men’s Chorus - every single guy in there - to share the video once it was completed. Just by the nature of the collaboration, we now had 180 people who were ready to share our video with their friends and families, and as you can expect, that video performed very well for us.
One other thing you can do is gather a list of contact information for blogs and websites that write about whatever it is that you do on your youtube channel. Since we do film and visual effects that tend to be centered around video game culture, video game blogs have been our target for this - websites like Kotaku, Destructoid, 1UP, IGN, etc. The more work you do in collecting this contact information, the better the chances are that one of these blogs will post your video for their readers. Trust me, these guys are constantly looking for things to share, and if you are creating “great content” they will jump all over the opportunity to share your video. Make sure you keep these contacts in your email lists and send out a mass email to all of them every time you upload a video. If you’re doing your job, they’re going to share your content, and you’ll see a huge boost in views and subscribers that you never would have achieved on your own.
It may not be very satisfying to hear, but there is no defined, proven method to achieving success on youtube - but I think the reason for that is because so much of your success depends on whether you can create “great content”. Creating “great content” takes lots of time, skill, and creative problem solving. However, if you put your focus in the right place by spending your efforts creating sharable content, rather than just trying to get as many views as you can, you’ll start to see results - especially if you couple that effort with solid networking and consistency. You can’t simply upload your video to youtube and expect that if it’s good enough, it will become viral on its own. You need to make connections with blogs, youtubers with similar influence, and other leading institutions or authoritative creators on your subject locally. I can tell you from experience that if you do all of this, and really stick with it, you are going to see a lot of success… so long as the content you’re creating is truly “great”.