Vanessa Pappas is Vice President of Audience & Strategic Partnerships at Next New Networks, where she oversees key partner relationships, builds out audience growth strategies and advises programming of the networks which include Indy Mogul, Hungry Nation, and Barely Digital.
Online video has moved from the niche to the mainstream and become a part of our regular media consumption. After five years, YouTube () hit the milestone of serving one billion video views per day in October 2009, and just seven months later crossed the threshold of two billion view day in May.
With online video viewing rivaling some of the biggest television ratings, how can you stand out in this sea of content on the world’s largest video platform? Whether you’re a Fortune 500 company, a media outlet, a small business, or an individual, the questions are the same: How do viewers find your videos online, and what keeps them coming back for more?
Here are five guidelines to improve your video discovery rate and create a loyal audience on YouTube.
1. Create Meaningful Content
Online viewers are fickle — they are always one click away from skipping over to the next thing. So while content is king, the key to having your video discovered is to create the kind of content that will add value to your defined community.
Ask yourself key questions: Why would people want to watch your video? What relevance does it have to your target audience? Whatever creative format you chose to take, whether it be a vlog, how-tos, interviews, topical viral concepts, news-focused, or a scripted web series, you need to give people a reason to watch and share your videos.
One brand that has done a great job of this is The Home Depot. The company’s videos are not just repurposed commercials. Instead, they offer DIY expertise and insight on products and projects around the home. By creating engaging content that is valuable to the specific DIY community, Home Depot is able stay on brand and increase their chance of satisfied viewers seeing and sharing their content.
2. Package and Brand Consistently
More than ever, the challenge everyone faces in building audiences online is getting viewers to come back after they’ve watched that initial video. A viral hit is a short-term success, but how do people know to come back? Did you give them a reason to?
To this end, branding and packaging is crucial. Your brand will serve as a navigation marker in a sea of online content. Having a strong point of view within your content helps define your brand and position yourself as an expert and leader in your field — it’s a voice that they will know to trust and return to for specific content.
Machinima, one of the leading channels for video game content on YouTube, has been the most consistent in this, and no doubt their branding and packaging has lead them to garner over one million subscribers.
The packaging of your video refers to the branding expressed around your content. Here you can include graphic intros or end cards that reinforce the brand so that viewers don’t have to guess what they are watching. It also establishes how people can find more of your content by giving them a name to search for. Additional branding and packaging within your video can include displaying your URL or YouTube channel name as well as using consistent channel and episode description and title conventions that reinforce your brand. These are all proven practices that can help viewers find their way back to your channel in the future.
3. Utilize the Platform — This Is Not TV
YouTube is many things to many people, but above all it is a social medium. It’s where conversations happen, content is shared, and people engage in a very personal and direct way. By looking at some of the most successful YouTube channels, you’ll quickly learn that being authentic in your videos is rewarded while brand marketing that is disingenuous or without value gets few results. Big companies like Zappos and Southwest Airlines understand this, and are excelling via engagement.
To get the most visibility from YouTube, use all the tools at hand. People are not just watching content; they are “Liking” it, commenting on it, and sharing it through e-mail, Twitter () and Facebook (). By encouraging such activity through either specific calls to action within your videos or using advanced features like YouTube Annotations, you increase the chances of your videos being shared and discovered by a wider audience.
Another main YouTube tool is the subscription feature. By asking your viewers to subscribe, you can convert many of them into repeat viewers and guaranteed audiences for future videos. Above all, by directly engaging with your viewers — through comments, responses, and replies to messages — you can effectively convert fans into a mobilized marketing team. Reward them by letting their voice be heard and including them in your content, and in turn you will find they will advocate on your behalf. To that end, no marketing dollar spent can match the value of personal endorsements and word of mouth from your biggest fans. At our company, we’ve seen the “pass-along” value and engagement metrics drive upwards of 40% of our traffic on top videos.
4. Optimize Your Video for Search
Today it’s all about SEO. In online video, the same rules that apply to making your blog or website discoverable apply to how people will find your videos. YouTube is the second largest search platform after Google (), so when people visit YouTube they often search for something specific. Optimize your content by creating smart titles and descriptions and by tagging with relevant keywords. These steps will help viewers find your content in searches.
A word of caution: Avoid spam-like tagging. This means you must avoid tagging everything under the sun or the latest pop culture icon or trend if that tag is not relevant to your content. Such practices will only create distrust among your viewers and keep them away for good. Remember, online video has a “long tail,” so your videos will continue to surface over time. Investing time in good metadata and paying attention to your archive will serve you well in the long run.
5. Partner with the Experts
We talk a lot about creating good content, but that’s no easy task. A lot goes into creating compelling and genuine videos that people want to watch. On top of that, building an audience takes time, and that’s a challenge for businesses that may not have skills in that area.
This is when you should look to the experts. There are many successful YouTube channels that you could partner with that have already built large audiences. A quick browse on YouTube’s “Most Viewed” channels reveals dozens of creators that are amassing millions of views per month with quality, original programming. Find a channel where the content is consistent, the community is engaged, and the subject matter (and therefore, audience) has relevance to your brand. These independent media studios and creators have dedicated untold hours to fostering a community that is loyal. Use this as an opportunity to work with those established leaders and tap into that audience to give your brand visibility.
A couple of successful recent campaigns include GE’s partnership with Howcast where they recruited key YouTube personalities such as iJustine, Smosh, Alphacat, and Rhett & Link to take a physical challenge and make original videos about getting healthy. So far, these videos combined have been viewed more than 9.5 million times, rated more than 250,000 times, and attracted more than 110,000 comments.
Through such partnerships, brands can have instant access to a loyal following, and as long as they respect the guidelines above and trust the expertise of those who manage their own audiences, the results will provide great exposure to a targeted community.
The above strategies are some of the key ways to develop and build audiences online and specifically on YouTube, but they’re by no means the panacea. Given the relative newness of online video, the mechanics are continually shifting. That said, these guidelines have proven successful for many who sought to reach beyond the hype of creating ‘viral’ videos to move toward building a consistent and genuine community around their brands or businesses.