The final section of the YouTube Creator Playbook focuses on making your video social. When you first begin uploading videos, you are looking for an audience, which likely won't be very big at first. You have to build one, and building an audience takes interaction on your part. It means you ask for comments and respond to those comments. It means asking viewers to like, favorite, or share your video. In the end, it means making your audience feel wanted and needed, that they are a part of your creative process, and that you make your videos more than just something to watch to kill time.
If you've read this series through and through, YouTube's much-discussed, mysterious algorithm favors a video that has lots of activity--comments, favorites, likes, shares, video responses, etc. Get noticed by the search algorithm and makes it easier for people to find your video. I'll set aside the cynicism that we often attribute to the YouTube algorithm, especially since there are politics involved, but to build an audience you have to be provide great content and be proactive. What YouTube does with the algorithm is out of your hands, but creating an excited community around your videos, your channel, is something that is very much in your control.
The Playbook overview:
Strategy: Interact with your audience and involve them in your videos or channel.
Why It Works: Viewer interaction builds loyalty to your content and increases engagement. This can also improve your videos' algorithm ranking.
How To Do It: Create viewer-centric content, and engage with the audience through social features on the platform.
Make The Viewers Count, Let Their Voices Be Heard
Whether it's negative or positive, comments are a great way to build an audience. And responding to them is validating their interest in the show. Responding to favorable comments makes your viewers feel special, and responding to negative comments in an appropriate way can spur on dialogue. In fact, you can make your comments open-ended where you continue to ask questions and challenge your audience. People like being responded to. You shouldn't leave them in the cold, especially when you are trying to build an audience.
And if you can spur people to comment with the content in your video, either by asking them to do so and/or providing thought-provoking entertainment, you start gaining fans by responding to them, and you start gaining in the search algorithm. The idea is to create responses and respond to those responses.
Comments can also take the form of video responses, and there are a couple of ways to look at those. A great number of video responses also help with the algorithm, but if it's relevant, you can actually feature select responses in another video to create supplemental content. Making entirely new content out of someone's video response is not only a cheap way to make another video for your catalog but shows again how willing you are to make your audience a part of the show. It goes a long way. I often think of those bands that allow people to come out of the audience during a live show to come up and perform with the band. Those type of gestures go a long way, not only with the person who is lucky enough to get on stage, but the entire audience.
But how do you generate comments at first, when almost no one knows about you or is watching your video? YouTube has a pretty good tip: let your friends and family be those first responders. Generate lots of comments with them first, and when you start getting those first few strangers, they'll see you're an active participant who is willing to engage with them.
You can get the audience to interact in so many ways: asking a thought-provoking question, asking for comments, asking them to perform some sort of action. There are so many ways to get people talking about and interacting with your video. Provide great content, and ask for feedback. Simple as that, but you have to put in some work.
Reviewing The Playbook: Involve Your Audience
Online Video is a social media and a two-way dialogue. People are drawn to online video and web series because they can interact with the show in ways that they can't with television. Interaction with the viewers is key to the medium. Speak to your audience, and listen to what comes back.
Making your audience feel heard and part of the show increases their loyalty and investment in the show. Your fans will become your social army - empower them to grow your brand and they will be your best promoters. Tip--when you're just starting out, ask your friends to be the first of your audience to engage with you, and the rest will follow.
Ask the Viewers
- Ask viewers for their opinions, ideas, or feedback on the show. Whenever you try something new, ask for their thoughts.
- Ask fans to actively promote your video through social media and on YouTube by liking, commenting, and favoriting.
- Ask for video responses to your video.
Feature the Audience
- Feature viewers and their content in your video. Whether it's featuring comments or user-submitted content in the show, make your audience feel like the star and they'll be a fan for life.
- Consider setting criteria for what gets featured on your show such as requiring the user to be a subscriber. This can boost subscriptions.
- Devote entire episodes to user interaction. Comment Videos (responding to/featuring user comments) and vlogs (speaking directly/conversationally to the audience) are easy ways to create and release extra content and speak to your audience in ways different from your regular episodes.
Viewer Interaction: When & Where
So we know to provoke our audience, get comments, and respond to those comments. But when should you do it? Within the first few hours of uploading the video. Getting that initial activity is important for the search algorithm. That's why responding swiftly is key. Your commenters get instant gratification at being responded to, and you build the number of comments that are collecting on your video, and then YouTube's search tends to notice the discussion. It's even better if you can incorporate video responses into this thing.
And comments don't have to take place just on YouTube, either. Maybe you've posted it to Facebook or on a blog, or someone has embedded your video somewhere on their site. Interacting with fans on other sites is another way to create discussion, create buzz, and generally win fans one at a time, until they too are promoters of your site.
I know some people don't have the means to offer great prizes as reward for commenting, but maybe you start small by offering exclusive content (unlisted videos, which can only be found with access to the direct link), or maybe some smaller prize that is still attractive. The Philip DeFranco Show, an oft-mentioned YouTube staple, always has an offer at the end of his shows, whether it's the latest hot video game, or a $100 gift card. In fact, watch this entire episode (and he can occasionally throw some bad language, so be warned), and I'll discuss how many things he does to interact with fans:
In this video, DeFranco does these things:
- At the very beginning of the video, he has viewer-generated content, introducing the show.
- He asks people to comment about a couple of his topics.
- He offers a prize in a drawing to someone who comments on his question at the end.
- He asks for likes, favorites, shares.
These are all ways of making his video interactive, and he's one of the top YouTube channels. He clearly hasn't forgotten fan interaction is what got him to where he is today. Getting viewers to submit intros is great, and offering good prizes in exchange for comments is a great way to get people talking about your video.
Reviewing the Playbook: Interacting With Fans
Your viewers don't just want to be an audience, they want to be a community. They want to engage with your show and interact through comments, messages, and more. Make sure you are part of that conversation and representing your brand well.
Interacting with Fans
- Respond to comments. This should always be a key part of your social strategy. Comments are the best forum to interact with viewers about specific episodes and will spur more viewers to include their comment when they notice you actively respond.
- Respond to comments in the first few hours after you publish a video. These first viewers are your core audience and building comments early helps increase the video's ranking in search.
- Where possible, engage with the commenters on the places outside of YouTube where you're seeing a lot of new views come from, such as blogs, sites, or other online communities.
- Make announcements through YouTube Bulletins which will appear in your subscribers' feeds.
- Where appropriate, include Calls to Action in your responses or messages, but keep it casual. E.g., "If you like the video, don't forget to share it."
Reward Your Community and Super-Fans
- Find ways to reward your community (both on and off YouTube) for their loyalty and support of the show. Beyond shout-outs in the show, think of rewards such as fan merchandise or exclusive content shared through "Unlisted" videos.
You Mean Work Is Involved?
But you have to do some work, here, and this is the hidden aspect about YouTube that people making videos for the first time expecting their totally awesome content to just find an audience because it's just sitting there on YouTube waiting to be discovered. So plot out a strategy to interact with those first fans, build goodwill, and don't take them for granted.
It also should be noted that you can get creative with this. Try to find a way to build an audience not only with the traditional ways, but through other incentives and interaction. For instance, you can promise viewers certain kinds of content if you get more than 100 comments, or whatever your goal may be. You'll probably have to start small, and then if you can start making a living on this, or get sponsors, you can start upping the ante.
Reviewing the Playbook: How-To Steps
Set Your Own Interaction Strategy
- In whatever way makes sense to you, your content, and your channel, acknowledge the viewers and make them feel important. It could be using social media, focusing on comments, creating weekly fan videos, or including an interaction segment within your regular videos, or a combination of these.
Create Viewer-centric Content
- Decide whether viewer engagement can be included in your regular videos, or if distinct videos make more sense for you to interact and/or involve the audience.
- Consider creating videos or segments to your content that feature the audience or are centered around engaging with them.
Utilize the Social Features of the Platform
- Respond to comments, send bulletins, use the moderator tool, and respond to your messages from your audience.
Dedicate Time to Interact After Each Upload
- Whenever you upload a new video, dedicate time to interact with your audience. Message them on social media, and be a part of the early conversation that happens around your videos.
Ask Your Fans For Feedback And Support
- Ask for feedback when you make changes or try something new. Ask for show ideas or new video concepts.
- Ask viewers for help achieving benchmarks or with programming initiatives.
This Is Just The Beginning
Getting others to share your video and generate activity around your video is huge, probably the biggest part of building your audience after creating good content. But don't forget there are a number of ways you can spread the word, and we'll be discussing those in the last couple of sections of the Playbook. Remember, there's Facebook, Twitter, e-mail, your own personal blog, and tons of other ways to generate buzz. The ways you can get the word out and get others talking is almost limitless.
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