YouTube's reach is phenomenal, with over a billion visitors each month. And as the world's second largest search engine it has massive potential as a platform for public engagement with research.
But with 300 hours of footage uploaded to YouTube every minute it's easy for your content to get lost in the noise. To stand any chance of being noticed there are some vital steps that you should take when creating your channel. Here it is, my guide on how to make a successful YouTube channel.
Step #1: What's Your Goal? Choosing a Mission Statement.
A few years ago I attended a series of training sessions at YouTube's London headquarters all about how to build an audience around your YouTube channel and the one thing the expert trainers rammed home above all else was the importance of choosing a clearly defined channel 'mission statement'.
Your 'mission statement' is the central core around which you’ll design everything, from the channel's look to the content you host on there.
The options are endless but could be something like...
'To inspire the next generation of scientists'
'To promote innovative solutions to Climate Change'
'To spark conversations about philosophy in everyday life'
Whatever you go for, once you’ve nailed down your mission absolutely everything about your channel should be designed with that in mind - content, artwork, strategy...EVERYTHING!
Step #2: Create Killer Content
This is something you’ll hear a lot from me going forwards and that's because there's no getting away from it...
CONTENT IS KING!
What does this mean? Simply put it means that all the marketing and money in the world won't make your videos popular if they don't grab people's attention.
How you craft your content will depend on what you're trying to achieve and who it's aimed at but here are some guidelines that apply to all videos:
Tailor Your Content For Your Specific Audience
The YouTube community is made up of people from all demographics these days but that doesn’t mean you should try to attract them all. Audiences are now very fractured and each group expects content to be crafted specifically to their tastes, so a one-size-fits-all approach is likely to doom your efforts to failure. Consider your mission statement and create content that speaks to your target audience only.
Keep It Short and Sweet
The time that people spend watching videos on YouTube is longer than other platforms, like Facebook and Twitter, but you should still try to keep your content as concise as possible.
As a rule of thumb you should aim to keep your content to no more than 3 or 4 minutes long. Consider how you can split up long videos into multiple parts to keep the length down. Splitting it up into shorter videos has the added bonus of giving you more material to upload!
Get Straight to the Point
YouTube viewers can be pretty brutal when it comes to sticking around to watch your video. You’ve probably got about 5 seconds to draw them in, so make those seconds count!
Don’t waste time with lengthy intros. Jump straight into the action, let people know what they’re going to get from the video and why they should spend their precious minutes watching it to the end.
Step #3: Design Your Channel To Stand Out
To capture the attention of passing viewers your channel needs to have a strong sense of identity, linked to your channel mission. The best way to do that is by customising your banner for maximum impact.
Choose a relevant image that represents what you do and add a written strap-line that highlights your channel mission. If you're uploading regular content you can use the banner to advertise how often you publish new material and when.
Make sure the image you use is as high-resolution as possible. Fuzzy, out of focus pictures make it look like you don't know what you're doing and people won't trust you to create quality content if you can't get your channel design right.
YouTube’s recommendation is to upload an image of 2560 x 1440 pixels and they provide a channel art template that you can use to help design your banner.
Be aware that your banner will look different on all different devices, so you should make sure it works on desktop, tablet and mobile.
Step #4: Make Sure Your Videos Are ‘Clickable’
Getting people to watch all the way through your videos is hard but the biggest battle you face is getting them to even click on the video in the first place.
An enticing thumbnail is the best way to get people to click on your video. The first rule of thumb (pun intended!) is DON'T USE THE AUTOMATED THUMBNAIL GENERATOR!
Click on the custom thumbnail option in the video settings and upload your own.
As you can see from this custom thumbnail from the Ted-Ed channel, adding a short bit of text to the image is a good way of clearly highlighting what the video is about.
Title & Description
A snappy, relevant title and description that encapsulates what your video is about is key. And it can also help boost your video's searchability with YouTube's algorithims.
Use keywords in the title and make it intriguing. Asking a question that people are likely to want to know the answer to works well.
Try to keep it below 70 characters as that’s all that’s automatically shown by your thumbnail. Use the same keywords somewhere in your description and make the first 157 characters count, as that’s all people will see alongside your thumbnail image during searches.
Make the most of the keyword section in the video settings. This is one of the main ways that YouTube’s algorithm promotes your content in its search engine.
A good way to generate words and phrases that fit your content is to type in related words to the YouTube search bar and see what suggested phrases come up. These are the most popular search items, so they’re likely to boost your video’s searchability if you use them.
Step #5: Engage with Your YouTube Community
One of the things that YouTube users love about it is that it gives the opportunity to engage with content creators, which is what makes it an ideal platform for public engagement projects.
You should always respond to comments as quickly as possible, ideally within 24 hours of them being posted. And feel free to comment on the videos of other, related channels, whose content you’ve enjoyed. If people are interested in what you have to say, chances are they’ll pay your page a visit to find out more about you.
A good way of keeping on top of comments is to download YouTube’s Creator Studio app which allows you to respond easily while you’re on the go.
Step #6: Publish + Promote
With so much competing content out there simply uploading your videos to YouTube and hoping for the best will condemn them to oblivion.
You need to be promoting your content across as many platforms as possible so that it is shared on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin and any other social media platforms or related websites that you use.
You won't be able to tell what works until you give it a whirl, so my final piece of advice is to create your channel and get cracking!
I'd love to hear how you get on and see examples of how you're using YouTube to engage the public with your research, so if you have any comments or questions please feel free to post them below!
Peter Barker runs Orinoco Communications, a digital communications company specialising in helping research groups from science, the social sciences and the humanities to bring their research alive and engage with the public.