You’ve probably watched a number of YouTube tutorials over the last 10 years, whether to help you with a specific task at work, to keep your IT skills refreshed, or even just to learn something new about one of your personal hobbies (no, we don’t want to hear about your favorite cat videos).
So I’m not going to surprise you when I say there’s not just a large range of things to teach, but also a large range of video tutorial styles. And they don’t work equally well. But by “style” today I don’t mean like high-level vs. hands-on, both of which are equally valid for their respective goals.
I mean how the person explaining is conveying the information. Are they laid-back, or a bit wooden? Professorial? Do they make lots of jokes, or do they seem very corporate (including dress and location)? Are they even onscreen? If not, what is onscreen?
Because we should also include the supporting materials seen in the video. Are there screenshots or screencasts? Static or animated graphics? (How) are they coordinated with the speaker? Is the speaker seated with graphic elements clustered around their head? Just plastered on top with a standard green screen Do they alternate full screen with the speaker?
A quick aside, and then we’ll pick up that thought again.
In the last 2 decades of science, medicine and computing there’s been a revolution in the use of large data sets to make decisions, rather than just doing what feels right or has been taught for a long time. Of course both approaches have their advantages, but the data-driven way can also make us aware of the success of various approaches that anecdotal evidence can’t.
YouTube can help us out here with some raw data, the kind that used to be hidden because it provided a competitive advantage to whichever company collected it. In this case, I’m talking about the number of views and subscribers, which is displayed below each video.
So let’s ask a data-driven question. Suppose you go to YouTube and type in the search term “IT monitoring”, what do you find?
By now perhaps you’re thinking, “Great, I get more views than my competition!” or “Only that many views? You can’t post a cat video that took 20 seconds to make without getting 100K views!”
Either nobody is interested in videos about monitoring software, nobody can find them with YouTube’s search algorithm, or the quality or appeal is so bad that nobody searches a second time.
So what if I told you that there are YouTube videos out there, specifically about monitoring, that have more than 300K views in less than a year? What’s their “secret”? And who are “they”?
These aren’t videos made by monitoring companies. They are made by individuals who already have channels where they talk about all kinds of IT topics for instance, and have millions of subscribers, or millions of views.
Instead of working for a particular IT company or focusing on one company’s products (despite sponsorship agreements), they tend to look at IT products neutrally. They often provide basic information, briefly explain how things work, compare and contrast a number of alternatives, or provide a review of a specific product.
The people who create these videos have learned that there’s an audience out there, interested even in videos about something as “boring” as monitoring. And they’ve become experts not at a very specific product or technology, but at communicating to their audience in an effective way.
How could you reach an audience of that size? If you’re working for an IT company and your job is to promote a particular product, you probably can’t take their wide-ranging approach to making a video about whatever you think will garner attention.
You can however, assume that they’ve learned how to make appealing, communicative videos, or else they wouldn’t have over 50 videos with over 250K views each. And I’ll bet you can learn a lot from looking carefully at what they’ve done and how they’ve done it.
You might argue that if channels like these have millions of subscribers, then of course it’s easy to get lots of people to watch any kind of video they make, even about IT monitoring.
This ignores four things:
1) How the channel got that large in the first place
2) All their videos don’t have the same number of views
3) When was the last time you watched EVERY video in a channel?
4) Would they put out a bad IT monitoring video knowing it would cost them in the future?
The creators of these channels have an incentive to continue to produce high-quality videos that are interesting enough to attract viewers. After all, it’s probably become their day job. How likely is it that they’ll introduce something below their standards, if it will lead to the people who know that channel not wanting to return?
So over time, and across hundreds of thousands of channels, they’ve learned what makes an interesting video. You don’t even need to watch that many high-quality videos on tech subjects from channels with both high numbers of subscribers and lots of views on each video to figure out what you should do.
The data has already been crunched for you, so let’s assume the channels with less compelling content have already been weeded out and the Darwinian survivors have that communicative edge and have become the experts.
I’ve watched quite a few videos from these tech channels, and here’s what I can summarize:
I won’t pretend I have all the answers, or that following my suggestions above will make you a YouTube star. After all, having a channel with excellent, interesting videos probably isn’t enough. So make sure that your audience finds you by sprinkling some keywords that they will probably already be searching for into your script, titles, descriptions and hashtags.
But also remember to ask yourself if you think your videos are getting better over time. Are you taking the time to learn new skills and doing a bit of experimenting to getting the best use out of them? Do your colleagues think you’re getting better? If so, it’s probably because you’re getting better at communicating.