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How to grow an audience for your YouTube channel

You posted some dog videos onto YouTube, and holy cannoli Sparky is actually starting to get some views!  Congrats you big shot video producer, now you need to grow an audience. So what’s next?

Welcome to producing online content. Maybe you didn’t go to film school or intern at Warner Bros, but you can still master online video production by keeping in mind what makes the medium unique.  Here are few things you might want to consider when turning Sparky from lap dog to international pooch sensation.

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Meet Sparky.

Master the micro-verse

Unlike Hollywood productions, you’ll probably start out as a crew of one. That means a lot less delegation and lot more ‘do-it-yourself’.  In addition to producing, you may be taking on writing, directing, camera and even on-screen talent. Juggling all these tasks can make you feel fragmented, but it can be very rewarding when handled right.  

A key objective in producing is choosing the tone and the audience for your content. When you’re fulfilling multiple roles, you have the advantage of influencing every aspect from idea to completion to ensure a successful release.

Online science rapper Coma Niddy doesn’t see a division between producing and his other roles. “I’m using creative tools like language, color, sound and lighting to reach my audience. In my floss rap, I knew a lot of viewers would be kids, so I use a highly saturated color palette and fast cuts to enhance the appeal.” When used consistently and consciously these choices become part of your contents creative signature.

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Coma Niddy raps about science.

Get the word out

Online media lives and dies based on searchability and shareability. When everyone is competing for the same views, you have to make yourself discoverable. Your boy Sparky isn’t a household name…yet. Titles that use popular keywords, address topical issues, and align with trending tags are essential for helping new viewers find their way to your hard work.

Another strategy is to think about how ‘evergreen’ your content is. A video explaining first year college math has great longevity because every year there is a new group of freshmen. My videos that get the most views are those that address general interest questions like how a hair dryer works, whether chemical straightening is better than straightening irons, or what causes dark spots on skin.

Popular web-series Blank on Blank manages to be both topical and evergreen at the same time. Their animated videos capture the thoughts of influential figures like Francis Ford Coppola, Roger Ebert, and Ronald Reagan. The notoriety of the figures they cover make their videos perpetually relevant and even tip toward topical when the people they profile remerge in the public eye.

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Blank On Blank: timely and timeless

Once they find your video, inspire them to share. A single link on Facebook can bring exponentially more viewers to your doorstep. The important thing is that you want to know how you will achieve searchability and shareability before you ever begin shooting.

Let’s get real

Having little to no budget shouldn’t keep you from pressing record. Many YouTube sensations started as a single person and a camera. Sure, it feels great to make content with all the bells and whistles, but you can always upgrade once you have more audience.

As one YouTuber told me, “Work with the location and props you have… and construct a story around that”.

Try to keep the conversation and content honest. Leave the camera rolling and let some of those personal quirks and even errors survive your first edit.  Unlike television and film production, online audiences expect people to be real, accessible and authentic. When I met VSauce founder Michael Stevens, I learned he is just as energetic in person as he is on camera — and somehow that made the experience online feel more real.

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Michael Stevens is comfortable behind and in front of the camera.

This ain’t television

Online media is not passive. Audiences want to engage with our content. As a producer, you need to find opportunities to kick-start the conversation on multiple social media platforms. One of the obvious places to start is in the comments, so get out there and respond to your fans! Ask them questions, give them a say in what video you’re doing next, or even respond to their questions with a follow-up video. For example, if you’re popular on Twitter, Snapchat or Instagram, use these shorter format mediums to give people a behind the scenes view, or extended content.

Don’t be afraid to get creative! Bernie Su & Hank Green, co-creators of the web series The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, enhanced the experience for fans of the series by giving their characters Twitter accounts.  They’d message each other and members of the audience, allowing them to feel like part of the story.

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For The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, engagement goes beyond YouTube.

It’s okay to show off

You finally got some videos posted. Be proud and do your best to showcase them with fantastic visuals! Thumbnails, channel art and a trailer can make content stand out. If you deliver on a regular schedule then “New video EVERY WEDNESDAY” lets your audience rejoin you and keeps the view count steady.

Decorating my channel feels a little like decorating my home. It’s where my content lives and I’ve done a lot so that my visuals reflect my personality. The upbeat colors and quirky imagery aren’t too far from what people might expect to see in a video.

Organizing your videos into playlists also keeps viewers on your channel. Video game streamers like CynicalBrit or EnterElysium organize their videos into playlists according to game, genre and topic. This helps people find the videos they’re looking for.

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Well organized playlists appeal to viewers in much the same ways as streaming series; viewers may binge-watch.

Don’t miss out on the opportunity to re-promote your videos. Something as simple as reblogging your video 12 hours after release can help whole new timezones find your content while it’s still fresh. After all, the internet never sleeps.

After I release a video, I spend a few hours reaching out to blogs in related communities letting them know about my work. Blogs are always hungry for new content and it takes only one share to be introduced to a new group people who might be interested in the type of content you create. Sharing my Day Of The Dead Science video with the American Chemical Society landed me a fun collaboration along with many new subscribers.

Even weeks or months later, your library of past productions can do work. Absurd online holidays like National Bacon Appreciation Day can give that video of Sparky stealing your breakfast a new chance to shine.

Now get to work

300 hours of new videos are uploaded to YouTube every minute, so use these suggestions to keep your production from getting swept under the rug.  The internet gives producers an unprecedented number of tools for promoting and distributing content. Treat them as a resource, respect your audience and you’ll certainly be rewarded.

Now grab a camera and give Sparky his moment in the limelight.