Videos made by YouTube Partners have been completely trouncing those made by brands and posted on YouTube. That's right -- I said trouncing. Last year, TubeMogul reported that 43% of YouTube's top 100 videos were from YouTube Partners. Only 4% were uploaded ads.
YouTube opened its Partner Program to its most popular users back in 2007, allowing them to share in the revenue generated by ads placed on their videos. Today, an ever-growing number of YouTube partners make their livings through this program, and because their livelihoods depend on expanding the size of their audiences and getting views, partners have found new and innovative ways to gain exposure.
As an experiment, I took a look at the YouTube Charts to see if I could find any brand videos in the top 20 this month (Spoiler alert: I didn't.) Other than music videos, Partner videos were the only other videos on the list.
In fact, one partner alone, Ray William Johnson (with a channel of the same name) had six of the top 20 spots. So what are these top YouTube Partners doing so much better than brands? I took a look at the most subscribed-to channels of all time and found three things that brands can start incorporating into their YouTube strategies right away.
Asking for Comments and Ratings. Comments and ratings are forms of engagement in YouTube's eyes, and videos that get consistent comments and ratings will generally rank better. Partners understand the value of comments and "likes" so they ask for them in their videos. It's a simple thing to do; however, too many brands treat the end of their videos like the end of a TV commercial: Flash the logo and get out.
Top YouTube Partners don't just ask viewers to comment, they provide specific questions for their audiences to answer. A fine example of this comes from YouTube's third most-subscribed-to channel, ShaneDawsonTV. Shane asks a specific question at the end of each of his videos, and viewers flock to the comments section. By just asking for people's opinions, Shane has elicited more than 70,000 comments for each video. When was the last time a brand video asked for your opinion?
Incorporating Viewer Feedback. As a kid, I loved "Sesame Street." My favorite part was when a character would talk directly to you and ask you to yell out an answer (usually a letter or a number). I foolishly thought the characters could see directly into my living room and hear my response. At one point I remember yelling out an obviously wrong answer only to have Elmo say, "That's right! Good job." It was at that moment I realized that Elmo couldn't actually hear me.
While you're still not able to peer into viewers' living rooms, you can respond to and use viewer feedback in ways that were never possible before. As you engage your audience, you will get posted comments and video responses, sometimes in the form of parodies that can help shape and guide the types of videos you create in the future.
One partner who has this down to a science is YouTube's second most-subscribed-to channel, RayWilliamJohnson. Ray not only asks his viewers questions, he features his favorite comments at the end of every video.
Viewers commonly send videos to Ray to be featured on his show, and when he does, he gives the senders credit. Viewers subscribe to Ray's channel not only because he showcases funny videos, but also because their comments and responses may end up being part of the show.
Drive Engagement with Hotspots and Annotations. What happens after a viewer watches one of your videos? Odds are they leave YouTube, hit up the search bar, or watch a related video. What if there was a way to showcase other videos you've made and direct viewers to those instead? Enter YouTube annotations and hotspots.
You've probably seen YouTube annotations before. They are the sometimes colorful boxes that pop up over your video with text in them (think VH1's Pop Up Video). These annotations and hotspots can also act as links, and many YouTube Partners have found new and innovative ways to use these to keep their audiences engaged.
Another YouTube Partner, MysteryGuitarMan, creates amazingly edited musical videos that regularly get millions of views. If you watch one of his videos, odds are you're going to watch another thanks to his clever use of annotations and hotspots.
Joe Penna (the Mystery Guitar Man) uses the last minute or so of his videos to feature viewer comments, ask questions, and link to past videos. For his last video of 2010 he created a clickable menu of all the videos he created in the past year organized by category. All using annotations.
A handful of brands have used annotations to create fun, interactive video experiences, but in general I have not seen brands embrace annotations the way that YouTube Partners have.
All three of these tactics boil down to one thing: engagement. YouTube Partners don't usually start with any fame, notoriety or large advertising budgets. Instead, they use the tools and equipment available to them to create a community where every video is a touch point.