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8 Ways We Grew Our YouTube Subscribers 8-Fold In 8 Months

Last week, Tubefilter released its monthly list of top 100 global YouTube channels. My company's channel jumped 49 slots from number 99 to number 50. It didn't really sink in how impressive that was until random folks came out of the woodwork to ask me what was causing the spike.

So, I thought I'd share in my weekly column here.

1) Focused editorial

I've alluded to the merits of a horizontal vs. vertical editorial strategy in the past. We stayed in business at a time when many of our peers shut down thanks to the horizontal breadth of content, but I'd be disingenuous if I didn't admit that our scale of late has come from a more refined, focused editorial strategy.

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2) Stick to your guns

That said, we didn't pick a random vertical that I had zero passion or interest in, we basically identified the types of content -- be it biographies, origins, profiles or lists and then still kept covering a wide array of categories. But since packaging is everything, the content just looks a lot more focused (it also is) but more importantly... 

3) The hell with the haters, YouTube rocks

That makes it easier to add subscribers. This is not news; everyone knows this. When we had such horizontal breadth, viewers were reluctant to subscribe, not knowing what to expect next in their mailbox. Today, while our content remains varied by YouTube standards, it's much more focused.

Everybody loves YouTube as a consumer/viewer. Without a doubt, YouTube is a challenging partner inasmuch as Wal-Mart is a challenging partner, but ignoring it or downplaying its existence will only harm you. Ironically, in 2006-09 I was one of the few critics of YouTube at a time when everybody sang its praises, and today, when many are critical of it, I am loudly crediting them for being -- to some extent -- the only game that matters to online video content producers.

4) Go against the grain

A year ago, we generated nearly 80 million video streams, of which only 4 million came from YouTube. This past month, we generated "only" 60 million views but 40 million came on YouTube. Despite what some may think, this is a far healthier balance because YouTube is where the real audience lives. You can manufacture reach pretty easily, but, eventually, the chickens come home to roost. We bet the farm on YouTube because, ultimately, the economics will take care of themselves over time whereas low-quality or fake traffic will not. 

5) Engagement Matters

YouTube engagement includes comment, likes, dislikes and shares. 

I don't know if I've always been a big proponent of customer service at all of my companies because I worked for two years in customer service while in college, or I worked in customer service early on because I am a big believer in its value, but the point is: without our viewers we would be nothing, so as much as we can, we roll up our sleeves and comment on our videos, reply to the good, bad and ugly ones alike. 

6) Data 

The problem with the web is there's way too much noise being passed off as information, especially when it's cut across myriad websites, geographies, platforms etc. The benefit of YouTube is it offers massive scale in a common platform. If you're a competing tech or data company, you hate YouTube for that, but as I've always maintained, content companies don't need to fight distribution, tech or advertising companies, we enable and empower them (and vice-versa). Without a doubt, our growth was very much correlated to the amount of data we had, and the amount of data we studied to determine what to produce, and when.

7) Robots are nice, Humans are better

We didn't just engage with our audience by paying them lip service, or study data in a vacuum. After having produced over 7,000 videos, we turned to our viewers and sought their ideas on what videos to create next. This built pent-up demand in a cycle of anticipation, similar (on a much smaller scale, granted) to “American Idol”'s contestants releasing chart-topping albums.

8) Relentless

Last, but not least, while we scaled back production to "only" 50 videos per month in 2010 (from a high of 100 circa 2008-09), we have upped our output to 60 clips again, or two per day. To quote Instapaper, we're one of the prolific channels as a result, and the results are proof that the strategy has paid off. Now, having crossed 750,000 subscribers and marching towards 1 million by November, it's a matter of feeding the beast and keeping our amazing YouTube audience fully satisfied while wanting more!

5 comments about "8 Ways We Grew Our YouTube Subscribers 8-Fold In 8 Months".
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  1. Rex Williams from sunpop studios, September 17, 2013 at 11:51 a.m.

    Thanks for the insight, Ashkan. Impressive. The numbers speak for themselves. Question.

    Much of watchmojo's content uses quick clips and images of copyrighted films / tv shows / photos. Are take down notices a problem? Or is Fair Use alive and well on YouTube?

  2. Ashkan Karbasfrooshan from watchmojo.com, September 17, 2013 at 12:11 p.m.

    Honestly, it's a mix of promotional/ licensed content as well as Fair Use sources. They key thing is by and large, we have explicit and implicit approvals and blessings of the rightsholders (but that is a separate article - or book - altogether and not an easy thing to have navigated). Bear in mind, of the 8000 videos we have, only 50% contains any third-party footage and those are transformative, pass the 4 tests of fair use and in no way damage the value of the underlying work.

    But as I've mentioned before, Fair Use is as much a business as legal decision, 99% of companies do not want to rely on Fair Use and honestly, shouldn't/can't.

    It takes a very rigorous in-house system and training to avoid any issues. Ironically, we have experienced many issues when a media company's Marketing team is working with us one a project WHILE their copyright bots are meddling...

    I've written on Fair Use extensively, here:

    http://www.mediapost.com/publications/article/188887/fair-use-cases-that-have-shaped-copyright-law.html

    and

    http://www.mediapost.com/publications/article/204081/commercial-applications-of-fair-use.html

  3. Rex Williams from sunpop studios, September 17, 2013 at 12:55 p.m.

    That's helpful, thank you. Our studio is expanding with new lines of products / services. A core item is a blog and youtube channel that teaches business professionals how to make better videos. We need to show short lesson examples from TV / Movies / other YouTube channels - and we'd easily pass the 4 Fair Use tests - but the copyright bots are a huge concern. Thanks for your linked articles. Any other suggestions for a team who's about to wade into these waters? I have nightmares about building a large viewership, following the law, and having a copyright bot destroy everything.

  4. Ashkan Karbasfrooshan from watchmojo.com, September 17, 2013 at 1:47 p.m.

    Key words: nightmare + copyright bot destroys everything.

    There's really no way around it. Honestly, if you need not bother - don't, it's a lot of hassle when there are other less painful ways to skin the cat.

  5. Rex Williams from sunpop studios, September 18, 2013 at 11:25 a.m.

    I kind of wish YouTube wasn't the only real game in town. Love the opportunity. But when an entire channel can just go *poof*, it's feels like a trapeze act without a net.

    Thank you for the insight, Ashkan. I appreciate you taking the time, and your practical experience has been invaluable in our decision making.

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