Political entities are just like the rest of us. They have had to adapt to the social media age. Now, digital, generally, and social, specifically, are the building blocks of campaigns. Video, once only accessible while parked in front of a TV, is now arguably a larger and more important component of the 24-hour-news cycle as a result of always-on platforms like YouTube. Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram allow people to publish anything from anywhere anytime — often to the great dismay of the official in front of the camera.
Communicators must not only adapt their content, but they must also consider the implications that come along with the platform as well.
The White House’s YouTube channel is an example of one that has developed its strategy with regard to the digital media landscape. With nearly a half million subscribers, the channel caters to both a national and global audience and posts a wide variety of content. We analyzed the channel from Jan. 1 through Nov. 19, 2014, to find that storytelling, specific content, and shareability were at the heart of this digital video strategy.
An effective YouTube channel has a consistent style with content that is relevant to either the core audience or targeted to people that channel wants to attract.
The White House released a steady stream of content throughout the year. During the time period we tracked, the channel posted a total of 879 videos, almost 3 videos per day. The nature of The White House’s YouTube channel as a political platform means that it has many different initiatives and campaigns to discuss, which explains the volume of content the channel released.
The content also captured the viewers of subscribers and other consumers, as it generated 35,561,581 views during the period alone. May 25 saw the most views on a single day: 1,636,021.
In terms of subscriber growth, The White House has added an average of 271 subscribers daily so far this year, with a median of 160 new subscribers per day. On January 29, 2014 — the day of its highest subscriber adoption — the channel gained a whopping 8,920 subscribers.
The White House channel posts videos that span all sorts of topics, from the lighthearted to the serious. It’s important to note that videos from both ends of the spectrum find themselves among the most viewed on the channel, indicating a complexity in the type of content the channel’s audience is receptive to.
The top-viewed video during the period tracked was of President Obama walking around DC and greeting strangers in the street. This video received 4,951,089 views and was posted on May 22, which contributed to the reason May 25 was the day of the year with the highest number of video views overall. The second-most viewed video was a more serious one posted on April 29 about preventing sexual assault, and it received a total of 1,563,810 views.
An analysis of viewer sentiment of the videos also shows us the Like to Dislike ratios of the videos. Videos with the highest ratio (i.e., those with a higher proportion of Likes as compared to Dislikes) include a video on health care and a video on Obama awarding a veteran. These both had a 96% Like to Dislike ratio, which indicates the content resonated well with the audience.
It’s no secret that shorter videos tend to receive more interactions. Out of the 879 videos uploaded during the period in 2014, over half (430) were under 10 minutes long. The average number of views for each of these videos was 46,705. Meanwhile, longer videos received fewer views. Videos that were 10-30 minutes long averaged 21,771 views, and videos over 30 minutes averaged just over 12,003 views each.
By keeping the majority of its videos relatively short, The White House channel is setting itself up to post videos that its audience is more likely to view and share with others.
Social has become people’s first point of contact with most of the news they read, and that is not likely to change any time soon. As the 2016 U.S. presidential race starts to gear up, YouTube and other social platforms will be the first stop for voters, activists, journalists, and everyone else interested in politics and policy. The White House has been effective on YouTube, and it won’t be surprising to see a lot of other campaigns take some inspiration from them over the next 23 months.