YouTube Channel Building For Brands: Hero, Hub, Help Content Strategy, Optimization, and Community Building
Take a guess as to how many brands are in the top 100 most subscribed channels on YouTube? How many brands do you think are in the most top 100 most liked on Facebook?
There is not a single brand in the top 100 most subscribed channels on YouTube, but there are nearly a dozen on Facebook.
Why is this?
On Facebook, you can buy your way to success. However, you can’t buy a community of subscribers on YouTube the same way you can likes and followers on Facebook or Twitter.
YouTube takes some actual effort, but it’s not rocket science.
You’d think that brands with their millions of dollars, thousands of staff, and countless resources would be able accomplish being in the top 100 most subscribed channels. But they’re not!
In fact, they’re being beat out by 16 year old’s.
So, how can brands succeed? What can they do?
In this post I’ll cover these principles as well as specific tactics and to creating a successful YouTube channel. This is the most essential stuff, distilled after a decade of tinkering with what works and what doesn’t. Everything else is details etc. this is the most essential stuff. Learn this first.
Before diving into how to use YouTube, we should know why it’s important to use the platform. People tend to pigeonhole YouTube as a place only for viral videos, cat videos or viral cat videos, but its incredibly valuable for a number of reasons, including:
YouTube is the second largest search engine – yes, if people aren’t Googling it, they’re Youtubing it.
YouTube is now the largest social media platform in the US – yes, bigger than Facebook.
YouTube is the future of media – Among teens, YouTube stars are more recognizable than traditional celebrities – PewDiePie is as big to a 15 year old as Tom Cruise is big to a fifty year old.
YouTube drives more sales than other social media platforms. In a study from Q1 of 2014 over 500 million clicks and 15 million conversions were tracked across social media and YouTube had the highest conversions to sales.
Now that we understand why YouTube is important, let’s explore how to leverage it. Now, while creating and uploading video is not as breezy as posting a tweet, it’s not rocket science. If you have a smartphone and an internet connection you technically have everything you need to not only get started but also produce content that your target audience will love to consume (fancy production equipment is not needed – more on that later).
For the sake of keeping things simple, let’s break YouTube down into three key components:
- Content Strategy – the content to create and how to program your channel
- Optimization – making your content more discoverable
- Community – grow by interacting with potential fans
1) CONTENT STRATEGY
Aware that brands are having a tough time, YouTube created a Brand Playbook with advice on how to program a channel. What I’ve outlined here is a more in depth approach to their content framework (which I’ve written extensively about in the past when it was previously referred to as hero, hub, hygiene).
The YouTube framework breaks out the type of content brands need to create into three key categories – hero, hub, and help content.
Hero content is all about your major moments as a brand – those one or two moments that require massive support. Hub content is all about recurring content meant to keep your subscriber base engaged over time. And lastly, Help content is meant to pull consumers in through search.
Hero content should be Super Bowl Big! These videos should be the major brand moments, such as product launches and major announcements.
These should also, only happen a couple times a year. Oftentimes brands have an expectation that every piece of content that they push out into the world needs to go ‘viral’. That’s not a realistic goal. Even brands need to be careful about how they allocate resources – they can’t spread themselves so thin.
A great example of “Hero Content” is Budweiser’s “Lost Puppy” commercial, which premiered at the Super Bowl. Budweiser decided that “Lost Puppy” was their ‘hero’ video and they pulled all the levers of their disposal: creative dollars, production, PR, media. This sixty-second spot cost cost six million dollars to air during the Super Bowl, and the brand and even created the custom cover of “500 Miles” which is available on iTunes.
On YouTube, the video did incredibly well. It was voted one of the best ads of the Super Bowl; it generated over 30 million views, a lot of which were paid (note the original video has since been pulled down from YouTube, but you can see it on Time.com).
Another great example of hero content was Pepsi’s viral video “Test Drive”. Pepsi had Jeff Gordon, one of their biggest athletes, go to a used car dealership and pretend to be interested in a car. Then, with the used car salesman in the passenger seat, Jeff Gordon drives like a bat out of hell – the used car sales man freaks out and hilarity ensues!
“Test Drive” did phenomenally well, it original generated over forty million views (please note, the original video has since been removed by Pepsi – the video embedded above is a re-upload).
Pepsi clearly put a lot of effort behind this – they got one of their biggest athletes on the roster involved, they put a ton of PR and media behind it, and it paid off – generating 70 million views between the two videos.
Hero content is all about pushing content out to support the most important brand initiatives.
Ask yourself, what are the two or three most important activations? These should be considered your Hero moments.
Hub content is all about keeping your subscribers engaged. It’s answering the question – How do you keep people coming back?
Hub content should be episodic, and something that’s easy to replicate. Oftentimes brands think they need to reinvent the wheel and create something totally new and exciting every time a piece of video is uploaded — you really don’t need to do that.
If you’re going to ask people to follow you, they’ve got to know what you’re channel stands for.
It’s far more important to be consistent, and the best way to do that is to create a format or template for your videos that’s easy to replicate.
Look at the popular YouTubers – virtually all of them have a clear format that they follow. They rinse, repeat and evolve that format slowly over time versus creating content around a million different formats.
A great example of Hub content is Nintendo’s, recurring series called “Nintendo Minute“.
“Nintendo Minute” goes live every Thursday like clockwork. It’s got the same hosts, Kit and Kayla, who are two Nintendo employees. The show format is consistent – the two play some games, add a little bit of commentary and occasionally have a conversation about what’s new and interesting within the gaming community. The production is also, very simple and something that must be easy for Nintendo to replicate each week without expending a ton of resources. The hosts are on a couch without a fancy set and there is a single camera set up to record them.
Despite its simplicity (or perhaps because of it) Nintendo Minute generates a great deal of engagement and viewership for the brand. To date the show has generated 300,000 views, as well as thousands of comments and shares.
Brands should aim to go live with Hub content at the rate of an episode a week and the format should be very simple. By focusing on a format that’s simple and can be produced regularly you’re able to evolve the idea and identify what your subscribers like and don’t like. Small incremental changes over time are key.
Furthermore, by maintaining a consistent format your subscribers know what kind of channel they’re signing up for. Oftentimes brands vary their content too much and pull in subscribers because of one video they uploaded and then lose those subscribers when they post something that’s different.
Help content is basically an SEO strategy, but one that should be answering the question – “How are we (as a brand) going to help our consumer find what they’re searching for?”
Obviously brands should make sure they’re creating content that’s relevant to their brand – and not indiscriminately producing videos simply because their target audience is interested in something. Help content should be created based on where theses three variables overlap:
- What your consumers are searching for
- Your brand expertise/niche
- Where there’s enough search volume to validate the production
A great example of a brand successfully creating Help content is Home Depot.
Of Home Depot’s most viewed videos, the top thirty are Help videos and the most successful video on their channel is “How to Tile a Bathroom Floor.” Other top performing content on their channel includes – ” How To Replace or Install a Toilet,” and “How To Replace or Install a Ceiling Fan.”
These aren’t sexy topics but the videos are hugely beneficial to the brand because they help answer common consumer questions and integrate Home Depot products. Help content benefits Home Depot because they rank high in search – capturing more potential viewers (ie customers).
It’s easy to view YouTube as a dumping ground for content – just upload and forget it.
However, it’s critical you take the time to optimize each piece of content uploaded.
People tend to strategize and spend a great deal of time on production, and then simply upload without putting thought into details such as the tags, descriptions, thumbnails and end cards.
You need to slow down and really think about these variables because how you title, tag, and describe videos can (at times) have a greater impact on the amount of views and subscribers you generate than the content itself.
TITLES, TAGS, DESCRIPTIONS
When you first upload a video, you’ll want to carefully select how you name your video as well as what description and keywords to enter.
Titling – YouTube weights search terms in title’s from left to right, so you’ll want to place the most relevant terms first. Create something that someone skimming could quickly read and understand – don’t overcomplicate it and use jargon.
Descriptions – Incorporate any links and/or call to action in the first 1-2 lines to ensure it appears above the fold. You have a call to action? Don’t bury it at the bottom of a paragraph. Put it first so people will actually see it.
Don’t be shy about character limits after you’ve decided what to put in the first 1-2 lines.
The description section of your video should incorporate several elements:
Video description – You should have a writeup of what that specific video is about
Channel description – Incorporate a boilerplate brand and/or channel description of what your channel is all about (and use this in every single video description on your channel)
Links – After the video specific description you have a link to subscribe to your channel, then follow that with other relevant social media links. Among those links should be a link that people can click to subscribe. You can create a subscribe link for your channel by adding the channel name to this url – https://www.youtube.com/subscription_center?add_user=CHANNELNAME
Great Example of A Smart Description – it incorporates all the social media links as well as information about Toyota and the video itself.
Tags – Tags help with search, but most importantly they act like a web interlocking all your videos and helping inform which content to appear in the ‘suggest video’ section (ie the videos that pop up on the right hand side of the YouTube page and at the end of a video).
You’ll want to create two types of tags–
Tags Used Channel Wide – Create a list of tags that describe your channel as a whole that you feel comfortable using across your entire content library. This helps ensure more of your own channel’s content appears as a suggested video.
Video Specific Tags – In addition to the channel wide tags, you will want to add tags geared specifically for the video. Similar to titles, don’t over complicate these with jargon.
END SCREENS AND CARDS
UPDATE – This section previously referenced how to use and create end cards and annotations. However, YouTube has since discontinued annotations and end cards. In their place you can now use end screens.
You can customize a great deal of your videos and your channel to increase the amount of subscribers, views and engagement you drive. By adding items like end screens or cards you can drive people who are watching your content to engage deeper with your brand and channel. These tactics can play a significant role in converting viewers to subscribers, especially when implemented consistently over time.
End Screens – You’ve probably seen end screens (previously end cards) in a lot of videos but aren’t familiar with how to create them. YouTube’s support section has a simple ‘how to’ which you can read here.
An end screen is important because it will drive viewers to where you want to send them and delay “related” videos or autoplay videos (which may or may not be from your channel) from appearing. By implementing end screens you:
• Drive multiple views & engagement
• Convert viewers into subscribers
• Avoid viewers bouncing to another channel
Thumbnails – Titles and thumbnails are more often than not the only information a potential viewer has when deciding whether or not to click on your content. As a result its worth the time and effort to create custom end cards.
When creating thumbnails, it’s important to keep in mind that many viewers are watching videos on mobile devices. Thumbnails should be simple so that they can catch a potential viewer’s eye even on the small screen. Some great rules of thumb to keep in mind are to create very clear and compelling thumbnails, ideally with one focal point. Also, include your brand logo and/or bright colors help.
The thumbnail should reinforce the idea of what your video is about. YouTube cracks down on misleading thumbnails and titles so never post a thumbnail that could be construed as clickbait (for example videos of hot girls in a bikini for a video about cars).
I could go on, but you’re probably better served reading the best resource on the topic in a blog post here.
InVideo Programming (IVP) – Similar to annotations, IVP allows you to promote your latest content and invite people to subscribe. However, IVP is a turnkey solution that can work across everything you upload at a click of a button (vs annotations which must be done manually). It’s worth noting that IVP is currently the only form of annotation that appears on mobile devices.
Some have call the YouTube cards a cleaner version of the traditional YouTube annotations. They allow the creator to drive viewers to videos, playlists, merchandise, websites, non-profit fundraising and YouTube fan funding. Another important feature, unlike normal annotations, YouTube cards are mobile friendly.
A channel trailer is a video you can create and upload, then set as the default view for anyone who is not currently subscribed. The goal of to communicate to new visitors why they should to subscribe to your channel. It’s best to create a short, :30-:60 video that incorporates highlights of your most successful and engaging content which highlights what people can expect from your channel along with a call to action to subscribe.
Most viewers subscribe through your channel homepage (vs on individual videos), so implementing a channel trailer that clearly highlights your value proposition will increase subscribers.
Here’s a great example from Pepsi of what a a channel trailer should look like.
3) ENGAGE THE COMMUNITY
YouTube is really not that different from Facebook in a lot of ways. The actions a channel user makes (such as comment, favorite, subscriber) are driven to the subscriber feed, similar to Facebook’s news feed. The more engagement you can drive with viewers and the community, the more cross-promotion to their feed and audiences. There’s also a vibrant community in place that can help kickstart growth of your channel.
If you watch a lot of YouTube you’ve probably seen YouTubers regularly making guest appearances on channels, and at the end of those guest appearances having an end card inviting viewers to subscribe to the guest channel (here’s a great example). This happens so frequently because creators have learned that this cross-pollination through video ‘collabs’ is one of the fastest ways to grow an audience.
Consequently, whenever possible seek out relevant YouTubers who attract similar demographics, and find ways to cross promote, such as utilizing end cards, setting each other as featured channels, guest-starring or contributing to each other’s videos, and continuing to drive engagement to subscriber feeds through playlists, likes, etc.
Leverage Your Existing Communities
Once you have an audience that is already familiar with your brand, use existing platforms to continue to promote. There are several ways you can do this:
• Embed a YouTube subscribe button on your existing website
• Use other social platforms to cross promote (Twitter and Facebook)
So what is it that so many brands are currently doing wrong?
The reason brands have largely failed to cultivate mass audiences on YouTube is because they’ve failed in at least one of the three categories outlined above – they don’t have a clear content strategy, or their channel isn’t optimized, or they fail to engage the community.
However, more often than not, the biggest issue with brands is their content strategy (or lack thereof). The majority of brands continue to take the campaign driven approach – their scheduling and types of content being created is frenetic and too varied. As a result they aren’t able to nurture a relationship with fans over time.
You can really see this when you compare the popular YouTube Creators’ content to the brands. Hub content, in particular is what the YouTubers do so well. YouTubers tend to constantly evolve a single idea over time, while brands are always erratic and tend to upload a variety of content around different campaigns with new looks, feels, themes and styles. This lack of consistency works against brands.
Epic Meal Time is a great is a great example of a channel that has built a massive following with Hub content. Epic Meal Time has uploaded a new episode of Epic Meal Time almost every single Tuesday for the last five years.
Epic Meal Time’s channel has a clear focus and consistency – you know every episode Harley and gang are going to make a disgusting meal, add a bunch of bacon, curse like sailors, count the calories and have a fun time documenting the whole process.
You’ll notice their videos have evolved a little over the years, their new videos are a little bit punchier, the production quality is a bit better and they have the occasional celebrity guest. But, at its core, Epic Meal Time is the same. Every subscriber knows they’re going to get when tune in.
Now, compare Epic Meal Time, or any number of popular creators, to any brand and you’ll see that brands have a problem with consistency.
For example, Coca-Cola has over four thousand videos. They’re uploading three to four videos a day for multiple different countries. One video could be in Vietnamese, the next in Portugese, and the next video could be for the U.S and feature their famous Polar Bears.
The channel has no consistency. There’s no consistent language, no episodic content, and no single overarching theme. As a result, Coca-Cola is not nurturing a relationship with its subscribers. Subscribers might come in to the Coca-Cola channel due to one piece of content, but the next video uploaded is something totally different. So they’re either unsubscribing or are confused because they don’t understand what this channel stands for.
Brands should be looking to the successful YouTubers and learn from them. What they’ve done so well is understand the importance of nurturing their audience, collaborating with others in the community, and evolving their ideas over time. As a result, these creators have been successful on YouTube and every other platform that’s come along. They’re cross promoting and growing their audiences on Snapchat, and beyond, because they understand what makes their audience tick.
Focusing on a holistic content strategy, optimizing your channel and collaborating and engaging with the YouTube community are the three keys to long-term success. It’s not any more complicated than that.