New year, new YouTube—part 2

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In Part 1 of this blog, we discussed the power of YouTube and called out some notable web videos from 2010. But what about establishing your brand on YouTube? Clearly, there are some major considerations to make before jumping into web video.

For some insight, I reached out to Joshua Green, a friend of mine who heads the Media Industries Project at the new Carsey-Wolf Center at U.C. Santa Barbara, and who wrote the book YouTube: Online Video and Participatory Culture with Jean Burgess in 2009. Regarding online media now and into the future, he brought up some great points:

1. Consider the context first (even though it’s out of your control)

“YouTube is useful to people for many things,” says Dr. Green, “from the obvious—mass reach, information seeking, catching up on important events—to the less obvious, like carrying a conversation or building an archive.” While the content of your message is important, it’s even more critical to consider the context in which it circulates. Simply put, videos on YouTube enable consumer goals and larger conversations—so if you don’t consider an online environment where your users can rapidly remix, mash up, and redistribute your videos, any intended message can backfire (see Nike’s Tiger Woods reintroduction and the subsequent response).

2. Don’t shoot for “viral” (it’s lofty, vague and probably out of your control)

Says Dr. Green: “There is a lot of overlap between various definitions of ‘viral,’ and they’re not all the same.” As such, brand managers who aim for viral but don’t clarify are often disappointed. What’s important to remember is that when something does “go viral,” it’s a condition of the experience, and not the content (see point 1). Instead, be specific about whether you want mass reach, pass-along, trending topics on Twitter, or just unearned exposure. “There is a lot of overlap here,” admits Dr. Green, “but the challenge is that what it means to ‘go viral’ is not always made clear.”

3. Finally, leverage partial attentions and stolen moments

The most popular videos on YouTube right now are bite-sized productions of no longer than 3 or 4 minutes, with a few notable exceptions. That’s because the internet is often a space for multitasking. Dr. Green predicts that “where we’ll likely see significant change soon is in the further erosion of broadcast and on-demand content, as well as the devices via which we consume it,” and that this will probably lead to greater consumption of long-form videos and productions (à la Hulu and Xfinity), as well as more short-form content (e.g., through an Apple TV, Roku, Boxee Box, or Google TV).

So, there you have it. All in all, the content of your video is only so important. But Dr. Green leaves us with one caveat: “While audiences appreciate quality, they’re also attracted to humor (especially ironic humor), spectacle, babies, cute animals or the bizarre/unexpected.” Just know that the audience’s environment, emotions and intents are the ultimate consideration. With that in mind, look back at the two videos from yesterday: the Old Spice campaign and the Bed Intruder Song. Indisputably, the contextual impact of each video was the most important factor of its success.

For more about Joshua Green at the Carsey-Wolf Center, visit the Media Industries Project website. In addition, look out for his new book in the fall, a collaboration with Henry Jenkins of USC and Sam Ford of Peppercom, called Spreadable Media: Creating Value in a Network Culture.

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