What YouTube’s creator ecosystem can teach news organizations
YouTube’s independent creators serve programming to highly engaged audiences, with many forming independent, personality-driven brands operating outside of the bounds of traditional media. YouTuber Joanna Hausmann spoke with 18 audience and product development leaders from global and national media properties on October 30 to explore how the platform’s creator ecosystem can provide a model for growth and engagement to those eyeing the platform’s 1.9 billion monthly logged in users.
This discussion was convened by the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism’s News Audience and Product communities of practice, which bring together journalists working to develop bigger, more engaged audiences and compelling products for a variety of global, national and innovative niche publishers. Brandon Feldman, YouTube’s News & Politics Partnerships manager, joined the discussion with Hausmann as well as led other sessions related to YouTube best practices and plans.
Hausmann is a Venezuelan-American comedian, writer and actor. She first gained popularity through her video on Univision’s bilingual digital platform “Flama” as well as on her YouTube channel. Her vlog series “Joanna Rants,” centers on culture, language and politics in the U.S. and Latin America and has reached 70 million views. Her videos have been featured on CNN, NPR, and the BBC. She is a correspondent for the Netflix series, “Bill Nye Saves The World.”
Hausmann presented her “Four rules of YouTube” that helped her ascend on the platform, emphasizing the roles of community, authenticity and adhering to important best practices in metadata, style and consistency. Insights, issues and best practices discussed at the session included:
YouTube is a community, not a video archive
“When I thought YouTube was just a place to upload video, I saw no growth in channel views. When I began to use it as a community, that changed,” said Hausmann. She stopped ignoring her comment section, produced response videos, and commented on videos by other creators, all of which helped solidify her personality and her presence on the platform. “Videos I worked hard on sometimes didn’t do as well as those where I just respond to comments. I realized that they want to see me as a person.”
Two hours after uploading a video is critical time for that engagement, she said. By responding to comments immediately and upvoting comments that encourage conversation, she fuels more engagement and also steers the discussion away from toxic commenters.
She also supports engagement by reminding viewers in the video itself to join the conversation.
Coming up with content ideas
Comments don’t just drive engagement, they also spark content ideas. You learn more about your viewers and discover their questions, all of which reflects their interests and drives future content.
On the whole, YouTube programming should have an element of education, paired with searchability. Your videos — and the metadata around it — should be optimized for search intent.
To do that, Hausmann said she thinks about things that are highly specific, but also relatable for a broader audience. “Find something so specific it feels alienating, but then build it out so people feel invited rather than insider-y,” she advised.
Have a point of view
Personality-driven content rules on YouTube because it offers points-of-view that frame informative content in a relatable way.
For news publishers, Hausmann said personality doesn’t need to mean opinion or even a person. “You can be more creative in the way you present personality. Look at Vox and how they present their diagrams and how it’s distinct from everything else. Be in voice visually.”
Community as KPI
The community aspect is so important to Hausmann’s success that her key metric for a video’s performance isn’t views, it’s engagement rate. “I look at the engagement rate, how many comments I have. I try not to look at views; I don’t find it’s as helpful.”
Fighting the trolls
Harassment in YouTube’s comments section remain an issue for both news organizations and creators. Hausmann said she found help from the community itself; once she began engaging her community, they assisted in moderation activities by defending her in responses and flagging malicious comments. It remains an issue, but not an insurmountable one.
Be clear, concise and consistent
Getting video views begins with an eye-catching thumbnail and a great title that speak to your intended audience. Your thumbnails and titles offer a small but critical space for nailing that first impression that turns into a click-through.
Hausmann emphasized using clear thumbnails that meaningfully illustrate the video’s contents, and a hyper-specific, concise title. Don’t be redundant by placing the video’s title as text on the thumbnail — instead choose a word or short phrase that encapsulates the subject matter and captures interest.
The titles should be meaningful and provocative; you have 70 characters before the title is cut off so make them count. They should entice a click, but also reflect the contents in a way a user might search for it.
Hausmann also said that consistency — in voice, visual aesthetic, title formats and publishing schedule — help solidify your brand and the audience whose attention you’re targeting.
Optimize for binge-ability
One of YouTube’s strengths is its users’ appetite for binge viewing. “YouTube is much more binge-able. Facebook’s audience is bigger, but a video spikes and never gets seen again,” Hausmann said. “On YouTube, they watch a bunch.”
To increase the chances a user will watch the next video, Hausmann recommends eliminating the title cards at the end of videos urging subscriptions. “No one waits,” she said. She also encourages using playlists, though acknowledges they require upkeep.
Hausmann said her revenue is growing consistently, and she’s now at break even. For independent creators, branded content is the way to make a significant amount of money, though she also runs ads via YouTube with lackluster results. She’s starting channel memberships in January.
Publishers shared concerns about using branded content because of transparency issues and strict policies for news organizations keeping editorial and business interests separate. Hausmann says she only accepts branded content deals for which she supports the product, and can authentically place into the video.
To allow community members to speak openly, Hausmann’s discussion was held under Chatham House rule, which permits participants to share what was said, but not who said it or the publications they represent. She gave explicit permission to use her name and materials above.
If you are a journalist interested in collaborating with your peers to increase your professional impact and expertise — and theirs — the Tow-Knight Center’s Community of Practice program may be of interest. Please let us know by completing this form.