So today, my friend’s brother, who I’ve never met, wrote me this email:
“Hey Brent! It’s [name redacted]’s brother, Alex! She said maybe you might have some tips on getting video to go viral, or at least getting some exposure? I’d love to hear your thoughts on my channel, http://www.youtube.com/partyseason.
I’m super proud of the work but it doesn’t seem to get much traction out in the wild internet world.
I’m not sure why, but once I started writing, I couldn’t stop till I’d written four pages of advice about his channel. Not one to waste good advice, I’m cutting and pasting it so maybe some of you aspiring internet video makers out there might learn something. Some of it may seem cynical, and that’s because it’s highly cynical.
NOTE: Keep in mind that I don’t think I’m God’s gift to the world, though sometimes my writing makes it sound that way.
So after watching his Youtube show, PartySeason, here’s an excerpt of what I wrote:
First off, the basics:
You say you want to go “viral.” I’m gonna tell you that you actually might NOT want to go legitimately “viral” and here’s why: About 90% of videos that go viral are a trap for their creators. Tay Zonday made Chocolate Rain, and regardless of the fact that he’s a talented singer and songwriter, he will forever be known as the Chocolate Rain guy. Chris Crocker isn’t known as a smart social commentator and sketch comedian, he’s known as “Leave Britney Alone.” The list goes on. The trap of going viral is that you will forever be compared to your original viral work, and viewers will be largely uninterested in anything else you have to offer. It’s like how Matthew Perry will play Chandler the rest of his life, you don’t necessarily want to blow up super-quickly… better to build an audience with a few really solid, moderately popular videos, and then continue releasing consistently good content within a specific concept or brand.
For my money, the goal is to become what I call a web-based local celebrity. I’ve got around 200k subscribers and something like 60M lifetime Youtube views. Instead of an enormous group of people who know about one single video, I have a core following of just a few thousand fans that really pay attention, and a big cloud of intermittent viewers or people who clicked “subscribe” once and only check the page once or twice a year. It’s that small core of really loyal viewers that actually make it a viable living for me, even though the casual viewers beef up the numbers. So I’m basically like a local band without the limitations of geography. A few years ago, a viewer wrote me a comment that I scribbled down and put on my wall: “Brent, you’re not a meme, you’re an artist.” While it’s a little pretentious for the “Nintendo meets Weird Al” guy to think of himself in those terms, it kind of centered my view of how to turn Youtube into a legit resume credit and a money-making platform (although in my case, “resume credit” is only applicable in a very narrow number of situations).
Alright, putting my soap box about that away.
Your videos have great production values. However, you’ve probably noticed that plenty of viral or super-popular Youtube videos do not have great production values. That’s because great production values can only enhance what’s already working, but they can’t save something that doesn’t have teeth. So if you ever have to make the choice between production values and quality of content, go with the latter. Keep it at least 720p with good audio if possible, I’m just saying don’t fool yourself into thinking that going the extra mile for film-quality visuals will win you extra viewers; at best it’ll just win your cinematographer a better cinematographer gig.
Internet video is a ridiculously saturated market, so you’ve got to stand out, which brings me to my next point: Uniqueness and specificity of brand. I tried about 10 concepts before ultimately having success with my Youtube series, and all of them were attempting to do something that was being done better or in a more specific way by someone else. Only when I did something *uniquely* me did I find a brand that people liked… I had comedy songwriting and an extensive knowledge of video games. Blamm-o. In my case, I rely on video game nostalgia, which brings me to my next point: Whether or not to be derivative. The vast majority of successful Youtube series find a way to do something fresh while exploiting the audience’s prior knowledge of a certain property. For me, it’s video games and their music, for Epic Rap Battles it’s historical figures, for Auto-tune the News, it’s news and pop culture. Most successful internet video brands exploit some preexisting content because 1) it’s more accessible when an audience is already in on the joke, and 2) it’s easier to continue cranking out consistent material if your concept is based on a large library of preexisting content (for instance, a commentary show about James Bond movies would only last as many episodes as the number of James Bond movies).
I’ve watched almost all the PartySeason videos and I’ve noticed you have a lot of good, solidly funny content. Unfortunately, you have no over-arching concept other than “funny short sketches with vague one-word names”. Unless you’re already famous or are taking the preexisting material shortcut I mentioned before, you’re basically playing the Youtube game on super-hard mode.
Your most-viewed videos are the Obama Anti-Christ video and the Legends of the Hidden Temple video. Because people know “Obama” and “Olmec.” They don’t know “Dinner” or “Phone.” People clicked those videos video hoping the content would fall into a certain number of outcomes. “Dinner” is too broad unless it’s JIMMY FALLON PRESENTS DINNER, etc…
Every form has rules, like “a commercial movie must be under 3 hours” or “most musicals need a love story” because depending on the form you’re working in, some things just work and others don’t. So you need to figure out how to take your talent and sense of humor and put it into a form that will get people to sit up and notice.
A couple things that might increase your numbers:
* Specifying your brand
For instance, you could target all your sketches toward a certain audience, make them all in a certain style, or about a certain narrow range of topics. If people like one video for a very specific reason, and it’s clear they’ll get more of the same from other videos of yours, they’ll pinball through your uploads and you’ll get multiple views per person, and they’ll subscribe because they know what to expect from you. Unfortunately, it’s extremely unlikely to be an internet video brand selling whatever it feels like (videos of mine that aren’t about video games account for about 15% of my overall views).
* Finding a way to be derivative
You’ve got some parodies of TV genres on your channel, like the Home Shopping video and the reality-show-style “Possessed” video. One way to move forward would be to hone in on that part of your channel and make it a brand. If not that, there are many topics and concepts that you could borrow from in order to use your audience’s prior knowledge to your advantage.
* Consider a channel or series name that explains what you do
Epic Rap Battles of History. Auto-tune the News. Epic Mealtime. The Angry Video Game Nerd. The Nostalgia Critic. They all sort of explain what they do in the title. PartySeason sounds like either a channel involving parties, or a random improv group. To be fair, “brentalfloss” doesn’t mean anything, but ” [Video Game Title] With Lyrics” does. That’s what I’m saying.
*Figuring out what you can do differently or better than anyone else
This one kinda speaks for itself. What unique combination of your resources creates something no one else is doing in quite the way you’re doing it?
* Getting someone with a bigger megaphone to promote you.
This is tricky, because it only works if someone is ridiculously huge, or if your work is in their demographic. And even then, a big spike in views for one day does not correlate to a significant increase in permanent subscribers (which is what you ultimately want). For instance, you’d think with my 30,000 Facebook likes I’d be able to get a friend of mine at least 1,000 views just by plugging their video. Nope. If I plug something outside the realm of video games/nerd culture/funny pictures of animals, it will often end up getting 3 likes and no comments. Out of 30,000 possible likes. In short, I don’t recommend using a lot of resources to try to get more exposure this way. We all need to get big breaks to succeed, but the best big breaks are when someone with a bigger platform organically likes and shares your work. The internet is a strange meritocracy: If people really like something, they’ll share it and more people will watch it, and the cycle will continue as long as you have content people want to watch. There are very, very few videos and channels that have a huge potential market and AREN’T being watched by many people, because social media and share buttons have made the internet an extremely efficient market for content. So I guess what I’m saying is don’t wait around for your current library of videos to be “discovered.” Change your tactics and let your current library be supplemental.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying your videos are poorly made or untalented, but they don’t stand out in a sea of unspecific internet channels and the market’s just too saturated to make that viable. It may be that you’re currently creating content that exists outside the bounds of “what works on the internet,” or maybe you’re just not taking advantage of a few shortcuts that almost all successful Youtubers have taken. Only a few sketch shows have had a serious internet impact, and they usually are shocking, vulgar, or consistently go after a certain demographic like “Frat Guys” or “Liberal Women,” or whatever. A lot of your sketches would work great in a live show setting, but the internet has way less patience than an audience who’s already sitting down. You’re constantly competing with a video of a kitten, a baby, or a video about something specific the viewer already likes. They’re always just one click away for your viewer, so you have to give them a flavor they can’t get anywhere else.
Also, whenever possible, get to the conflict or main idea of a video in the first 5-10 seconds. Remember, kittens.
To be clear, I’m not saying you have zero chance of success with PartySeason as it currently is, but wouldn’t you rather multiply your odds of success by 5, or 10, or a bajillion?
That being said, I absolutely encourage you to continue making videos. There’s real talent behind your current library, and you’ve got a solid team of people making it look and sound good, but no one’s watching it because it doesn’t stand out and it doesn’t take advantage of internet video shortcuts.
Best of luck to you, and I hope this didn’t put you off in any way.
Anywho, this all might make more sense if you check out his channel: http://youtube.com/partyseason … it’ll also get him some clicks, which was his goal all along.
Kisses and kicks,