YouTube Subscriber Strategy

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by on July 4, 2016 Featured, Lessons


As a follow-up to the previous post about where to publish videos, I found a few examples from Stanford that did significantly better on YouTube than Facebook. I probably shouldn’t write in the past tense, specifically when referring to a YouTube video’s performance. People continue to watch the four examples below. On the other hand, Facebook videos stop accumulating views when they’re no longer appearing in news feeds. I don’t have any data to support that statement, but it feels true.

Introducing MARTY 353K vs 42K
Spider-Man is plausible 129K vs 5K
Humanoid robot explores abandoned shipwreck 155K vs 25K
Wind tunnel for birds and drones 30K vs 10K

So what gives? My feeling (again, no data) is that Stanford’s subscription count is a major factor. 538K is the highest in higher ed by a landslide. Harvard comes in second at 309K, then UC Berkeley with 281K. The field drops off significantly after the top three.

However, now that Berkeley posts lectures exclusively to EdX, they’ve stopped updating what was once their main YouTube channel. New videos appear on the Berkeley News extension. At 15K subscribers, they’re basically starting from scratch. But if Harvard can add 70K+ subscribers in under a year, there’s hope for the rest of us. And just in case you’re thinking it has more to do with branding, Princeton (ranked #1 by US News) only has 12K total subscribers. Content is the more important factor.

It’s not too late to start formulating a subscriber strategy. Most in higher ed are still using YouTube as a repository for everything the school produces – news, ads, lectures, panels, events, sports, etc. I’ll pick on Northeastern because I was somewhat responsible. Back when I was the gatekeeper, almost every department had access to upload. We changed that approach (and password) when someone from Athletics added 30 short exercise videos in one afternoon.

Northeastern YouTube PT Videos

I remember getting a message from an alumna accusing us of spamming her and threatening to unsubscribe. For the first time, I started paying attention to the subscription counter (and button). As a consumer, I’d been using YouTube like a search engine rather than a trusted entertainment and information provider. Thanks to this Video for Colleges endeavor, I’ve changed my habits. If you’re managing your university’s YouTube channels, I’ve probably clicked your red button. I’m the rare subscriber that appreciates the smorgasbord approach. I’d argue that most everyone else doesn’t want to be notified when you post a series of student profile videos that should only appear on the Admissions FAQ page. There are better platforms for hosting website content.

Here’s a good exercise. If you were going to create a promo asking people to subscribe, how would you sell your current channel? Write the script, listing every video type on the uploads page. Would you expect people to subscribe given the current configuration?

Watch Samantha Bee’s channel trailer for Full Frontal. After you’ve created and implemented your institution’s subscriber strategy, consider producing something with a call to action that’s just as clear and compelling.

Here’s the only higher ed example I could find. It’s been up for well over a year on the University of Dayton’s YouTube channel. It would be great to know if the subscription annotation is getting clicked.

And for the record, Plank w/shoulder taps is hardly spam. It currently ranks as the 7th most viewed Northeastern YouTube video.

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