Is there a hard and fast formula for building engaging content? Our search for answers led to AwesomenessTV founder and CEO Brian Robbins, a former movie and TV producer who strayed from his traditional media roots and bet heavily on YouTube. In May, DreamWorks Animation SKG acquired AwesomenessTV. Robbins also partnered with Universal Music and Russell Simmons to launch All Def Music, a label focused on YouTube talent. Robbins shared with The Engagement Project his tips for combining instinct with analytics to build an army of followers.

Written by
Brian Robbins
November 2013


Be Instinctive

When I talk to brands, I say, if you want to reach my 13-year-old son, your only real shot is to come to my house, hop over the fence, ring the doorbell and hope he answers because other than that he’s tough to get to. He doesn’t really watch commercials on TV unless it’s live sports and other than that he’s on his Xbox or on his computer and listening to music. If you want to reach some of today's most valuable generations — kids like my son — spend time getting to know your audience, what they watch and how they watch it, be tuned into pop culture trends and then follow your creative gut instinct.

Be Analytical

People often ask me, ‘How do you generate insights?’ Beyond the viewership, the great thing about YouTube is the analytics. When something’s engaging, you see high numbers in comments, likes, sharing, watch time and view-through rate. That’s the kind of stuff we look for. Obviously some things are more successful than others on a channel. Although analytics tell you what’s resonating, they don’t tell you what to make initially. But analytics give you a clue into what’s working, what’s trending in what direction and who it’s working with. We do an analytics report every day. We watch what’s happening very carefully and if we feel like something is working, we’ll double down and chase it. If something’s not working, or something is suddenly not working, then we want to figure out why.

Be Observant

YouTube users are the world’s biggest focus group. The comments are brutally honest; there can be a lot of haters. You just have to dig through it and throw out the extremes on both ends, then see what you really have. It’s ‘grading on a curve’. You have to be careful how seriously you follow small numbers. A few comments shouldn’t inform creative decisions but it can definitely give you room for discussion. You have to be careful not to react to a couple of people either way: positively or negatively.

We thought of that idea two days before we uploaded it, shot it in a day and put it up the next day. So in 48 hours we had the idea, shot it and it was uploaded. We could never do that in TV.

Be Responsive

When the iPhone 5 was released we came up with an idea for prank where someone dressed as an iPhone delivery person would drop a box filled with glass in front of people queuing outside the Apple store. We thought of that idea two days before we uploaded it, shot it in a day and put it up the next day. So in 48 hours we had the idea, shot it and it was uploaded. We could never do that in TV. The prank went viral, with five million views within a week and the kid who did the video even made an appearance on the Jay Leno Show three days after it was uploaded. We know who our audience is. We’re not trying to throw a net over everybody. It’s important to really try to distinguish who your audience is and then figure out the best way to reach them.

Be Ahead of the Curve

To be in this space you have to really be aware of the trends for your demo. That’s music trends, cultural trends, fashion style trends. If you’re not, you’re not going to win. You also need to have a little bit of vision into what’s next because it’s hard to stay even with the trends when they change so quickly. Trying to figure out what’s next is about reading comments and being on social media and just talking to fans and having your eyes open and seeing what’s happening. The big advantage we have over other YouTube channels is that our audience is very vocal about what they like and what they don’t like. We look at our audience as the ultimate army: The Awesomeness Army.