Stars of YouTube share secrets of success

May 2015

YouTube has transformed the way people watch video. The shift from passive consumption of content to active engagement with that content — and the creators producing it — has enormous implications for entertainment, branding and behaviour. To find success on YouTube, established names in the YouTube universe have plenty of guidance and advice to inspire individuals and brands alike.

Engage your audience "If I take my own personal experiences and share them, then it can be very helpful for people. If it just affects one person then that's worth it; but it doesn't affect one person, it affects hundreds if not thousands," Thomas Ridgewell explains. Known as TomSka on YouTube, he has more than 3.5 million subscribers to his channel and knows as well as anyone the profound importance of authenticity. On YouTube, honesty and relatability form the foundations of trust, engagement and audience retention.

The relevance of a piece of content is another way to ensure viewers will be attracted and absorbed. Trending topics or regular events like the World Cup or summer festival season can provide the spark of inspiration that delivers real traction among audiences.

Tips from 'The Creators' (Zoella, TomSka and NikinSammy) on how to engage your audience on YouTube: 1. Be authentic 2. Be relevant 3. It doesn't have to be glossy

>With authenticity and relevance high on the list of priorities, content on YouTube doesn't have to be glossy to be engaging. Immediacy, fast pace and a user-generated flavour are all part of the appeal. Even established brands are allowed to go easy in this area. "If we are to move fast and create content that's pertinent for the moment," observes Geoff Seeley, Unilever's Global Communications Planning Director, "sometimes it's not going to be polished."

We are directly affected by whatever our audience says. Unlike a TV show, which makes minor adjustments next season, we're always listening and adapting to what our audience wants.

Sammy Albon, NikiNSammy

Grow your audience One of the truly transformational aspects of YouTube is the ability to react to viewers' needs, desires and opinions. The first step in generating a following on YouTube is to listen to the audience. In order to improve future content, a creator can access a huge range of data to see who is tuning in and where viewers are clicking away. But insights don't end at statistical analysis; YouTube viewers express their thoughts through comments on the platform as well as other social media channels. "We are directly affected by whatever our audience says. Unlike a TV show, which makes minor adjustments next season, we're always listening and adapting to what our audience wants," reveals Sammy Albon of NikiNSammy, whose subscriber base is 140,000-strong and counting.

Successful YouTubers like Sammy and his twin Niki don't merely expect engagement — they ask for it. The same approach is equally vital for brands. Techniques include promoting hashtags, soliciting video responses from viewers and encouraging feedback via social media interactions. Calls to action can stimulate subscriptions, shares and cross-pollination with other platforms. To further deepen engagement, creators can actively direct audiences to other content. For example, a video might include annotations enabling viewers to click elsewhere online or to additional YouTube channels hosted by the creator.

Tips from 'The Creators' (Zoella, TomSka and NikinSammy) on how to grow your audience on YouTube: 1. Listen to your audience 2. Don't expect engagement, ask for it 3. Promote your other content 4. Be regular and reliable

Finally, being regular and reliable helps secure audience growth by satisfying viewers' hunger for new videos. This approach also helps improve search rankings, as the algorithm favours frequent, regular uploads. Many creators establish a schedule of uploads well in advance, and release content on a certain day or days of the week so that fans know exactly when to tune in to watch their favourite personalities.

Be part of the community Establishing a sense of community begins with getting to know the audience. This can happen in a virtual sense — by deepening understanding through analytics — but increasingly live events also enable opportunities for real face-to-face exchange.

Tips from 'The Creators' (Zoella, TomSka and NikinSammy) on how to be part of the YouTube community: 1. Get to know your audience 2. Promote others 3. Collaborate with others

Promoting other YouTube creators is another unbeatable approach. "It's a huge community, so we all make videos together or separately, but we all support each other," says Zoella, the YouTube phenomenon with upwards of 8 million subscribers. "It's nice because we all have the same thing in common." Thomas (aka TomSka) agrees: "Unlike rival film studios, two YouTubers would just work together because they felt like it."

Collaborating with others is a technique not just limited to individual creators; it's an outstanding avenue for brands as well. "We're working with a disparate bunch of YouTube talent. They all have a different way of creating and presenting their films," says Unilever's Geoff Seeley. "As long as they understand what our brands are about, then they're free to present them how they want." With Unilever's All Things Hair channel achieving over 15 million video views, other brands would be wise to emulate these winning ways.

Tips from Unilever, PepsiMax and Adidas

How to be a successful on YouTube:

  1. Be authentic.
  2. Be relevant.
  3. It doesn't have to be glossy.
  4. Collaborate with others.
  5. Listen to your audience.
  6. Don't expect engagement, ask for it.
  7. Be regular and reliable.
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