YouTube for the arts: expert tips

YouTube site on a computer screen

Marc Kirschner, founder and CEO, TenduTV/Cultureband

Plan ahead (more than you think): Where a lot of the arts organisations we work with are going wrong is that they don’t plan long-term enough. A lot will post a video related to an upcoming performance two weeks or less in advance, which is simply not enough time to generate interest in the video or to maximise the potential long-term benefits of that piece of content within YouTube’s algorithms.

Chris Unitt, founder, One Further

Is your content accessible? It’s really just a question of taking the time to make use of the tools that are available now. We’re talking about a few minutes of work that will have a significant effect on the number of people who will find your videos and then be more likely to watch them to the end. Bearing in mind the cost and effort that goes into producing a video, it’s baffling that people aren’t doing this stuff already. Sadly, having looked at YouTube channels across the sector, there are few examples of organisations getting it right.

Personality pays: I think a good example of this sort of thing, the vlogger style, is the difference in subscriber numbers between Sainsbury’s standard, long-running channel (9,245) and the new one they set up recently fronted by fashion vlogger Fleur de Force (45,937).

Chris Shipman, content producer (social media and news),
Royal Opera House

Objectives: For each piece of content you create, think very carefully about the objectives you want to achieve. It can be difficult to create content that will tick every “opportunity box” but if you can create a strong suite of regular content that individually targets certain objectives, you’ll reap the rewards in the long run.

Think about metadata as well. You can create the best film in the world but if the people you want to watch it can’t find it, your hours of hard work will have been in vain.

Bespoke players v YouTube: We used to have a bespoke in-site player. Our site got a lot of traffic and the YouTube views were good, but we felt that joining them would work even better. We then switched to having YouTube embeds in our site: the functionality was better, we had decent analytics and it meant each film was linked to all of our other content. Integrating YouTube and our site rather than having a walled garden was an easy win. We’ve reaped the rewards: 5.6m minutes watched this month and our subscribers have leapt too.

What works for us: Ballet and dance fans love rehearsal clips and “making of” films, eg how a pointe shoe is made. Opera and music fans like performance and “masterclass” clips, eg Joyce DiDonato offering tips on how to sing. In general, backstage insights are great: how a prop is made or a dancer being fitted for a costume. For both audiences, live-streaming is a big draw, but this can be a huge undertaking!

Sarah Urist Green, creator and curator, The Art Assignment

What works: One decision we made early in the development of our channel was to have a regular host or consistent personality in the series. For a successful internet community to be built, it’s key the relationship feels personal. I had no desire at all to be said host, but felt it would be best for the series and best for communicating contemporary art as accessible to be consistently present on camera.

Luke Hood, director at AEI Media and founder of dance music YouTube channel, UKF

Content is king: You have to put yourself in the shoes of your audience and think about what you would want to see. Content is king and if the content doesn’t cut it then no matter how well you optimise it with end slates, metadata and the rest of it, you won’t see a great uplift. Of course, things change and you can experiment. The beauty of YouTube is that your subscribers will often let you know if something is good or bad.

What works for us: It’s about grouping things together in playlists correctly, so people will watch five videos in one go, rather than just one. It’s also about using end slates linking to other videos they’re likely to click on. Commenting and interacting with your audience will always draw people back; they build a relationship with you as a brand or channel, as well as getting exclusive never before seen content.

We work continually with the artists to get a unique perspective on things you won’t find anywhere else. Whether it’s how their live show was built to what life is really like on the road.

Alex Holder, executive creative director, Anomaly London

Do you need a budget? YouTube is a place where high production values aren’t necessarily a prerequisite; it really is idea over execution. We’ve been brought up with so many glossy films, TV shows and adverts that when you (if you’re over 30) first watch some of the most popular YouTubers, their videos look very basic. They’re often sat on their bed using a webcam just chatting to camera, but that resonates with a huge audience. The viewing figures show that people don’t want to only watch highly-produced shows.

Subscriber tips: We’ve found there are a few basic rules to stick to.

Be authentic: a person talking to camera works really well; it feels personal.
Be regular and reliable: post content on a regular schedule. Even thought people aren’t watching it live, people like to know when the next video is coming out.
Ask your audience what they want to see: respond to comments, ask your audience for feedback on videos and ask what they’d like to see more of.

Also be aware that, especially with a subject like the arts, you’re going to have very passionate audiences. You don’t have to make content that appeals to everyone. You can make viewers very happy by being specific with the stuff you put out there. It’s amazing how many views a video about storing makeup can get.

Simon Walker, chief strategy officer, Rightster

Influence: What we are seeing is the emergence of a new set of influencers. All these YouTube stars are the key talent for that millennial demographic and our job is to cultivate and develop this new breed of creators and curators. Take fashion: my team at Rightster has been live streaming New York and London Fashion Week for many seasons and working with amazing young vloggers for years. But it was only last month the rest of the industry noticed that sitting on the front row next to Anna Wintour was a bunch of YouTube kids who have suddenly got the same kind of editorial power as the editor of Vogue.

The question for the arts sector is: who are the new influencers?

Chris McGill, creative director, Dusthouse

What works for us: Behind the scenes style documentaries work wonderfully for a certain audience. Allowing viewers into “off limits” areas (rehearsal rooms, tech, wardrobe, dressing rooms) really helps build anticipation for forthcoming productions.

We’ve also found the “concept trailer” – a creative film produced weeks before a production opens – has a huge impact on ticket sales. Through showing YouTube or Vimeo viewers a film for the creative arts that speaks their own language will always create more interest in your product.

Our panel’s top dos and don’ts

Do use annotations and other calls to action to drive sales and subscriptions.

Don’t neglect the power of your channel, so make your default video an example of what you offer on your channel, not simply your latest clip. Use a clearly identifiable channel ident and attractive channel header art.

Do stick to a schedule (if permitted).

Don’t make content that’s too long: not many people want to sit through a 20-minute interview so keep it short and snappy, although there are exceptions.

Do be part of the YouTube community: if you can, comment on other people’s videos and add something to the ecosystem.

Don’t rely on talking heads: if you’re doing an interview, use cutaways to give the film more dynamics.

Do use end slates to drive people to other relevant content.

Don’t put in metadata that isn’t relevant to your video to try and game the system; it doesn’t work.

Do use analytics to understand what specific metadata might work.

Do watch what the big YouTube channels are doing, especially the ones that are YouTube native and didn’t have the benefits of an existing brand: pick up tips and tricks from them. See VidStatsX for lists of the biggest channels.

Do read the likes of Tubefilter and New Media Rockstars to keep pace with new developments.

Do check your analytics and look out for any types of video that consistently underperform, especially looking at the percentage of a video that people tend to watch.

Do read the YouTube Creator Playbook: there’s lots of good stuff in there.

Don’t upload content with blurry thumbnails: add custom ones that are clear even in small sidebar size.

Do know what you’re trying to achieve with each video and make it clear to viewers what they should do next, eg buy a ticket, watch another video, leave a comment and so on.

Do post with regularity: don’t just have a glut of content and then nothing for ages; space it out.

Do integrate YouTube with your other social media: if you’re doing an interview, ask questions via Twitter and feed this in.

Do upload content of the highest quality you can: if you have the option to use HD (even smartphones can now shoot in it), film in HD; there’s no excuse for 240p quality clips anymore.

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