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A new lens on YouTube: from content hub to relationship builder

By Kristin Johnson / March 19, 2019

Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube: For marketers, one of these is not like the other. And to some extent, they’re right. As a video-first platform, YouTube is inherently different from “the big three” of social. But its differences also happen to be its strengths, and brands miss out when they don’t incorporate those strengths into their overall social strategy.

It’s not that marketers don’t use YouTube. With over one billion visitors to the site every month and the undeniable power of video storytelling, the platform is a no-brainer. But many marketers fail to see YouTube as anything more than a video-hosting site—a repository for the full-length versions of videos they’ve created for other platforms. They’re not always looking at it through the lens of social.

If brands want to build deeper relationships with their audiences, marketers must treat YouTube as a destination for connection.

A place for discovery

With over one billion monthly visitors, it’s no surprise that YouTube is the second most popular site in the world. What people might not know is that it’s also the second largest search engine on the internet (ranking only behind Google in both instances). Every month, the platform processes over three billion searches.

This power really differentiates YouTube and offers a unique opportunity for organic discoverability—especially for brands that create relevant content and optimize it for search.

On other social platforms, videos are more often viewed by people who already follow a brand’s page or directly seek it out. Whereas on YouTube, brands have a chance to reach a wider audience of people seeking information.

For optimal discoverability, your social and SEO teams should align and establish best practices for keywords, descriptions, length, etc. This will ensure your video content not only reaches your target audience, but also resonates with them. Relationships rely on relevance. You can’t create real connection if you’re only ever talking about yourself. Instead, focus on what your audience really cares about.

In the case of Beardbrand, an e-commerce retailer that sells beard grooming products, we see a brand who knows their audience and what they need. Their YouTube channel features an abundance of “beard-related education,” such as tutorials, care and styling tips and even thought leadership videos on relevant topics in the grooming industry. Beardbrand knows that most people aren’t coming to YouTube to search for their brand, but they are looking for resources on how to look their best. This user behavior is what drives their content and enables them to connect with audiences on a deeper level beyond product features.

A better stage for storytelling

When YouTube first came on the scene in 2005, it was a game-changer for marketers. Brand videos were no longer ads that interrupted other content, they were the content. Video strategies shifted from an opportunity for brands to talk about themselves, to an opportunity to tell a more meaningful story and connect with their audiences.

There’s simply no better way to tell a story than through video. “Unlike static formats, video can pack a lot of information into a small but eye-catching package. [Humans] are wired to process visual information and remember stories, making video an ideal medium with which to engage them.” Forrester.

YouTube’s storytelling edge is its suitability for longer videos. While marketers must optimize most social videos to suit the short attention span of a scrolling thumb, they have a more captive audience on YouTube. According to research from wave.video, the ideal length of videos for social platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are anywhere from under 30 seconds to 90 seconds. The ideal length for a YouTube video is anywhere from five to seven minutes.

While it’s not impossible to tell a great story in 30 seconds, longer videos give brands a chance to include more background, build more tension and elicit more emotion in their stories.

In this Unskippable Labs experiment, researchers tested three cuts of a Honey Maid video ad at varying lengths: 15 seconds, 30 seconds and over two minutes. The study found that “the longer-form ads were both more effective in lifting brand favorability than the 15-second ad” and “the extra depth and dimension of more complex stories created a more meaningful connection to the brand.”

This doesn’t mean there isn’t a place in your strategy for shorter videos. Fifteen seconds is the perfect amount of time to spark interest, seed an idea or elicit a quick emotion—all tactics perfect for social’s fast pace. But you need the luxury of long-form to deliver an experience worth the click.

Another storytelling advantage of a video-first platform is the addition of sound. While videos on social can and often do feature audio, as much as 85% of video views happen with the sound off, most notably on Facebook. In stark contrast, YouTube reports that 96% of their audience view content with the sound on. This is good news for the platform considering data from Google indicates, “the full immersive experience of sight, sound and motion delivers more ad recall than either audio or video alone.”

When I think of best-in-class marketers who know how to draw their audience in through powerful storytelling, brands like Nike and Patagonia immediately come to mind. But even more utilitarian brands like the worldwide technology company Cisco can take advantage of long-form videos to create suspense and drum up emotion around their solutions.

What plays here stays here

Another unique strength for YouTube content is its permanence. While the nature of social demands timely content to keep users engaged, YouTube is the perfect home for timeless content. Videos on Facebook and Instagram may be there one minute and gone the next, but on YouTube, they can live forever—or at least for the foreseeable future.

This opens up opportunities for more evergreen content like short films, documentaries and educational videos—content that remains relevant even over time. Companies like REI feature a ton of evergreen content on their YouTube channel. Their playlists include camping and travel advice from outdoor experts, guided nature meditations and documentary shorts featuring notable stories of men and women braving the great outdoors every day.

This element of permanence also gives brands an opportunity to create some consistency in their content which, according to leading marketing expert Neil Patel, is a tried and true way to build a successful channel and establish an active community. Video series, or programmatic content, enables brands to create recurring themes and characters that make audiences want to subscribe and stay connected.

Pepsi did a great job creating a lovable character in its Uncle Drew series in which professional basketball player, Kyrie Irving, dresses up as an old man and schools unsuspecting players in real life pick-up games. Lyft also has a popular series called, “Undercover Lyft” where celebrities go undercover and pick up unknowing passengers. Keep in mind that evergreen content can be both entertaining and educational. BassProShops knows its audience of avid outdoorsmen loves to share in and learn from each other’s adventures, so it features episodes of its classic Outdoor World Television program on its YouTube channel.

All together now

While YouTube’s user behavior and format help brands create different content compared to other social sites, the platform is truly at its best when part of a holistic social strategy.

In this way, YouTube becomes another point of connection along the consumer journey, enabling a brand’s story to play out in a richer, more in-depth way across multiple platforms.

The beauty of creating content for YouTube is that it opens up new possibilities for creative content on other platforms, and vice-versa. Instead of just cutting up long-form videos into smaller chunks for social, brands need to think outside the box to how they can reveal different parts of their story using different formats. It’s a challenge to brands to find a purpose for video strategy beyond re-purpose.

Kristin Johnson

Kristin Johnson

Kristin Johnson is the Director of Communications & Content at Sprout Social. She is an experienced marketer with a passion for impactful storytelling, fostering her team's growth and sparking thoughtful discussion. Outside the office, she enjoys yoga, cooking and a great pint of beer (usually, in that order).
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