Sunday, 16 February 2014

The new "Chaplin" era

The old "nobody knows anything" attitude about the web is giving way to increasing recognition that emotional, compelling content and storytelling is proving to be decisive in drawing audiences online.

The story “structures” will be different (as television is from radio, as cinema is from print, print is from online) but structures will be found.

We are still in the “Charlie Chaplin era” of a new medium, but the Chaplin figures are out there trying to understand and write the rules right now.

Some early patterns show promise in attracting and engaging audiences online.

Successful online content producers:

Think a lot about the user experience and design content and platforms based on that.

Actively engage with their audiences and build infrastructures for that to happen.

Change program elements quickly in response to selected audience comments.

Budget more on distribution and promoting content, less on production values.

Have a solid understanding of how search drives audience to content.

Are moving away from online display ads and more toward paid subscriptions.

Seek creative partnerships with corporations and funders, not just “sponsors.”

While TV is as big as it ever was, more people are watching it the way they want to, on their computers and small screens.

The challenge for content creators and those who fund them is to identify the patterns and rules that work best to express content in the new online medium, especially for smaller screens as PCs begin to fade from the scene.

How to build an audience online

Demoralized online content creators who see "The Toilet Flushing Cat" racking up millions of hits and getting more every day should take heart... remember it's just one video.

Successfully getting audiences to consistently engage with your content online is no accident, and there are specific things you can do to build an audience online, including: 

"Easy entry" is essential. There should be no context necessary for the viewer to engage with your content. Each of your videos should be able to stand on its own: easily understandable and immediately compelling.

Minimize branding and opening credits. Get right to the action.

Short chapters engage audiences.

"Topical" works. This is especially good news for news people and news organizations. Consider what people are searching for every day. What's happening right now, what's relevant, what's new, unusual and breaking stereotypes are what people are constantly looking for and sharing online. 

Cross promotion builds audience share. Give your target audiences as many opportunities as possible to find and share your content. Have a presence and playlist on as many video platforms as possible, including YouTube, DailyMotion and Vimeo. Create a dedicted Facebook page, Twitter feed and Instagram site specifially about your content. When you have created something new, update each site with your new content simultaneously.

Seek subscribers. People are 20% more likely to view new content if they subscribe to it. Alert your subsciber base each time you add new content to your site.
Optimize for search. Use lots of tags and metadata. Invest time and energy into thumbnails, keywords and especially provacative, intuitively searchable titles and headlines. Make it easy for the audience to find you.

Use analytics to show who was watching and for how long; identify patterns; why are some of your videos rising ("trending") or falling off in your ratings?

What makes a YouTube star?

A YouTube star is not a celebrity but “a friend” to the audience.
An “authentic” personality who speaks about ordinary human experience.

Uses low production values...
Is intensely focused on distribution... 

Has a subscriber base..
...and actively cross-promotes content on multiple social platforms.
For example...

Jenna Marbles is a self-described “blogger and entertainer” who has uploaded about 200 of her homemade videos since 2010. According to the New York Times she is one of the few content creators to reach more than one billion hits on YouTube and twelve million subscribers.

She is not a celebrity (well, she is now) and she writes and shoots most of her videos herself in her apartment using her laptop; very low production values. 

But: she is talented and funny (and uses a lot of profanity); she is “a friend” to the audience, an authentic personality who speaks about ordinary human experiences in a very amusing way; her weekly topics include: "Interrupting Adele" (10 million views); Drunk Makeup Tutorial" (17 million); "What Girls Do in the Bathroom in the Morning" (25 million); "What Girls Do in Cars" (32 million).

She actively cross-promotes her weekly content, promoting it on multiple social platforms including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and gets around 1 million views a day. 

As of 2013 (estimated by Comscore) YouTube has paid Jenna Marbles about $350,000 dollars for her videos.

Why the new golden age of TV is not on TV

People who say they never watch TV, especially young people, are actually huge consumers of TV programs, but they watch on computers, tablets and smartphones, getting the TV experience the way they want it.

The web medium is new, and it's a completely different experience for the user, as unique as television is from radio, as cinema is from print.

Just like "traditional" media, online content has its own rules for engaging audiences... and they are still being discovered, especially about the behavior of online audiences.

It turns out audiences are very particular about what they will watch online.

Online audiences...

...will engage only with intuitively usable platforms and content. Will not engage with platforms that don’t give them the experience they want.

...want content that is emotional, personality driven and “authentic” ( not “polished” like broadcast.)

...will share content if it reaches them emotionally.

...want their input to be a) heard and b) integrated into their favorite shows online.

...are fiercely passionate – true fans who are very loyal and knowledgeable about “their” content online.

The bottom line for online content creators? Keep in mind your audience fully expects a specific experience online - content that is easy to find, to view and interact with, to comment on and to share.