Who’s Hot on YouTube? How Subscriptions and Views Can Lie.

Before I give you a marvelous collection of YouTube secrets, a quick aside. They say you can tell a lot about a person by the company he keeps. Could it be said that a lot can be told about your blog by the search terms that brought people to it? Check out these classy terms that brought people to the blog you’re reading. Big butt? Really?

Okay… now your secret ninja YouTube lessons of the week. There’s a bucket of important insight here, so read it carefully. You could jump to the “key takeaways” section, but you won’t likely remember, internalize or act upon this without my examples.

Let’s face it. YouTubers are still preoccupied with subscribers, despite the fact that they mean less and less. While YouTube continues to grow in total views, behavior is changing in a subtle but important way. The most popular creators, as we have discussed many times here, are a) nourishing a community, and b) posting regularly (CharlesTrippy, ShayCarl) with decent and consistently innovative content (MysteryGuitarMan).

But top webstars are also promoting their videos via other digital and social-media channels — especially Facebook. To some degree, YouTube has become BYOA: “bring your own audience.” While this is becoming vitally important, it’s not entirely new. Many people, like MrSafety/SMPFilms, were propelled instantly on YouTube because they brought their MySpace audience over. Corey had a “head start” and continued to boost YouTube views by reposting on MySpace (a site I never much liked). Why do you think Machinima popped so quickly? It brought its loyal audience over to YouTube, where it found a secondary one.

If you bring an audience to YouTube via other social-media sites, you’ll find YouTube’s algorithms rewarding you in turn. Want to appear on the coveted spotlight page? It’s simple: Get a surge of views quickly with active commenters. Views beget views. While some hard-core viewers continue to surf their subscriptions box, the “unwashed masses” won’t know about a new video unless it’s posted where they live online… and that’s Facebook and other social-media sites. Take my wife (please take my wife- badaboom): Wifeofnalts doesn’t know when Nalts posts a video, but is always current on the latest videos by Michael Buckley (WhatTheBuck) because he alerts people via his popular Facebook account that she follows. I’m working on that by placing more emphasis on my Facebook Nalts public page and my active Nalts profile (accepting all friends until I max out at 5K).

Sure there are maybe 20-100K people that eat, sleep and breath YouTube. They’re the big fatties like me enjoying the “all you can eat” buffet. But the drive-through crowd represents 90% of the viewing… they don’t graze on YouTube, they snack.

DaneBoe (creator of the astronomically popular Annoying Orange) told the audience at VidCon2010 that his views surge when he alerts viewers of his Facebook account, which has a gazillion fans/likes. He believes that Annoying Orange’s Facebook presence is vital (Keep in mind that Daneboe was so spoiled by a 6-figure income on Metacafe that he was extremely late to YouTube). But he propelled to meteoric fame through his relatively new and cult-forming fruity character. Before Annoying Orange there was almost no “famous” and “popular” channel on YouTube that wasn’t… a person. Characters, like the hysterical ClipCritics, haven’t caught on like ordinary joe’s. Even brilliant comedic content like Barely Political and College Humor (Jake & Amir) grew quite slowly.  Now this semi-pro independent content is the VIP of YouTube now. It’s the “New Establishment,” and YouTube is putting wind behind its wings.

So let’s drop our obsession with subscribers. I think this little tidbit is as applicable to video creators as to the intended audience (youth ministers). It’s from a free eBook by godrox on YouTube:

“Don’t focus on numerical growth- focus on being a healthy group. Anything that is healthy naturally grows.”

Aint it true? We often get sidetracked by subscriber numbers, which used to be incredibly important to getting views. But increasingly it’s evident that the quality, not quantity, of the views matters more. And quality of a relationship between a person and his/her audience relies on a cross-site presence. I’m working hard to build my Facebook presence, although my Twitter followers seem to cap at 10K (I once read that a community fragments when it passes that number, so I tweet manically when I’m close… hopefully shaking off those without fortitude).

Why did the YouTube collaboration between Fred and AnnoyingOrange benefit Fred more than AnnoyingOrange? Because even though Fred is more popular (as evidenced by total subscribers), AnnoyingOrange is more popular based on views of recent videos. Daneboe’s subscriber base is “fresher” and represents more active users. Fred’s subscriber base, much like my own, is artificially high based on an aged account– diluted by once-active viewers who are not currently watching in any frequency. Newer subscribers tend to be more active.

So 10 active users on YouTube is worth more than 1000 inactive accounts.

This isn’t entirely new either… I’ve known many YouTubers (Pipistrello) who “groom” their subscribers by booting inactive accounts. I thought it an odd move several years ago, since the number of subscribers had material value… it gave you “clout” with advertisers and fellow creators. Especially if you were on the top-100 list aside other hot properties.

The “health” of an online-video channel, however, can better be judged by views on recent videos. A low view-to-subscriber ratio is not a bad thing, it’s just symptomatic of an older account. A rapidly-rising YouTube “star” will have high growth rates, and lots of views on recently posted videos.

Check this Mashable link to see some of the most popular webshows in June. Again a very misleading list because some of these accounts (Charlie the Unicorn) are artificially high because 3 or 4 videos consistently get millions of views. Take this GSWanson17 account as an example; no videos in a year, and not so many views… but this one copy of “Charlie the Unicorn” video skews the account because it’s been seen 50 million times. So if you were to sponsor a video with that channel or Harry Potter Pals you won’t likely get the views you may expect. A better indicator of the views you could expect is to look at the most-recent 10 or 20 videos posted, and average them. SecretAgentBob (FilmCow) makes this hard to determine from his channel.

So how do I use this knowledge to my benefit? For starters, if recent videos don’t get a lot of views I promote them or “burn” them (think Burn Notice). Others design their account page to make it difficult to see the most-recent videos, and instead drive people to older, more popular videos. This, of course, can amplify the problem it is designed to conceal. Someone “checking in” on his or her channel page may not be able to locate the recent videos easily, and thus fall out of habit.

My two cents. Thoughts? Anyone? Beuhler? Then again, if you want to know who’s HOT check WillofDC or VidStats, which placed heavy emphasis on subscribers (versus views). My views are consistently high, but recent videos aren’t getting the 40K plus views they were getting last year… suggesting it’s time to freshen up me act, or convince someone hot to collaborate… like youtube.com/Tobuscus. Think he’ll bite?

Key Takeaways:

  • Subscribers and total views can mislead advertisers into thinking a new video will get views.
  • Increasingly YouTube success is dependent on a significant presence on Facebook, and active “seeding” to blogs, social-media sites, and other forums.
  • The YouTube pyramid is growing increasingly sharp like television or radio… as a collective audience, we can only handle so many superstars. We want to have something in common with others, and that fact propels some content and widens the gap between the top 10 and the rest.
  • A webstar “on the rise” is more likely to get fast views and new subscribers, and those new subscribers are more likely to be active than those ancient accounts who subscribed to someone years ago (or use YouTube infrequently).
  • The winner is the person who maintains a relationship with frequent users of YouTube, and brings YouTube traffic from other properties.
  • The “New Establishment” (independent semi-produced content) is being promoted by YouTube. It’s not the end of the 15-minutes of fame to remarkable amateurs, but it’s increasingly difficult to build and sustain a solo act. TheStation picked up on this fact early, and helped prove that 1 plus 1 = 11.
  • If your YouTube channel features recent videos that aren’t getting high views, savvy advertisers will hold that against you for sponsored videos. However most will be oblivious to this because they aren’t as well read as you.
  • Could Annoying Orange’s success be a “tipping point” for non-vlog content? Will we see more characters and shows getting views on YouTube, a medium historically dominated by individual creators?
  • Bottom line: If you’re a marketer or advertiser, it’s probably better to not enter the online-video jungle than enter without a no-biased guide. Sure there’s gold, but there are also lots of hungry cannibals. In my next post, I’ll help punctuate this by writing a point-counter-point on advertising (or not) with Nalts. That’ll be fun. I’ll show you how I can use stats and information to suggest I’m a SUPERSTAR and then I’ll pull the rug from under myself!

10 Replies to “Who’s Hot on YouTube? How Subscriptions and Views Can Lie.”

  1. Man, I wish you had written this a couple weeks ago! lol I’m recently learning the same things you discussed here. Since I see a lot of the top YouTubers using annotations to remind people to subscribe and often even reminding people in-video to subscribe, I figured I’d try to learn from the best to do the same. To give it a little kick-start, I offered an incentive to subscribe in one of my videos to give something away to two random people. What I’m realizing, though, is exactly what you said. Some of these people created new accounts just to subscribe for the potential free stuff. While most of the new subscribers had existing accounts, they where completely inactive. Especially if I’m the only channel you subscribe to, I know you’re not gonna be logging in to watch just me.

    I guess I should’ve known this because the same is true for Twitter, as you alluded to. You can buy 20,000 followers for $20 guaranteed through some services, but it’s just an artificially inflated number on my profile page, that’s it. It’s not engaged users who will interact with me and my content.

    So, here’s where I am now: I agree with you totally on the YouTube subscriber thing. Fortunately, I have an audience on my blog (moreso than Facebook) that I can bring over to YouTube and get a couple hundred views, but it’s such a small percentage of my site’s traffic and subscribers. Now I’m wondering why, when I embed a video in a blog post, it only gets a small fraction of the views that the post gets. I’m guessing it’s because my audience would rather read and skim through text than sit and listen/watch a video that’s very not-skimmable, especially because they’re looking for information/education from my content, not to sit in front of the computer and be entertained. This is evident when I post a vlog that has little to do with my niche, but obviously includes it because it’s part of my day. I get comments like, “Nice video, but what was the point of this?” I was hoping it would make me and what I do more personable and help people connect with me more, but I don’t think they’re seeing it that way.

    So I can continue to do text, but I’m thinking that, in a couple years from now when this “youtube generation” is now serving in my blog’s niche, they’ll be more likely to view my videos than read my text, unlike my current audience. I’m kinda banking on the fact that I’m making an investment in the future consumption model of content and establishing a presence there before my “competitors” (I don’t really have any, but you know what I mean).

    Oh, and it sounds like YouTube should switch their analytic system to be more like Google’s Feedburner system that takes into account active viewers and “reach” instead of just total subscribers.

    Lots of good thoughts here. Thanks, Kevin!

    (Thanks for the shout-out, btw, too!)

  2. Boy, I tell you, things are changing so much on youtube so quickly that I feel like it’s all passing me by. I’m still subscribed to the old belief that nobody will keep watching you unless you pump out tons of videos to keep them occupied. I always hated that, but now I am repeatedly hearing that people are in it for the quality these days. I can get behind that a lot more. I’ve got to get with the times.

    I see what you are saying with the Annoying Orange, too. That’s just proving that the importance of subscribers has lessened in the past year. I would go ahead and say that the Annoying Orange is probably the most popular thing on Youtube today. It doesn’t have the subscribers to back that up (although over a million isn’t too bad), but those videos are getting the views from other places! Plus, our friend Mr. Boe is making some pretty insane bank, I would glean.

    And as far as “grooming” subscribers, I can’t tell you how much I would love to do that. Half of my subscribers since the mad rush in April are sockpuppets anyway. Of course, I’m not a partner yet. I will welcome any sockpuppets until I am approved to back me up as far as numbers go. I’m still miles behind everybody else who is worrying about googleTV and facebook pages…I’m still not even a partner.

  3. “Why did the YouTube collaboration between Fred and AnnoyingOrange benefit Fred more than AnnoyingOrange?

    Because even though Fred is more popular AnnoyingOrange is more popular based on views of recent videos.

    Daneboe’s subscriber base is “fresher” and represents more active users.

    Fred’s subscriber base, much like my own, is artificially high based on an aged account– diluted by once-active viewers who are not currently watching in any frequency. Newer subscribers tend to be more active.”

    Did I read this correctly?

  4. Not too familiar with Tobuscus, but I gleaned through his stuff , he’s smart, knows how to promote himself very well and his facial features are symmetrical.

    He seems to carry a positive attitude, taps into what’s popular within his target demographic and is good at skimming off the top.

    Looks like he’s headed for acting. He’s not very good at just one thing, but he seems malleable and has a fire in his belly, he wants something big, not sure what.

    The funny thing I noticed; not exactly sure what it is, a facial feature or expression… but it reminded me very much of Jeremiah McDonald.

    Which I think also demonstrates the contrast between quality and quantity.

    I don’t know if it is his personality or persona, but he seems like a nice guy.

    He looks pretty G/PG rated, which is also your audience. I’d ask him; though I think he’d get more subs out it than you.

  5. I want to add one thing to your take away – and this depends on how long the net stays open –

    Reinvent Yourself.

    as people move farther and farther away from TV youtubers will begin reinventing themselves because they will have to; that top 10 popularity door is only open for a limited time and you will have to impress cause Hollywood is going to die; least dwindle.

    I think what the 60’s were to the boomers youtube will be to Gen X Y & Z.

    They will start making comparison to who was more like the WHO of You Tube, who was more like Bowie, Dylan, Rolling Stones, Hendrix…

    And people will say how commercial youtube has becomes and it’s nothing like the good old days.

    The next 3 years will be very interesting.

  6. Sorry to post on this again. Hope no one minds! I’ve been thinking about this whole subscriber thing for a while and wanted to share a couple additional thoughts and questions.

    My last couple videos I’ve continued to remind people to subscribe. I figured that if they’re new subscribers they might be active and keep up with the videos. I haven’t gone back through my recent subscribers to see if they’re still active a week or two later — guess I should do that. I guess I assumed it would be like RSS subscribers: some will subscribe and keep up with your content for a little while, but then some will stop checking their RSS reader and go inactive. Feedburner stops counting those people automatically because they count unique hits on your feed. YouTube could/should do the same thing.

    But here’s my question, “credibility” of subscriber stats aside: What people do after they subscribe is outside our control, so is it still worth it to continue reminding people to subscribe to our videos to continually add new, active viewers the same way we make RSS and email subscription options available to new blog viewers?

    My second question is, if we don’t direct our viewers to subscribe, should we instead be directing them to become fans of our Facebook pages or to follow us on Twitter? The downside with subscribing to content through Facebook or Twitter is that you pretty much need to be sitting in front of the computer or phone when the tweet/status comes across or else you’ll miss it (unless you can get a lot of people to comment and thumbs-up on Facebook or retweet you on Twitter, which is always unpredictable). With RSS and the subscription box on YouTube, the content will always predictably be there whenever you check, so it’s hard to miss, ya know?

    So while the subscriber stats may not be a credible indication of popularity, is it still worth directing people to subscribe on YouTube? Or is it worth it in the long-run to push people to your Facebook and Twitter accounts instead?

  7. Sorry to keep resurrecting this post! Another thought I’ve been thinking through: If YouTube is mostly BYOA, then why would I bring them to YouTube instead of Vimeo (which, I personally like the feature set there and how much cleaner and more professional it feels than YouTube)? I’m mostly in that position — bringing my existing audience to my videos. My YouTube videos send almost no traffic to my site and I haven’t seen any results of people discovering me because of my videos on YouTube (new subscribers seem to mostly be blog readers anyway), so if it’s BYOA, why bring them to YouTube?

    The main thing I like about YouTube is the community that’s there, the potential to maybe one day see a little bit of income from it, and how many services and mobile apps make YouTube compatibility a priority over places like Vimeo, so that’s why I’ll probably continue with YouTube. Just thinking out loud (again).

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