News Leadership 3.0

July 26, 2011

How YouTube can help the news biz: Insights from Pew, Old Spice Guy

With great difficulty, I’m tearing myself away from today’s YouTube competition, Mano a Mano in El Baño (a face-off between “Old Spice Guy” Isaiah Mustafa and male supermodel Fabio) to read over the latest Pew report on video sharing sites.

According to Pew, 71% of U.S. adult internet users now watch videos via a video sharing site such as YouTube or Vimeo. Furthermore on any given day, 28% of U.S. internet users said they had used such sites within the last day.

It’s yet another reason why news organizations should be using popular video sharing services to engage audiences and drive traffic. Here are some out-of-the ordinary ideas for making this work, ideally without creating too much extra work…

By Amy Gahran

First, some highlights from the Pew report:

  • Gender. While 71% of both men and women reported using video sharing sites, men may be using them more frequently.
  • Age. A whopping 92% of Americans aged 18-29 (a demographic most news organizations would love to attract) use video sharing sites, and 47% of this age group used such a site “yesterday.” If you’d like increase your brand awareness and market share with younger adults, that makes video sharing a good bet.
  • Ethnicity. Hispanic and African Americans (79%) lead whites (69%) in their use of video sharing services. This tracks with earlier Pew findings that these ethnic groups appear most enthusiastic about adopting mobile technology. It may help explain the strong role that YouTube played in sparking outrage in the African American community over the 2009 Oscar Grant shooting in Oakland, Calif., and similar events.
  • Income is not a strong predictor of video sharing site use. For instance, 81% of U.S. internet users earning $75,000 or more per year visit such sites—but that’s a mere 10 percentage points above the rate for those earning $30,000 per year or less. The most likely frequent users come from households earning $30,000-$49,999 per year.
  • Rural is catching up. In the past year, 68% of rural internet users visited video sharing sites—a 21% increase over the previous year, significantly outpacing the growth from urbanites and suburbanites.
  • Parents (81%) are far more likely than non-parents (61%) to use video sharing sites.
  • Amateur-produced content is a key driver of the growth of video sharing sites.


Earlier I explained how news organizations that produce online video can prepare to capitalize on viral video potential by introducing some standard steps for cross-promotion between produced videos and their web site. This includes setting up your own branded YouTube channel, as well as displaying visible short URLs (permanent redirects) in your video, supporting those links with access to updates or related coverage on your site, and keeping an eye on your YouTube statistics.

Those are the basics from a publishing perspective. But here are a few additional content strategy ideas geared toward using video sharing for audience engagement.

1. More video, more often. Increasingly news organizations have branded channels on YouTube, Vimeo, and similar services—but many only publish there once or twice a month, if that. Video sharing sites (especially YouTube) are excellent channels for discoverability: the more you post there, the more people will find you there.

So consider how to make shared video a regular part of your publishing process, so you can post at least once or twice a week. This is especially useful for your most popular stories, or for topics of special interest to the demographics that Pew noted as being particularly into video sharing sites.

2. Use simple, engaging formats. When news organizations create video, typically it’s in a narrative story format, like this recent video from InsideBayArea on a Bhutanese immigrant community celebration. That’s great—but it’s perhaps the most labor- and time-intensive kind of video to make.

Consider short formats that require few cuts and little editing: Clips from an interview with a single subject, commentaries, teasers from a longer video project in process, and more.

Also consider partnerships with popular or prolific local videobloggers. For instance, SFgate.com regularly features the work of Zennie Abraham, a master of videoblogging in the Bay Area.

3. Frame for the small screen. Mobile devices, especially smartphones, are a big driver in the popularity of online video. This is especially true for YouTube, which has an app that works well on the iPhone and iPad even though Apple’s iOS mobile operating system does not natively accommodate Flash video.

So when shooting video, go for closeups more than long shots. Make the audio a bit louder and crisper than you would for TV, to compensate for tinny little phone speakers. Also, bumping up the contrast a bit can help for viewing video on small mobile screens in daylight.

4. Showcase videos from the audience and elsewhere. Video sharing services are mainly about sharing. People embed shared videos on their own sites, post comments, shoot and upload their own video responses, post them to Facebook and other social media, and more.

News organizations can—and should—embrace this by embedding great videos from others (especially people in your coverage area) on their site, with full credit and a link to the creator’s site or YouTube channel of course. Your community engagement manager (you do have one, right?) also can selectively “like” and comment on other videos, create and publish playlists, and use other strategies to engage and curate at the same time.

This kind of demonstration of interest in and goodwill towards other video publishers tends to pay off in more socially-driven traffic to your videos and your site.

5. Collaborative public storytelling projects. Most video sharing sites allow you to create contests or collaborative projects: People create and post their own videos and tag them so they can easily be discovered and added to a playlist or other aggregation mechanism.

The classic example of this is Dan Savage’s It Gets Better Project, where public figures and everyday people encourage LGBT youth who are enduring tough times to hang in there.

Pick a topic that your community cares about—especially one where people can act together to encourage each other, solve problems, or have fun—and try a similar project format.

6. Have fun. Most news videos are pretty serious and deadpan, even when they’re upbeat. But if we’ve learned anything from Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, it’s that fun is a powerful way to engage people’s interest in the news.

If you have a columnist or reporter with a gift for wit and a penchant for video, let them loose.

For instance, WSJ reporter Andy Jordan’s Tech Diary video podcast is a lot of fun. Alternatively, you might focus on simple animations rather than video—like Slate.com’s Dear Prudence advice column.

If you want to go whole hog in terms of YouTube sophistication, try having a contest where viewers choose winners by rating videos which in turn are responding in almost real time to what people are tweeting or commenting. Yeah, that’s terribly “meta,” but as Mano a Mano proves, it can be fun, addictive, and incredibly viral.

Hmmm… who might play your news organization’s equivalent of the Old Spice Guy?....


The News Leadership 3.0 blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

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Exploring innovation, transformation and leadership in a new ecosystem of news, by journalist and change advocate Michele McLellan.

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