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Getting the Most Out of YouTube: 4 Companies Offer Best Practices

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That said, we’re very aware that video quality matters. We have well over 2 million views on YouTube, but some of the videos are getting long in the tooth. When we first started producing videos, we were trendsetters, now competitors have caught up. To raise the bar, we just finished a new studio with a greenscreen and we’ve been upgrading all our production gear, from lighting to audio. This will allow us to refine our messaging, and produce a better class of videos.

The Wall Street Journal

In addition to displaying videos on their own website, The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) has 11 channels on YouTube, populated with over 17,000 videos, which have garnered 277,000 subscribers and over 240 million views. I spoke with Andy Regal, who is Senior Executive Producer of WSJ’s Digital Video Network. Before starting with WSJ in 2012, Regal worked in various roles with Big Lead Sports, CBS College Sports, MSNBC, Court TV and New Line Television.

Why did The WSJ start producing video in the first place?

The printed word is a beautiful thing, and we celebrate it here. But video brings a story to life in a way that printed works can't, it can tell story in a way that shows what's really happening on the ground. Video is crucially important, The WSJ was pretty early in adapting the notion, very forward thinking. We’re certainly not perfect, but we feel like we’re ahead of our competitors.

Why does the WSJ distribute on YouTube?

We have two overarching goals with our videos, to produce journalism fitting of the brand, and to distribute the videos as broadly as possible. That’s why we distribute on YouTube--it’s evangelistic as it relates to The Wall Street Journal. It gives viewers a chance to experience our journalism and may encourage them to then buy a subscription. YouTube is a great platform for reaching new video consumers and hopefully new subscribers.

Are all the videos you post to YouTube the same as those on your site or different? If the same, do you post all of them, or just some?

We produce about 50 individual pieces a day. We used the kitchen sink approach when we first started on YouTube, posting all the videos, now we’re curating and continually trying to refine what is working. For example, since we’re a news organization, the videos on our site have to move along with the news of the day. YouTube gives us a better opportunity for the long term, with videos like celebrity interviews having a long tail on YouTube while being replaced on our own site by more trending or important news.

What types of metrics are you tracking on YouTube?

On YouTube, we want immediate gratification, videos that hit strong, like coverage of Malaysia Flight 370, or the White House Correspondents Dinner. But obviously, we also look at traffic over the long term.

On our own site, we look at both traffic and engagement. Sometimes a great headline may get lots of views, but engagement--or how long people stay--is a more important metric there.

What makes a great video on YouTube?

On YouTube, being the first to market matters, and when a story is breaking, that helps views a lot. Beyond that, we try to tell a great story that’s interesting to watch, to take people where they can't go themselves. We try to make people feel smarter, to create stories that will put a glow back on them if they share it with their friends and colleagues.

We have a unique advantage, with over 1800 reporters, we can break journalistic stories that others can’t, taking people to places they haven’t been and providing insights they otherwise wouldn’t have. We also focus on getting it right--credibility matters--and our viewers believe that what we tell them will be the truth.

What’s your target video length?

YouTube statistics show that if you tell a great story--produce great journalism with a strong visual component--viewers will stick around and watch. So we don’t artificially dictate the length of our videos; that’s determined by the visual strength of the unique story that we’re trying to tell.

The formula for YouTube success is a work in process that we continue to refine and experiment. We know that viewers like short answers, that are very visual, with lots of data, and also very timely. For example, we worked with our reporters to create short videos answering common questions about Malaysia Flight 370, and the YouTube audience really liked that. We’ve also noticed that viewers are more willing to share shorter videos in the 2:00 - 2:30 range.

Where do your video producers come from?

Many have been here for more than 10 years and grew up with our video production efforts. Some come from a traditional TV background, some from international, some from print. All have very strong journalistic backgrounds, and spend more time focusing on journalism than anything else. That’s the key skill they all share.

The Wall Street Journal uploads up to 50 videos a day to YouTube.

Wheelock College

Located in the Fenway neighborhood in Boston, Wheelock College focuses on professions that improve the lives of children, from birth through the fifth grade, predominantly graduating with degrees in social work, juvenile justice and education, and also several liberal arts degrees. Director of Marketing Stephen Dill, who previously worked in a variety of consulting and corporate positions, including as VP Interactive Marketing at State Street Corporation, relies heavily on YouTube and other social media sites to differentiate his institution from the hundreds of others seeking the same incoming class.

When did Wheelock start publishing on YouTube?

I got here in 2011, and we were already on YouTube, but there was no strategy, there was lots of video but it wasn’t well aimed.

How did you change that?

We decided to focus on three types of videos; institutional videos that describe who we are and what we have to offer; program videos that describe how we do what we offer and individual videos that describe who we are as individuals, students, faculty, and alumni. And we decided to try to produce primarily short form videos in the 1-3 minutes range, particularly for the individual videos.

Describe how your use of YouTube evolved.

We started with six videos that seemed to get a good response, and over the next year added about 25 more. A local TV affiliate produced an institutional level video about our mission, students and faculty. Then we created a 3.5 minute animated video that does a great job telling the story of Wheelock. We hooked up with Pixibility (a consultancy that helps their customers succeed on YouTube), ran some YouTube ads that pointed to the video, and had 12,000 views in a very short period of time, with a 31% click-through rate to our website.

That convinced us that a good story, well told could be a very effective tool, and that YouTube’s search engine value was huge, particularly among our target demographic. Now we’re producing about 60 videos a year.

What’s the ideal video length?

More and more data coming out of YouTube shows that viewers will watch longer videos if the content is good and many of our videos bear this out. That said, 65% of our videos that are 60-90 seconds in length get watched all the way through, while there’s often a significant drop off with longer videos. For this reason, we still try to be concise and accurate, and get the story told as efficiently as possible.

How do you choose your topics?

About 15-20% are topical, say a conference, speaker or lecturer. Another 30-35% relate to large events, like commencement, convocation, move-in day and acceptance day. The balance is spread evenly around the other programs, making sure there’s a good mix of content supporting all the programs.

How do you make sure your YouTube videos are watched?

We rely on Pixability for guidance and use their methods; we upload to Pixability first, who then uploads it to youTube. From there, we are very aggressive with social media, with multiple accounts on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other services, posting 4-6 times daily, so each video gets multiple mentions from multiple sources.

How do you ensure click throughs to your website?

All descriptions have links at the very top. Many videos have annotated calls to action throughout and with our longer videos, we have an annotation that pops up right around the time we start to see significant drop off. Most links are deep links to specific pages on our website related to the content of the video, which helps make sure that potential students get the information they’re looking for. In the last month’s report, we had 765 click throughs on these links, which is a great number for an institution with around 1,400 total students.

How would you describe your production value?

We have an on-staff videographer who produces with high end DSLR from Canon and BlackMagic Design. It seems like every shoot he produces has three to five cameras, and he delivers a very high production value.

This year we’re formulating our first student social correspondents core with iPads to provide a ground level view that non-students never really see. We’ll give them the tools and training to craft stories describing what it’s like to be a student at Wheelock in Boston. We’ll treat them like journalists with an editorial board to review materials and give them assignments.

These stories are targeted at 15-20 year olds, where production value isn’t the issue. We think that if the student core produces fun, compelling stories, even if with wavering iPad, it will still get desired effect.

What are the results of your video program?

It’s tough to say because lots of things changed at once, including our branding and admissions process. But since 2011, we’ve had a 38% increase in students and we have reliable traffic data showing the many of the visitors come from YouTube. We’ve had a 27% increase in website traffic month over month.

Beyond this, there’s a component of the value in the increase in moral that the videos bring. Our students, faculty and alumni love seeing themselves in the videos, it makes them feel good about this institution they’ve invested so much in. It’s more ephemeral than click through rate, but it’s just as important.

This animated video had a 41% click-through rate to the Wheelock website.

This article appears in the September 2014 issue of Streaming Media as "Getting the Most Out of YouTube."

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