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Take a Lesson, McDonald's: YouTube Rewards Watch Time and Sharing

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The top search results on YouTube for "McDonald's" weren't created by the fast food giant. While McDonald’s has plenty of videos on YouTube, it’s mostly videos by other people that come up first in the results. That’s a problem, and it shows that the McDonald’s online creative team may not know how to succeed on YouTube.

In a Streaming Media West panel entitled “YouTube Strategy for Brands,” Bailey Rosser, an audience development specialist with YouTube, explained how the site’s search results work.

“YouTube is a pretty engaging place. People love content that is interesting and engaging and interactive,” Rosser said. To better serve that, YouTube rewards engaging videos with better search rankings. Recently, it began rewarding videos that have a strong watch time, meaning that when people watch them those people tend to stick around and watch more videos.

Since McDonald’s videos don’t rank highly, Rosser guessed that they have a poor watch time. If McDonald’s is simply posting its existing TV commercials, people would likely watch one at most and not watch another. In that case, McDonald’s wouldn’t be establishing and growing a YouTube community.

McDonald’s is a huge global company, certainly full of smart marketing people. So why doesn’t it learn to master YouTube?

“Big creatures move slowly,” Rosser said. “More and more, we’re seeing the digital agencies, the big brands are catching up.”

YouTube is helping them catch up, hosting major brands and teaching them the keys to YouTube success. But don’t expect results overnight.

“Big entities take a long time to change,” Rosser said. “They’re moving slowly, but movement is happening.”

Plenty of companies are doing well on YouTube, and Rosser said that those achievers have mastered three things:

  • They’re creating videos that answer current search requests.
  • They’re creating videos that feel like YouTube, yet still feel like the brand (Red Bull is especially good at this).
  • They’re creating big splash videos that get a lot of media attention

Before creating online videos, brands need to ask themselves two questions, Rosser said: “Would I actually watch this?” and “Would I share this?” Sharing is one of the biggest drivers on YouTube, so videos need to be worth sharing to go viral. BuzzFeed makes excellent sharable videos, Rosser said. Videos don’t need to be highly stylized or overproduced, like TV commercials, to work on YouTube. Simple and authentic videos do well.

It’s not fair to say that McDonald’s has no viral hits on YouTube. McDonald’s Canada has done well creating simple, authentic videos that answer viewer questions. Its biggest hit is “Behind the scenes at a McDonald’s photo shoot,” which answers the question “Why does your food look different in the advertising than what is in the store?” with refreshing honesty. Food stylists and Photoshop play a big role in the answer. The video succeeds because it feels authentic.

For a more recent example of a brand video that succeeds, look at Volvo Truck’s recent video starring Jean-Claude Van Damme. People share it to show how amazing Van Damme still is at 53.

Rosser closed with advice for brands undecided about creating video for YouTube.

“There are one billion monthly users on YouTube. That’s one-seventh of the world population,” Rosser said. “Any type of audience you can imagine, they’re somewhere on YouTube.”

Watch the full panel discussion below:


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