As YouTube celebrates its 10th birthday, Clearbox Communications Media & Comms Manager Leanne Reilly looks at the website's history, its influence on its audiences and its ever-growing importance in the world of public relations.
Happy Birthday YouTube
This month marks the tenth anniversary of what is arguably one of the biggest success stories of the Digital Age.
From the early days of piracy, to the Google sale in 2006, copyright battles, new advertising models, paid content and now a music subscription service, YouTube has been on one hell of a journey.
On 23rd April 2005, a three-man start-up made history when they posted an 18 second clip of co-founder Jawed Karim in front of the elephants at San Diego Zoo. He said the original idea sprung from his difficulty sourcing video content of big media topics like the Boxing Day tsunami in 2004 and 'that' Janet Jackson incident at the Super Bowl.
Fast forward a decade and the video-sharing site is the third most-visited globally, with more than a billion users uploading 300 hours of video clips every MINUTE.
And it is now the second largest search engine in the world.
Entertainment-wise, we love nothing more than to share unusual marriage proposals, well-practiced group wedding dances, song covers by aspiring artists and the ever-popular mishaps and #fails.
But YouTube is more than just a social media channel for sharing music videos and funny clips. It has grown to become a community of people, offering them connections, business opportunities, entertainment and training tutorials.
Its archives have become the most diverse collection of self-expression in the history of mankind, epitomised by the growth of one of their biggest trends: the 'coming out' video, with tens of thousands of people coming out to an audience of millions.
YouTube has been a political tool, too. From the Arab Spring to the Ice Bucket Challenge, YouTube has landed itself banned in some countries and begrudged in others, for its ability to harness a movement and enable it to gain momentum at super speed.
As a learning platform, how-to tutorials of many different kinds (but mostly beauty and hair) have become the staple of user consumption. In fact, in the decade since its inception, over 5 billion hours of beauty tutorials alone have been uploaded. The phenomenon has made millions of pounds for, and global stars of, many a bedroom-broadcaster.
One of the most famous - Zoella - speaks to 7.8 million subscribers. In the five years since she started her channel she has been able to move her brand offline, using the channel it to promote her own make-up range and a novel that outsold J. K. Rowling's debut for first-week sales.
YouTube for PR
Public Relations is historically about two-way communication. Whether it's traditional media, social media or digital, it's the job of PR to promote positive awareness of client work, responding to the conversation, learning from it, and moving it forward in a constant evolution.
Videos online took off for precisely this reason - there is nothing more personal about communicating online than having an actual human talking to you. When it comes to YouTubers, what marks them apart from traditional broadcasters is their ability to connect with their audiences. They can interact with them, learn about them (through their stats), monitor what they like and give them more of it.
Likewise, audiences can connect with their idols like never before through this two-way digital communication, asking questions, making requests, publicly commenting, or just simply giving a thumbs up or down. All of this material, added to a video featuring your product, is going to be substantially more powerful than any article or written review ever could be.
5 Benefits of YouTube in PR:
Communication - at its most basic level, the channel allows you to communicate a brand message to a global audience. There are localised YouTube options too, and then there's the ability to for brand advocates to share. You can add subtitles or you can use language conversion to ensure no audience segment is left out.
Crisis - the speed with which you can broadcast a message through YouTube, as well as the human element of video messaging, lends itself perfectly to crisis management, allowing brands to be both fast and quoted exactly as they wish to be.
Awareness - the reach of this free channel is worldwide, offering a new approach to building brand awareness of products, services and brand personality. The space is most expertly used by those who are creative and engaging enough to gain a dedicated audience or achieve the highly desirable social shares.
Campaigning - political and non-profit brands can potentially leverage the power of video and viral trends with limited budgets. Many successful examples across election campaigns, natural disasters and public uprisings offered the public 'un-edited', immediate, Citizen Journalism. The human case study element is especially fruitful for charitable causes where people respond to calls to action, a sense of urgency and human stories.
Personality - YouTube is regularly used to go behind-the-scenes at companies and brands, highlighting their offices, their product processes and their staff. The transparency that comes in the Digital Age can be an asset, not a risk, if properly harnessed.
The most important aspect in all modern public relations activity is measurement and YouTube's analytics allow us to track user statistics, engagement, shares, feedback and conversions through to websites and sales.
Not only that, it's a very good channel for delivering on these critical results.
An impressive 75 percent of users will visit a brand's website after viewing a video. Compare that to its nearest social rival, Facebook, where messages are lost much more quickly. The average Facebook post gets about 50 percent of its total reach within 30 minutes of publishing. YouTube content is consumed over a much longer timescale and is easier to find among the archives. Viewers also typically find a channel in they way they traditionally did a TV channel or series, browsing older posts of the one they have enjoyed.
Content and owned media aren't new concepts for brands, but too many still believe that written blogs and websites are enough. They aren't.
Videos appeal to our visual nature, offer the human connection that emotes us and, statistically speaking, we are more likely to consume content in this way. 80 percent of online visitors will watch a video while a mere 20 percent will read written content in full.
As a PR agency we know the power of video content and incorporate it wherever possible in brand communications. It requires skill in creativity and content, as well as good sign-off structures to leverage the immediacy it affords.
The fact is that ignoring it won't make it go away. YouTube isn't a fleeting social platform as others have been before it.
On the contrary, YouTube has invested heavily in developing and tailoring its offering. The latest evolution into content commissioning, following the success of projects like YouTube Comedy Week, are evidence that the channel is on an upward trajectory. It taps into the modern audiences' need to feel in control of the media they consume, absorbing messages on their own terms, signalling a major shift in dominance from traditional broadcasters.
Production companies know they are at risk of losing out to the Netflix of the world, but brands must be aware of the threat too, and sue it to their advantage. While the All Saints of this world start their own production companies most brands haven't the surface of the potential they have to engage existing and potential advocates through visual content and branded YouTube channels.
Consumers are actively seeking out content.
Brands need strategies to deliver it.
YouTube needs brands too. The one element in which it falls down when measured against traditional broadcasting is in the quality of the content published on its channels; a quality that brand support could bring.
Millenials (the generation born between 1980s and 2000s) represent the largest, trendiest consumer-spending demographic since the Baby Boomers. In the US alone, they influence over $500Billion of all retail sales. The answer to reaching them inevitably lies in YouTube.