Since being founded in February of 2005, YouTube has revolutionized the media landscape and contributed to making today’s digital space a video-centric one.
Beyond the impact the video-sharing platform had on the way we consume information and entertain ourselves, it also created a revolution for all content creators — public personalities, experts, comedians, artists, filmmakers, etc.
YouTube has leveled the playing field and given anyone the opportunity to become a celebrity. Most importantly, it allowed some lucky YouTubers to make a living doing what they love while amassing an audience of fans and followers in the process.
I don’t know of a more noble, a bigger deal as a filmmaker than to be a YouTube filmmaker.
– Casey Neistat
Even though it’s harder now to differentiate yourself on the platform, the opportunity to start a YouTube channel and garner a loyal base of fans who appreciate your work is still present. But cutting through the noise is easier said than done.
Fortunately, we’ve got a few insights that can help start a successful YouTube channel.
Why do you want to start a YouTube channel?
Quick, take out a piece of paper.
As a YouTuber, you’re both a creator and a business owner, so the need for a crystal clear objective is crucial. Why are you starting your channel? What do you hope to achieve? Is this the end-all or a step in the right direction towards something larger?
Are you a creator who’s drawn to the potential of making a living doing what you love, or are you a filmmaker looking to gain experience and exposure with the hopes of eventually moving on to the big screen?
Take some time to answer these questions so you feel confident in the reasons driving your decision to start build your YouTube presence in the first place. Having a clear “why” will make a big difference in the success of your channel, so come back to this step later if you feel you need more time.
Identify your channel’s direction and unique selling proposition
Now that your goal is clear, it’s time to nail down the direction you want your channel to take.
First, what is your channel about? Are you a gamer doing let’s plays or will you be producing makeup tutorials? Will you be vlogging in a relatable way or sharing informational content? Once you know what your channel is about, study the other channels in that space and look at how they produce their videos, the topics of their episodes, the way they brand themselves, and anything else you can pick out.
From there, identify how you can stand out. In business terms, this is your USP or “unique selling proposition”. And, like in any business, standing out is critical, so you need to know how you’re going to achieve this.
Jesse & Kong, the creators of several successful YouTube channels including Simple Pick Up, suggest what they call “The Remix Strategy”, which involves studying other successful YouTube channels to find out what makes them successful and then putting a spin on a pre-existing idea.
For example, they took the format of two successful channels, one that interviewed random people on the street and asked them funny questions and another where someone would review a movie while they were drunk (yes, true story). The result? An interview-based show where a host would ask people funny questions after they left the club at night (typically, you guessed it, while drunk).
The options are limitless, so come up with something that is both true to who you are and unique among the other channels in your space.
Learn what makes videos go viral
With a nice foundation in place, now it’s time to do some real work.
What makes a YouTube channel successful? Learning what makes a video go viral and emulating those qualities. In Jesse & Kong’s YouTube Influencer 101, they refer to these as the “traits of virality”. Here what Jesse had to say about them:
“If you can incorporate just one of these concepts into your content, it’s proven to have a higher chance of going viral.”
Jesse & Kong’s Traits of Virality
- Tell a story: Storytelling is central to the human experience, so this is easily one of the most powerful and common traits.
- Challenge or confirm assumptions: People love to see an assumption confirmed, but they also react when their beliefs challenged.
- Inspire action: This is great for teaching-related content.
- Make people laugh: People love being entertained. Make them laugh or smile and they’ll share your content and come back for more.
- Have unexpected twists: Surprises are memorable and can really define a story or other type of content.
- The underdog story: Everyone loves an underdog story. (Check out Goalcast’s library of inspirational videos for proof).
- A fresh perspective on a common topic: Common topics get played to death, but they tend to be popular because they’re essential or important. When you offer a fresh new take, people take note.
- Trending topics: This one is so easy it’s a bit of a cheap trick, but these spaces are often crowded so you want to be careful about your entry point into a trending story.
The great part is, these aren’t all requirements you have to check off. If you can create content that checks off even one of these traits, it will have a higher likelihood of being liked and shared. Of course, more is great, but a lot of videos go viral with just one of these attributes.
Don’t sweat the gear
Now’s the fun part! Right? Everyone loves to talk about video gear, but the reality is, this should be the last thing on your mind.
Many successful YouTube channels start with less-than-stellar video quality. In fact, nowadays, a top-of-the-line smartphone can produce surprisingly crisp videos.
We could be here all day comparing what gear you should use, so here’s a simple mantra to guide you as far as gear is concerned:
Use the best that’s at your disposal and nothing more.
And if you have nothing but your smartphone? Good news: you’re good to go. Really, that’s all you need to get started, with the ability to upgrade from there as your channel grows.
If you’ve got a starting budget to invest, the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 is a great option for filming high-quality vids.
Once you’re ready to spend more, you can get a Canon 70D for about $900, a favorite of many successful vloggers. It’s an older version of the current Canon 80D, but the price is a bargain for the quality that you get. It will do everything you’ll ever need a camera to do, and offer stellar video quality.
Again, remember that creating entertaining content is by far the most important thing. Do what you can as far as video quality is concerned, but focus on creating entertaining videos that people like, share and subscribe to.
Get out there and mess up
Like anything, it takes hard work to create a successful YouTube channel. But it also takes the willingness to mess up. That’s the thing about creating something great — it takes hours and hours of refining your skill and ability before you become a master.
Fortunately, you don’t have to be a master to attract an audience, but you do need to get good at what you do. You’re going to get things wrong at first, really wrong, and you have to be okay with that.
Know that this is a growing phase and that you’ll make mistakes along the way. If you can remember that and persevere through the learning phase, you’ll see steady progress start to unfold and build an audience attracted to your unique content.