The Secrets of YouTube Success – 2012 Edition

Network with your peers

Find friends, find other channels in your city, and of equivalent subscriber count and viewership, and work with them.

Realistically, you’re going to have one hell of a time working with any of the more high-end YouTube guys, simply because I know for a fact that everybody’s incredibly busy with side projects, and getting their own videos out. Your request probably is one of thousands from other like-minded people.

A good way to look around you is the tracking site VidStatsX, which is independent of YouTube, but culls data off Google’s APIs. You can find your subscriber rank as well as channels with similar numbers as you. More important than just raw sub numbers are people with comparable 30 day averages, simply because that’s an indicator that it’s somebody who’s working on their channel, rather than letting it stagnate.

Filmmaking is a collaborative medium and I know getting people together to help make something can be hard. Look for an article in the near future where we give some tips.

There’s no such thing as “luck.”

A lot of people are willing to chalk up YouTube success to be entirely based on luck. I’ve found this to be simply untrue.

Granted – there is a component of what might be considered “luck” but let’s break that down –

Would you consider somebody influential randomly passing your video along as “lucky?” Sure – but nobody ever just randomly endorses a video. Would you consider creating a video that is so interesting, or creative, or well put-together that it causes somebody influential to pass it along as “lucky?” I don’t think so.

I get a lot of videos tweeted at me. To this day, I have yet to see a video that was genuinely fantastic that was getting utterly ignored. It’s impossible. If a video is strong enough to get people to pass it along, people will pass it along.

Here’s a great example recently:

Dream Music: Part 2 from Marc Donahue

I tweeted this video. I would not have done that if I did not personally think it was something that was really interesting and worth sharing.

Where does luck actually factor in? You might tweet someone a video and they might not be at their computer and your tweet gets buried. Usually that’s how luck factors in.

Stack the deck in your favor. Make your work impossible to ignore, and sooner or later it will get the attention it deserves.

If you can, go where the people aren’t.

I have a philosophy about life I call the fire escape philosophy. You know how you’ve heard horrific stories about fires and how everyone tried to rush through a single door, and as a result, people get stampeded and trapped. Such stories always like to point out how, less than ten feet away, there was another door that led to safety or something.

Morbid, yes, but the idea is basically this – if there’s something that a lot of people are fighting to do, you can join the fray, but it’s often easier for you to go somewhere else.

In terms of YouTube, it means this – while you can certainly try daily vlogging or doing makeup tutorials, there are a lot of other people doing that very thing. So that means it’s much harder for you to stand out. It’s not that you can’t stand out – if you started a makeup channel that was genuinely hilarious and totally amazing, you’ll find an audience for sure – it’s that it’s much harder to. If you don’t want to fight that battle, try to do content that’s different than what’s out there.

I’m not saying “don’t vlog” or “don’t do makeup tutorials” – in fact, if that’s what you love doing, then by all means you should do it. But if you go down that road, don’t be blind to the fact that you’re fighting two battles – one to get a dedicated viewership, and another to differentiate yourself from other people with similar content.

JennaMarbles is probably the best example of this. Before her, female vloggers were very vanilla and PG. She was raunchy and unabashedly explicit – something nobody else had really done (or done to the level of humor/eloquence). On the surface she was a girl doing a vlog channel, but because she was doing something different, that vlog channel stood out amongst all the other vlog channels.

For us, our “big idea” was pretty simple – we noticed there was a lack of well-produced nerdy/video game videos online (the kind of videos we would want to watch). And since we love watching what we make, that’s the kind of videos we tried to create

Networks are not a shortcut to success

There are a slew of Networks out there that are looking for creators to pull into their fold. Off the top of my head, I can list Maker, Machinima, Collective Digital Studios, Revision3, Fullscreen, Big Frame, and probably a few more I can’t recall instantly. Nowadays we field a lot of questions from people wanting to know if they should join them.

First things first – they will not guarantee you any degree of success. Once again, if your content isn’t good, it doesn’t matter what you surround it with, or how much you promote it.

Secondly, if you are approached by a network, they are looking at you as a business opportunity. Therefore, treat yourself like a business and do things right. Understand how business relationships work, understand how contracts work, and do as much research as you possibly can.

This is such a major thing that I’ll be putting up a full article about YouTube Networks, so stay tuned.


Figure out what you want from your channel, and dedicate the necessary time to achieve that goal. Find content that you personally love making or love watching, and experiment to see where that overlaps with what people want to see. Be consistent with your videos. Find your peers and collaborate with them. And make videos for the Internet as a whole, not just for YouTube.

As you can tell, it’s not revolutionary information I’m imparting here. And unfortunately there’s no quick easy path to success. It’s a lot of work, and you have to honestly ask yourself how much you’re willing to put in.

But if you can find that magic overlap of videos you love to make and videos people love to watch, YouTube can be one of the most creatively rewarding experiences of your life. For Brandon and myself, having come from the world of freelance visual effects and direct-to-DVD/TV feature films, it certainly has been.

Finally, there’s one last very important piece of advice we have and that is this: You must watch, listen, and consume. That means: movies, YouTube videos, books, music, everything. You cannot make creative work without being exposed to creative work. No artist lives in a bubble. Online video is a very new form of video – you have to consume all of it and try to understand why something is popular, and why something works. Watch makeup tutorials. Read Twilight. Listen to weird music. This stuff appeals to people – if you’re trying to do the same thing, you owe it to yourself to try and understand why.

Good luck! And let me know if you have any questions in the comments below.

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