50 YouTube (and Online Video) Tips and Tricks

Given that this is the 8,000th post to my blog, and I just passed 50,000 YouTube subscribers last night, I wanted to make this post something special. With any luck, the content herein is just the beginning of a series of suggestions that could turn into something more (either here, or in an eBook). People ask me how I do what I do all the time, especially when it comes to live video or my videos on YouTube.

It’s a numbers game. YouTube is now 25% of the Internet’s search traffic, and if you’re not doing something on YouTube, you’re… crazy. Yes, you can still place your videos on a variety of other video hosting services – but if you’re not putting them on YouTube, you’re missing a HUGE opportunity.

Video is easy to “do” these days. You actually have to go out of your way to screw things up. You no longer need to go through some video editing guru to get something done – and you don’t need to spend much money to get going. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if you already had everything you needed to be placed on the path to YouTube success.

You’ve been thinking about recording and uploading videos for some time now, but you just didn’t know where to start. You were afraid to start? If I can be of any assistance, then I’m more than happy to do so. Welcome to the first version of my “50 YouTube (and Online Video) Tips and Tricks” list. I did my best to stay away from the obvious, or at least spend a bit of time explaining WHY these semi-obvious points are worth making.

I’m also hoping that the rest of the community will extend this series of tips and tricks – and help make it their own…

  1. Success is relative. For me, success was reaching 50,000 subscribers (which is currently more than Oprah has). For you, success might be something completely different – and that’s perfect. If you start judging your own level of success by somebody else’s metrics, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Have goals, but let them be YOUR goals. Set your own bar, and then set out to jump it.
  2. If a picture is worth a thousand words, imagine what video is worth. You’ll be enhancing, not undermining, your other Internet endeavors if you push your efforts to YouTube. If given a choice between watching something or reading about it, I’ll readily admit that I’d rather sit back in my chair and view a video than scan notes for more information. If you’re going to put a series of videos on YouTube, regular ol’ still-shot sequences are… yesterday’s news. Nothing demonstrates a product better than an actual demonstration.
  3. Buy good cameras. This point should go without saying, but I’m surprised at just how many videos I’ve seen (on YouTube or beyond) that just weren’t watchable. Heck, even I’ve uploaded videos that I’d consider sub-par! I’ve experimented with a variety of devices, and am continuously looking at newer, better solutions for my efforts. Make the best with what you’ve got, but if you can get better – go better. In some cases, a regular ol’ Webcam will be sufficient. How does it look to YOU? Now, how does it look to OTHERS? Let me put it to you this way: nobody has ever complained about a video looking too good.
  4. High resolution = higher quality. While it’s okay to record in a standard 4:3 format, 16:9 (widescreen) is not going away anytime soon. If you can record your videos in high definition, do it. 1280×720 pixels is the “HD” resolution that YouTube will host for you. The good news is that you can record in this size without spending much more than a couple hundred dollars these days – it’s quite affordable, and the results should speak for themselves.
  5. What hue are you? Every camera should be color calibrated – be wary of any kind of automatic settings! It’s not likely that your webcam has a “white balance” feature in the software controls. If you’re using a camcorder, digital camera, et al, then there should be a “white balance” setting somewhere.
  6. Buy a good microphone. I’ve made countless recommendations in the past (and will continue to do so), and few of them have cost more than $100. You don’t need to go all-out when it comes to basic audio equipment, and you won’t need much more than a USB port to use one that’s worth using. Sometimes, capturing good audio is impossible (because you’re limited by mobile recording devices, or something beyond your control), but make bad audio an exception – not the rule. We’ve got coupons for just about every USB mic available.
  7. Lighting. If you are doing a product review or demonstration, your lighting is even more important than ever. People need to see what it is you are showing them. While you don’t necessarily need stage lighting, using sufficient light to project the details within your scene is crucial to producing a good video. The more light, the better. Having more than one light source will help alleviate any kind of shadows. You don’t want people reaching for their brightness controls when your face graces their screen. If they have to squint to see what you’re trying to show them, either you didn’t frame the shot well enough or it wasn’t well lit.
  8. Create a scene. Think about what’s sitting behind you before you hit the record button. It’s very difficult to take someone seriously if behind them is a completely unmade bed, and junk scattered all over their dresser or desk. Yes, this may be your “lifestyle,” but it’s distracting to viewers. Just because you’re creating amateur content for the Web doesn’t mean you have to look unprofessional when doing it. There are going to be times when scene contents are a bit beyond your control, but do your best to remain cognizant that a video is much more than just you or the scene.
  9. Find your voice. If you don’t have much of a personality on camera, you might as well not record. Let the real you shine through, and if you’re not very energetic… consider sticking to the written form of communication (assuming you can write well). Just because you can record video doesn’t mean you’re worth watching for longer than fifteen seconds. That’s about how much time you have to get someone’s attention.
  10. Be yourself. If you’re using YouTube to catalyze discussions around your interests, then the worst thing you could do is come across as disingenuous. There are going to be people who will accuse you of being the worst human being on earth, but that doesn’t make it any less so if you’re… yourself.
  11. Practice. You’re never going to get better by watching other people. Try recording some samples and upload them as private videos. Send the links to your friends and family, and ask them for feedback. Realize that you will learn from mistakes, and keep at it. Before you know it, you’ll be ready to show the world what you have to offer. If you’re unsure about how you’re doing, record the same segment three times. Watch every one of your takes, and select the one you like most. Will it take more time to do? Yes, but there’s nothing wrong with inching your way towards perfection.
  12. Consider live streaming. Not only is it good practice, but people in your community may record your stream “behind the scenes” and post those clips on their own YouTube account, to which you are able to embed in your own blog, link to from your YouTube account, etc. This could help build your community and establish your brand. I don’t use or recommend live video services that don’t enable the user to capture (on demand) and download the recorded segment to upload elsewhere. I’ve also had to sacrifice a bit of overall video quality just so I could capture my community’s chat in many of my videos – that’s important to me. DISCLAIMER: I sit on Ustream.tv’s advisory board, but I was using their service and providing feedback before being invited.
  13. Keep it simple. If your effort is overwhelming you, it’s not going to be fun – and if it’s not fun, then you’re not likely to stick with it for long. Some people get so caught up in having the most expensive camera, the most expensive microphone, the most expensive props, etc. Sometimes, all you need is… something, anything. Start small, then expand from there. Don’t make something more complex than it needs to be, especially when trying to communicate with other people. Keep It Simple, Smarty!
  14. Value-add. What are you doing that’s different from everybody else? Your brand is a given, but what else are you doing that nobody else is doing? What’s that ONE thing that makes your videos stand out? It is important to find a niche that nobdy else is in. This helps provide perspective that others wouldn’t have thought of, and further establish your brand past your name, avatar, or Web address.
  15. Have a hook. Start out differently with every video if you can. Draw people into what you’re going to share with them.
  16. Stay on topic. Even I tend to ramble if I’m interested in a topic, but I do my best to at least keep the ramblings relevant to the reason I’m recording a video. Think of your YouTube videos as segments inside a larger show. If you need to refer to notes, then please rely on notes. If you like to improv, by all means – roll with the punches. Just keep ‘er flowing and going.
  17. Don’t put people to sleep with your screencasts. If you have no energy in your voice, you’re not going to keep people listening for long. Unless there’s an absolute need to do a direct walkthru of software, you’re better off referring to it on a screen that’s facing the camera (with you as the subject of the scene). Not to mention, if your mouse isn’t moving within a screencast – the video is completely static. If you’re into editing videos, you could always switch to a screencast mid-video and then back out to you for the close. Keep that video lively!
  18. Use humor. Funny is good, especially when it’s unexpected. If your sense of timing is off, the “funny moment” translates into an “excruciatingly painful experience.” You won’t be able to hear people laugh on the other side of the screen, sadly – and a random LOL doesn’t mean much. Funny, much like success, is relative – just don’t push it. If you can take a less-than-serious approach to your subject, go for it (lightheartedness breaks down barriers). A controled amount of silliness is oft preferred to a recorded display of i-ate-too-much-sugar-itis (a very fine line to walk, indeed).
  19. Short is good. YouTube will limit (most) producers to 10 minutes, so it’s important that you use those 10 minutes wisely. Most people will tune out after the first minute, anyway. Doesn’t bode well for me, as most of the videos I record are closer to the 7 minute mark – but somehow, I’m able to make it work. The community doesn’t seem to mind, so I don’t mind either.
  20. Give people something to look forward to. If you stick to a schedule, people will look forward to it. Like my webcam giveaway on Fridays – people are in the live chat waiting anxiously for the giveaway, and it is something that they look forward to every single week. This doesn’t mean you need to create your own giveaways, but it does mean that you need to have a routine people can put on their calendar and make a habit out of.
  21. Give people a reason to send your video links to their friends. Many people don’t use YouTube’s search tool, but rely on the opinions of others. If someone comes across your video and finds it interesting, helpful, or funny, your chances of having them send it to someone they know increases. Likewise, if you are creating useful content, you can expect others to “Favorite” your videos, embed them in their blogs or social profiles, or share your creations with their friends via instant messages or email.
  22. Stick with a signature. Assuming they make it through the entire video, give ’em a familiar sign-off. For me, it’s saying something along the lines of: “We’ll ‘e’ ya later!” I started doing that back when I had a show on WHO Radio back in the day, and I took that signature with me when I began hosting a television show – adding a “three finger salute” to the mix. That’s what geeks used to call the CTRL+ALT+DEL keyboard shortcut.
  23. Don’t let them go without knowing where you are. The Web thrives on links. Assuming these videos can and will be extracted and embedded throughout the Web, everything you want to convey must be within the video itself. Don’t rely on descriptions and tags for everything (other than for discovery on YouTube itself).
  24. Ask questions of your audience. You’re presenting a call-to-action in every video. Ask for feedback. The feedback may or may not be what you are looking for (remember the trolls), so be prepared for both positive and negative remarks.
  25. Treat each one of your videos as though it were the only video that someone might watch. Each video should stand alone, even if it’s a part of a series. It should be complete, from stem to stern. Leave no stone unturned, even if you realize that your audience has heard the same thing before (like your signature sign-off).
  26. Don’t be afraid to try something new every once in a while. If you usually record by yourself, consider having your girlfriend, spouse, children, or even your parents into a video. Change the view, change the tone, change the expectations of your viewers – who knows? Experiment. Try something extremely short-form if you’re used to doing long-form – or vice versa.
  27. Stamp information on every one of your videos. When you upload something to the Internet, anybody can take that content and use it as their own – without necessarily giving you credit. For this reason, and this reason alone, I always take the extra step to add one of my domains (as a text overlay) to videos. Watermarking them with some kind of URL is going to make it more difficult for another person to use that video elsewhere without having them first jump through the hoops of eliminating my stamp. This text is made to be a part of the video itself. Yes, people have still ripped me off without keeping credit, but at least I’ve given casual users a hurdle to overcome before cheating me. This is also one of the reasons I refuse to use any third-party service to upload directly to YouTube (before being able to stamp my own information onto the video). Any software video editor should be able to help you do this.
  28. If you want to use somebody else’s music, be sure to get the rights. Why risk a take-down? Find the appropriately Creative Commons licensed music or get permission. If you’re intent on using music in your video, and you’re unsure of licencing, then (once your video is uploaded) use the “AudioSwap” tool that is one click away from any video on your My Videos page.
  29. Don’t get hung up on title screens or post-roll credits. They’re necessary for television shows, but you’re not creating a television show – are you? If anything, rely on your production routine to add “lower thirds” (graphics or text that might run along the bottom of your video).
  30. Use annotations! When YouTube added the annotations feature, I wasn’t sure what to make of them. However, after realizing I could place an annotation over the entire length of the video to tease people to related videos that I had recorded (or to community videos / responses), I started to integrate them into all of my videos. You’ll find the “Edit Video” button on any one of your pages. There, you’ll see the “Annotations” feature – and you can use this to place call outs or hyperlinks to any other page on YouTube. They’ll display over your videos on YouTube and in all embeds – all the more reason to use the “note” annotation, which allows for the insertion of YouTube URLs.
  31. Use the bulk upload tool. If you’ve recorded more than one video to be added to your account, or if one of your videos is over 100 megabytes in size, then this tool will come in handy. No matter, this is my preferred method of uploading directly to YouTube, if only because it’s the only one that gives you a percentage upload indicator. You can upload higher-quality videos with ease!
  32. You don’t need to edit video to make great videos. I do everything “live-to-tape” because editing video is a pain in the AVID. Yes, I sometimes have to shoot take after take after take – but I also don’t have to edit video when I’m finished! They say that it takes one hour of video editing time to produce one minute of footage. That’s not a stretch. I might get through 90% of my effort before stopping and starting over again – because I know I could do it better, or if I wasn’t energetic enough. This may take practice, but it will also (potentially) save you mountains of time in the short and long-run. At most, with this approach, all you should ever need to remove is space at the beginning or end of a recording.
  33. Capture attention with your title. Keep it relevant to your topic, and make it something that people would be drawn to click. This information field is also indexable, so you REALLY need to be sure it is relevant to the content you’ve produced. It will show up in the “Related Videos” sidebar widget as well. Be succinct, pithy, and lead people into watching and subsequently commenting or fowarding your creation.
  34. Lead with a link in your description. One of the few places that YouTube allows you to pass along a live hyperlink is in your video’s description field. Just be sure you write it like it might appear in your browser’s address bar. For example: http://geeks.pirillo.com/ – just like that (and yes, I recommend always using a trailing slash with URLs). This will be the first thing people see when they go to read the description for your video. Make it something actionable!
  35. Use tags, profusely. People will likely find your videos through search – and using relevant tags are key for discovery. Tags are nothing more than keywords, linking people to videos which also contain the same tags. Not only will this help you attain more views from YouTube searches, it’ll also help categorize your own videos on YouTube (in an ad hoc manner).
  36. Put extended show notes somewhere. Today, most search engines can’t index the audio found within videos – nor is any given video thumbnail information-dense. Without a fair amount of corresponding text, few will ever discover what you’ve recorded. At least, the option is there to read and/or watch and/or listen. Video without separate text notes is like corn flakes without the milk.
  37. Bring people elsewhere. Chances are, you have your own Web site – so why not let people know about it? They can’t read your mind, and they likely won’t research it on their own. Mention a site, potentially, at the beginning of your video – most certainly at the end. If you don’t have your own site, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t run out and get one ASAP. Tease people back to your blog, to a service that can benefit their specific needs, or to a community that you’ve set up for them. They may never come, but they certainly won’t if you don’t invite them or give them a reason to look. Don’t be afraid to share the addresses to your social profiles on the Internet (Twitter and the like).
  38. Get your community involved. If you’re not engaging your audience, you’ll find growth to be a tremendous challenge. Don’t assume that your community consists only of close friends and family. If your videos are public, it will make sense to expect others to find them. Your content will have a great role in these people subscribing to you and expecting more.
  39. Don’t feed the trolls. This should come to no surprise, but the level of intelligence found in most YouTube comment threads borders between “insane” and “inane.” It’s perfectly fine to respond to feedback in a clear fashion, so long as you keep your own wits about you – realizing that YOU are in control of what stays and what goes there. Constructive criticism should never be ignored, but addressed (and that’s not to be confused with outright flames).
  40. “Viral” isn’t a marketing strategy. Viral means contagious, and that people can’t get enough of it. This is a good thing, and something you should keep in mind when recording your videos. It’s also something you can’t expect, even if your video is incredibly creative. The more important question to ask yourself is: are you creating good videos, or fluffy / unimportant things that nobody cares about?
  41. It’s less about the defined (read: subscribed) audience, and more about the audience that will continue to discover your videos through keyword searches and established content discovery mechanisms. When Google started to intersperse YouTube videos with their organic search results, it suddenly became very important that you start uploading videos to YouTube. The trends are moving in an upward direction.
  42. Embed elsewhere. If you have your own blog (and you should), you should be driving traffic back into your YouTube profile in every way possible. Link to your videos wherever you can, but be sure that they are relevant. Don’t be afraid to share your YouTube URLs with your Twitter followers, friends on Facebook, etc.
  43. Not every video will be a hit. Spikes will come from runaway video hits (or seasonal videos). If you’re getting dozens of views over an extended period of time for most of your videos, it could be for a variety of reasons – none of which may be related to the value (or quality) of the video itself. It might be time to re-evaluate your strategy, or to look into other ways of generating genuine interest (NOT spamming).
  44. Publish with regularity. You don’t necessarily need to stick to a daily, weekly, or monthly routine – but if you let too much time lapse between videos, your community will lose interest and forget about you. Stay on their minds. If you’re running out of material, DON’T repeat yourself – spend some time creating unique video responses for friends’ videos, possibly.
  45. Post bulletins to your subscribers. You can attach one video thumbnail to each bulletin, so you might as well take the opportunity to let people know that you’ve done something YOU believe is worth watching. Hyperlinks will not come through as clickable, so don’t expect much traffic from them. Still, this is another piece of the YouTube puzzle.
  46. Use one of your videos to respond to others (either your own, or someone else’s – hopefully, someone who knows who you are). You’ll find a “Post a Video Response” link on every video page – click it, then select the video you want to use as a response. Remember, you can respond to your own videos. The chances of someone watching a related video are rather high.
  47. Make playlists. These will help you link your related content together, and make it easier for your community to find videos on specific topics. This will also help them stay on your YouTube page, and increase your video views. Moreover, you can add your own community members’ videos within the same playlist – further extending the interpersonal connection.
  48. “Favorite” videos that your community makes. This will show your fellowship that you are doing your best to promote their creations, thereby (theoretically) increasing their visiblity (and highlighting their participation). This action will also show people that you are truly interested in what they have to share, potentially bringing you more viewers.
  49. Complete your profile. Tell visitors about yourself – and if you haven’t already written a bio, there’s no time like the present to do so. If your list of credentials isn’t outstanding, start thinking about what you can do to further establish authority. Why would someone want to subscribe to you? Sell yourself, because you simply can’t expect that anybody else will. Remember, be yourself – and be honest. You can add or remove elements from your profile page at will, understanding that turning on profile comments is pretty much welcoming nothing but spam.
  50. Support your most prolific supporters. If you notice that someone is consistently responding to you, following up with videos, sharing resources with you, etc. – give credit where credit is due. This will not only enhance their experience, but (believe it or not) it will increase your value to them – and hopefully, vice versa. Your supporters will continue to recommend your efforts, aiding your growth and viability.
  51. Strive to be consistently complete and insightful rather than a flash-in-the-pan. If you’re deluded enough to believe that everything you upload will be a hit, you’re in for mind-numbing disappointment. It’s better to see a long string of pseudo-successes than it is to be a one-hit wonder.
  52. If you’re going to focus your video on a product or service, if at all possible, have it in your hands (or somewhere near you). There are certainly going to be times when a discussion without product is warranted, but don’t feel obligated to share your opinion about an object that you’ve never touched. Your two cents may make more sense when you’re referring to something that you have sitting in front of you. People usually don’t want to hear why you think a product or service is great if you don’t have it.

Now, I’ve been thinking about fleshing out some of these points (as well as adding others) to compile a “YouTube eBook.” Is that something that might interest you?

Are there any other tips I may have left out? What are you doing to find your success on YouTube?