How To Build an Audience

Since launching Hilah Cooking a little over 6 months ago, we’ve built up what I consider to be a pretty impressive audience. The numbers aren’t astronomical, but we definitely have a group of avid viewers who are very engaged in the show. They really do make the recipes at home and send the videos to their friends. The numbers are growing at a slow but steady pace. For our first few episodes we were happy if we just hit 100 views, but now 3,500 is our baseline for a successful episode and we are always inching that benchmark forward.

As our Facebook following and YouTube subscriber counts have started to grow, I’ve had a lot of people ask me about how to build an audience for their web series. Keep in mind, I’ve only been doing this for 6 months and definitely don’t consider myself an expert. In this post, I’ll be talking about web series and not one-off videos. Everybody still holds on to the dream of producing a video that’s so great that it quickly goes “viral,” but that’s outside the scope of what we’re talking about here.

2 Sure-Fire Ways To Get Views For Your Web Videos

  1. If you have a lot of money, you can get a lot of views really quickly. You can buy ads, get press with major media outlets and even purchase “views.” But unless your show is amazing, unique and fills an existing need, your viewers won’t really have a connection to your show. It’s possible to buy “views” for really cheap and inflate the value of your show to potential advertisers, but in my opinion you’re looking at things really short term.
  2. If you don’t have any money, you have to actually engage with your viewers and build your audience one person at a time. These people will start to tell their friends about your show and you will start to notice things growing exponentially. This will probably happen a LOT slower than you are prepared for. Sometimes it happens so slowly you don’t even notice it happening.

With Hilah Cooking, we had absolutely zero money starting out. When we decided to do the show, I didn’t have a job or even a place to live. So we were starting at ground zero. We tested a lot of different things. Some of them worked and some of them didn’t. This is what’s worked for us.

1. Be Human

With a television show, you can only broadcast. With a web show, you can communicate.

The web is about two way communication. If someone likes your show enough to send you an email or a comment, respond to them. Make it easy for your audience to interact with you. Don’t look at this as an annoyance, look at it as an opportunity. We are lucky that we have two people working on the project and that Hilah is really good at responding with great comments.

With Hilah Cooking, we are attempting to build a brand that encompasses more than just the show. So we aren’t looking for quick, short-term ways to boost traffic or views.

Be Human. Be Real. Treat your audience like they are human beings.

(This is going to be a long post, so I decided to put the most important thing first. You can stop reading here if you’re short on time.)

2. Start A Facebook Page

You can love it or hate it, but you can’t ignore Facebook.

We launched our Facebook page before we had a video or a website up. We didn’t do anything fancy, we just put up some basic information and a few photos. We both sent out invitations to our friends. We were ecstatic when we broke 100 fans and figured we were destined to be an overnight success. Our Facebook friends have grown slowly and steadily and we recently broke 1,000. This number may sound small, but based on our traffic, this group is very engaged. Our Facebook page is still one of the top 3 traffic sources for the website.

There are all kinds of cool things you can do with Facebook pages these days, and eventually, we will probably enhance ours one of these days, but we’ve been too busy making episodes. Even a bare-bones page is an amazing way to communicate with your audience and distribute your show. The majority of your viewers aren’t sitting around anxiously waiting for your next episode, so use your Facebook page to let them know when a new episode has dropped.

  1. Invite your friends. And by friends, I mean people you actually know. If you’re creating something legitimate, your friends will compose a good part of your core fan base. And they will help you spread the word.
  2. Don’t Be Annoying. Don’t invite everybody on your friends list. You might have 800 friends, but I can guarantee that not all of them are interested in your project. If they don’t seem like your target audience, just leave them alone.
  3. Don’t Act Desperate. We’ve posted a few times asking for our fans to help us get our numbers up, and I have always regretted it. Even if you phrase it in a funny way, it conveys an unattractive air of desperation. Desperation isn’t cool. Be cool. It will happen.
  4. Drive Traffic To Your Website. If you have a website (and you should), post a link to your site when a new video goes live. Don’t waste this opportunity by sending more traffic to YouTube. Embed the episode on your site and send your Facebook friends there. They might hang around and watch other episodes or post a comment or read your About page. Get your audience to your site as often as possible.
  5. Experiment with timing. There are certain times when you will get a better response. At the moment Tuesday mornings is working nicely for us. Facebook users are deluged with a ton of information on their Wall. It’s easy to get lost in the stream of data. We usually post twice about each episode. The first time we post a link directly to our site – usually on a Tuesday morning. Then we will post a follow up with an actual video embed – usually the following afternoon. We get responses from a totally different group of people.
  6. Offer Added Value. If your page is just one promo link after another, then you might as well forget about it. If your fans leave comments, take a minute to respond to them. Use the Facebook page as a place to get feedback. Ask your fans what they’d like to see more of. Ask them what their favorite and least favorite things about your show are. Post links to content related to the subject of your show. Post behind the scenes stuff. The people who have “liked” you on Facebook have made a conscious decision to follow what you’re doing to one degree or another. So take advantage of this and think of ways to build the relationship. There’s a lot that you can do. It takes a little more time, but it’s worth it.

3. Use YouTube Like a Social Network

Most people think that YouTube is only the biggest online video distribution site. But it’s a lot more. It’s a social network. There is a huge community of people who spend a lot of time on YouTube viewing, subscribing to and talking about the videos that they’re interested in. I wasn’t aware of how significant this was until our YouTube following started to grow. As a long-time Vimeo user, I always looked at YouTube as the ghetto of online video, but I was totally missing it.

  1. Interact with your YouTube audience. The YouTube audience is … different. The commenting system is strange and the avid YouTubers seem to have their own unique shorthand. At first, I totally ignored it, I just knew we had to be on YouTube. In fact, I remember telling Hilah not to worry too much about YouTube because I thought Twitter would be a more effective use of time. Then I noticed that she had completely ignored me and was responding to just about every comment. This was several months in and as soon as she joined in the conversation, our YouTube views started to grow. I had been proven totally wrong, yet again!
  2. Interact with the community. Once things started getting interesting on YouTube, I began to spend a little more time on the site to see what other people were doing. I was particularly interested in the cooking niche. As I explored YouTube occasionally I found things I really liked, and I would post a response. Since we share the Hilah Cooking account, my comments were attributed to the show. Once again, we noticed an uptick in traffic, friends, and subscribers. The “brand” was interacting with the community in an organic way.
  3. Make Friends. This is the one technique that might seem a little shady. But, I actively look for people who have commented on cooking videos in the last week or so and I add them as a friend. If they have interesting videos, I will subscribe to their channel. Many times, they will accept the friend request and/or subscribe to our channel. You can only add a handful of friends per day, so I make a point of looking for people who are definitely interested in cooking and recipe videos. I never waste a friend request on someone who hasn’t expressed an interest (by commenting) on our subject.
  4. Experiment with timing. Just like with Facebook, there are certain times that are better than others when it comes to launching videos. Chances are this will be a little different for every show, but I’ve found that the best time to drop episodes is around 7:00 on a weekday evening. I don’t have any official data on this, but there seems to be a big audience on YouTube during what was traditionally “prime time.” They’re watching YouTube videos instead of watching TV. So if you want to give your episodes a little jumpstart, I suggest launching them between Sunday and Thursday sometime in the early evening. The goal is to get a lot of people commenting on your video during the first 48 hours with the hopes that YouTube will feature your video.

This YouTube strategy may sound overly simple … and it is. There’s no trick here. We add a few dozen subscribers a month and views on YouTube consistently increase. Slow and Steady. And most importantly, the feedback we get on the show has been great.

4. Be Everywhere

There are dozens of video distribution sites out there. All of them have their own unique tribes. When you first start out, I suggest putting your video everywhere.

  1. Distribute Widely. We started out using Tubemogul. Tubemogul allows you to upload your video once and then distribute to a bunch of different sites at one. I signed up for just about every site they offered. I spent lots of time looking at stats and trying to figure out things like “Why does Metacafe love our hummus video but hate our tabouli video?” You never know where your audience is until you test out the waters. Tubemogul lets you get your video pretty much everywhere without very much extra effort.
  2. Link to your website in your video description. Even if you’re just distributing through YouTube, put a link to your website in the text description of your video. Look for every opportunity to get people back to your website. Also, the more inbound links you have, the better. You may have one viewer who watches your video on Viddler and then clicks through to your site and becomes a superfan.
  3. Look For Support Sites in Your Niche. Do some research and find some of the big sites that relate to your niche or subject. Since our subject is cooking, we pretty quickly found Foodbuzz and Foodgawker. Whenever we release a new episode, I post a new entry on each of those sites. It just takes a few minutes and sends a large amount of traffic. Both of these sites have large communities of readers interested in food, so it’s a simple way to get our show in front of new potential viewers. There are sites out there for everything, so spend a little time and find out which ones work for you.

5. Focus Your Resources

After you’ve spent a few months experimenting and gathering data, it’s time to scale back. You only have so much time and energy, so it’s important to invest it intelligently. Identify the areas you are getting the best results and focus on those areas. Where are people interacting with you? Where are you getting the most traffic? Cut out all the stuff that isn’t showing results.

For us, that meant focusing almost exclusively on our Website, Facebook, YouTube, and our mailing list. There are things we know we should be doing more of (like Twitter), but we have to concentrate our limited resources on the stuff that is working right now.

What Are You Doing?

Now you have a pretty good overview of what we do. I am going to leave the comments open on this entry because I know there are a million things that I’ve left out or haven’t figured out yet. Use the comments to ask questions, give feedback and share your “tricks” for building an audience online.

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