How do you start a successful YouTube channel (as successful as you guys have been)? What kinds of people with what kinds of skill are required? How much editing knowledge do you need? Ect. Do you already have a video on this or are making one? Any recommended videos?
Hey there, Anon! Great question, but–oh, boy–grab some popcorn.
First, we do have a video in which I address how to build an audience online. It is a very brief overview, but worth watching.
So, for your other questions, I’ll try to go through one by one (and I invite any other YouTubers with thoughts to reblog with suggestions, too!):
1. How do you start a successful YouTube channel (as successful as you guys have been)?
It’s interesting that you asked how to start a successful YouTube channel, and I’m grateful that you did because it represents a common misconception. You don’t start a successful YouTube channel; you start a YouTube channel and work on making it successful. :]
Now, it’s true that the support we’ve gotten from Hank and John has been super helpful. We’ve been featured in Vlogbrothers videos 3 or 4 times; when they reblog our vids, we often (though not always) get many more Notes. BUT (and I say this in a manner that in no way indicates ingratitude for my fairy godbrothers Hank and John) I don’t think the majority of our success comes from our association with the Greens. Much of it does, but far less than most people might think.
Being a data nerd, I actually have statistics (about inbound traffic, etc.) to back this up. One simple example: Our biggest surge of new subscribers since launch week came not from Hank and John’s promotion but from being featured on the front page of a popular subreddit. I think we picked up about 6,000 new subscribers in 2 days. The people who created and up-voted that post didn’t know Hank and John produce the show. And even when nobody knew about us at all, back on Launch Day on February 17, 2014, we picked up thousands of subscribers in the first couple hours, before Hank or John promoted us.
I say this not to brag or poo-poo the Greens’ support (which has been great, perhaps especially in terms of funding the show with a modest but vital stipend) but to inspire other YouTubers by pointing out that you don’t need megastar executive producers to create a successful channel.
What do you need? On a non-technical level, here’s what I think is required:
- Great and consistent content. We make videos that many people love; people seem to care about me and Emma on a personal level; and with a video every Friday, we’ve become a part of many people’s weekly routines. Emma and I love our viewers and feel like you guys are our friends. We have about 116,000 subscribers; among those subscribers, I think there are about 9,000-10,000 “hardcore How to Adulters” who watch every video, every week, even if the topic isn’t super interesting to them, because they enjoy watching the vids for the personalities and the style.
- A willingness to network. I’ve said this before, but marketing is as important as content. We’ve gotten shout-outs from big YouTubers and small YouTubers, and it’s all been so lovely and helpful. We’ve had fantastic guest hosts. And in August, we’re probably going to have shout-outs from a pair of A++++ YouTubers who are so amazing and popular that I almost can’t believe it’s going to happen. The way you network is mentioned in that video I recommended, but basically:
- Be earnest and sincere.
- Add value to the lives of people “above you.”
- Don’t ask for anything from them for a long, long, long, long time. Like, look at the replies of every single tweet John or Tyler post. There are tons of people shouting “FOLLOW ME,” and guess how many they actually follow?
- A Zen, long-term perspective. Some videos we’ve made have taken 50 hours to create, and they get OK but not spectacular views. Others were knocked out in 8 hours and get 55,000 views (a great number) the first weekend. I have no idea why some videos hit, and I’ve stopped trying to figure it out. Don’t try to go viral; try to build an audience over time. It’s the only way to succeed (only one person a year or so breaks out and builds a sustainable following with a viral vid), and the only way to stay sane.
- An actual love for making videos. It’s too darn hard to make videos if you are only doing it to be rich or famous. I am fairly successful on YouTube, and I am neither rich (I am actually kinda poor) nor really famous. (I do get recognized loads at publishing and YouTube events, though, which is always fun! :D )
2. What kinds of people with what kinds of skills are required?
Honestly, the skills you need are things you can learn via watching YouTube videos. :]
- Some performance skills. THIS TAKE PRACTICE! I’m sometimes insecure about my own onscreen talents (mostly when I’m generally feeling down), but I do think that over time, I’ve gotten to be really good at it. I’m much more comfortable, much more willing to go off-script and improvise, which I think is when I’m at my best, at least when hosting alone. (Emma recently said, “We’re both at our best when we’re working together,” which made me go Awwww, and, That’s true!) At this point, I’ve made over 100 videos, and I know what works for me. Sometimes I’ll write something really funny but for whatever reason, I can’t make it funny while saying it out loud. Over time, you’ll figure out what works for you, and you’ll find your style. It really does just take a lot of trial-and-error. (For instance, I was a little disturbed when I began vlogging and realized, while editing myself, that things that seemed hilarious on paper came off as mean when I delivered them.)
- Basic filming skills and equipment. I shot my first vlog on a Samsung Galaxy S2; Emma still uses the webcam on her laptop to create her fantastic vlogs. It’s all about making the most of what you’ve got by using good lighting and decent sound, etc. But again, this doesn’t have to be anything fancy. Although we have a studio lighting kit for How to Adult, I use desk lamps to light my vlogs, which I think still look really good.
- Basic editing skills. Don’t drop a bunch of money on fancy editing software when you’re starting. iMovie was good enough for countless successful YouTubers (and still is for Emma), and it’s a great learning tool. You might want to upgrade to Final Cut Pro X eventually, as I have, or to Adobe Premiere or Sony Vegas, but I recommend making sure you actually like making videos before going financially “all in.” There are countless free tutorials on these programs available on YouTube and elsewhere.
- Basic SEO and thumbnail-makin’ skills. A huge portion of our views, believe it or not, aren’t from subscribers but from people who discover our videos by searching on YouTube and Google. People see the videos because I use a lot of Search Engine Optimization; they click them because I usually make good thumbnails. (I used to use a free photo-editing program called Seashore; I now use the very reasonably-priced Photoshop alternative Pixelmator.) These are enormously complicated topics, so I’d recommend checking out the many free resources online. Don’t be scared off by this, though! In the beginning, the most important thing is making content and (after that) connecting with people you genuinely like.
3. How much editing knowledge do you need?
You’ll figure it out. :]
4. Any recommended videos?
Here are good ones from some guys named Hank and Charlie. I’d also highly recommend reading Michael Hyatt’s book, PLATFORM, which I think is the best book available on how to build an online audience.
One last thing. Becoming a YouTube creator can change your life, even if never build a big audience. I know this because it happened to me, and the most important life changes all happened way after I started vlogging but before all the amazingness of How to Adult found its way into my life. Back in late 2012, I was desperately burnt out from finishing my debut novel, THE END GAMES. After being a fan of YouTubers for years, I decided to start vlogging, mostly because I was so lonely and wanted to make new friends. From that very first vlog, YouTube kinda saved me. The most important shift I experienced happened when I had fewer than 100 subscribers: Making videos gave me a reason to feel excited about creativity again, and frankly to get up in the morning. And God, what a gift that has been.
I think that’s it for now! I’ve been typing this for, like, an hour, so I hope it was helpful. Good luck out there, and let me know if/when you post your first vid–I’d love to check it out! :D