You are here

Internet Technology

How to YouTube with Success

Six tips for optimizing online videos
University Business, Nov 2009

IN SEPTEMBER 2009, A GROUP of communications students at the University of Quebec in Montreal (UQAM) worked on a fun project as part of orientation week. All 172 of them played a role in a lip-synch video shot in just one take (known as a “lipdub”), which was produced by seniors Luc-Olivier Cloutier and Marie-?ve H?bert. In the four-minute video, students lip-synch to the Black Eyed Peas’ tune “I Gotta Feeling” while touring campus facilities. A couple of weeks after it was shot in Montreal and then uploaded to YouTube, the video was picked up by CNN and some excerpts were played on the air. At that point, it turned viral and reached a million views in about a week, less than a month after it was first uploaded.

This unscripted success story is a dream come true for the French-speaking institution, highlighting the quality and creativity of its students to the Montreal community, but also to the world. It also demonstrates how powerful YouTube videos can be when it comes to promoting your institution to web users, traditional media or even the general public.

Online video has become a great way to reach wide audiences at a minimal cost?or even at no cost. The reason is very simple: lots of people watch videos on YouTube.

According to a survey conducted by the Pew Internet and American Life Project in April 2009, 62 percent of adult internet users have watched videos online, compared to 33 percent in December 2006. The vote of confidence is even stronger with internet users aged 18 to 29, with 89 percent of them saying they watch content on video-sharing sites, with 36 percent doing so on a typical day. In August 2009, comScore Video Metrix, which measures online video activity, recorded the largest U.S. audience ever for online videos, with 161 million internet users and a total of 25 billion views during that month. Close to 40 percent of these views were logged on YouTube by more than 120 million people in the United States.

YouTube is a world based on searching, sharing, and a bit of serendipity.

While there is no recipe for creating and producing a YouTube success story similar to the lipdub video from the UQAM students, you can do a few things to increase the chances of having your institution’s YouTube videos be found, liked, and shared as widely as possible.

If your YouTube channel isn’t listed yet on the portal dedicated to channels from colleges and universities around the world, just fill out the online application form and get this item off your to-do list right away. While the rules to become an educational partner at YouTube were not clearly spelled out before the launch of YouTube EDU in March 2009, they are now very simple and easy: The program is open to qualifying two- and four-year degree-granting public and private colleges and universities.

Your university channel needs to be set up first and should include educational, not just promotional, videos before you apply to YouTube EDU. Once your channel is added, it will stand a better chance of being found within the directory, and the institution’s productions will have a shot at being featured on the EDU homepage as a most viewed video for the current month?or even on YouTube’s all-time honors’ roll?and get even more traffic as a direct result.

Leave “embedding” turned on for your videos so external sites may embed them. YouTube blockbusters get watched within the website itself, but they don’t get all their eyeballs from there. Most of the time, a successful video is going to start (or continue) its road to success on blogs that invite their readers to watch the video right there.

In a recent HigherEd Experts webinar about the topic, Elizabeth Giorgi, web communications manager for the University of Minnesota News Service, explained that she pitched “The Science of Watchmen” to blogs as soon as it was posted on YouTube. The six-minute video?featuring Jim Kakalios, consultant for Watchmen and professor at the University of Minnesota, explaining the science used in the movie?got 1.5 million views between February and April 2009.

Like the web itself, YouTube is a world based on searching, sharing, and a bit of serendipity. Only a small set of viewers will come right to your channel to check out your latest videos. Even fewer will subscribe to receive notifications of your latest productions. But the majority of prospective viewers will either watch videos recommended by their friends (or by YouTube in the “related videos” box) or listed in the search results for keywords of interest. That’s the reason why it’s important to put some thought into the writing of video titles, descriptions, and tags.

Try to place yourself in the shoes of your targeted viewers: What would they search for to find this type of video? What is the most compelling piece of content in each one? Be sure to select a catchy, keyword-rich title to optimize your chances of being found. Don’t just use the name of the person on camera as a video title unless she is well-known beyond the walls of your institution or you want the video to be seen mainly by an internal audience.

Unless your videos include the entire context necessary to understand and enjoy them, they won’t be shared or embedded by viewers. It is crucial to keep in mind that these videos should (and will) have a life of their own outside of your own YouTube channel. They can appear in search results on YouTube or Google. They can also be embedded in blogs or other websites. As a result, they should contain at least some element of branding, as well as the name of your institution and a link to your website in the end credits. Duke University News Service has done a great job at branding its online videos with consistent intro/end credit screens and audio announcements, making it easy to recognize any of its productions on YouTube or elsewhere.

One caution: Avoid uploading bits and pieces of video work-in-progress projects to YouTube without changing the privacy settings to “private.” If it’s not meant for everybody’s eyes yet, it shouldn’t be accessible to all on YouTube.

Most higher ed institutions use YouTube as a media repository or a showcase for their online videos. They rarely interact with the viewers who leave comments about their videos?even when they include direct questions, praise, criticism, or suggestions. Even though YouTube is home to some wild crowds and the kingdom of quasi-anonymous users, it doesn’t mean that all should be ignored?especially not the most engaged users who rate and comment on the videos they watch.

If you decide to leave the comments open (this is the default setting), be cautious in your replies, as you would on blogs or Facebook pages. Just don’t ignore the feedback from your community. Correct facts, be helpful, and don’t antagonize viewers with your own comments. Also, be sure that comment voting is enabled, so the community can police itself by voting down the worst (and in favor of the best) comments.

Most institutions rarely interact with viewers who leave comments, even when they include direct questions.

Closed-captioning is the right thing to do. By offering synched transcripts of video dialogs or voice-over comments, you make your YouTube videos accessible to viewers with hearing disabilities. This also provides convenience to people who need to turn off the audio on their computers or who aren’t totally fluent in English. Last, it can increase the findability of your videos by attaching a keyword-rich text to them.

Depending on the topics of your videos and your strategic goals, you might have your captions translated into different languages to give even more international mileage to the institution’s YouTube videos. Captioning YouTube videos is easy and free to do with CaptionTube. Other software or services can also be used. There is really no reason for any institution to bypass closed-captioning.

Karine Joly is the web editor behind, a blog about higher ed web marketing, public relations, and technologies. She is also the founder of the professional development online community