This is not a how-to piece. It’s more of a journal entry.
It’s a declaration that something wild is happening with our new YouTube series, and I don’t understand what’s driving the surge. It’s an attempt to dig in and discover answers to the questions I now have.
It’s worth mentioning that, about this time one week ago, I was excited to see a few new subscribers and a new all-time highest view count for A Ram’s Life. Jamie’s vlog about surprising her long distance boyfriend had been viewed 5,000 times. Awesome!
But… that all happened over 175,000 views ago.
Fast forward to today: as of the time of this writing, the vlog has been viewed 135,000+ times (edit: a day later and we’re now at 172,000+). Our subscriber count has jumped from ~300 to nearly 2,000.
In the last 48 hours alone, Jamie’s vlog has been viewed 74,389 times and is averaging over 1,700 views per hour during the past 30 hours.
I dug into the analytics and emerged with more questions than answers, but here’s a look at insights I’ve gleaned for the digital strategy of A Ram’s Life.
YouTube Requires A Totally Unique Strategy
What works on YouTube doesn’t work for all social media. Facebook’s algorithm factors in timeliness to determine which content to place in the Newsfeed. An Instagram photo generates most of its engagement in the first 24 hours. Jamie’s video was posted a month prior to the point when it began taking off, which begs the question: What is driving this video’s popularity, and why now?
An old Instagram photo won’t suddenly see a spike in engagement. Tweets die off within hours. It feels so unnatural for content to spring to life a month after its posting date. This means there’s something totally different about the YouTube ecosystem and what drives successful content. Our typical social media strategy won’t translate over to YouTube, and I think it has to do with the way content feeds off each other on this platform. One video’s success may breathe newfound life into a video from another account months — even years — after its initial upload date. It’s as if the content is all intertwined, and the keywords, descriptions, and titles possess more power here than any other social platform.
Fortunately, YouTube provides a significant amount of data in their Analytics Studio tool. Here’s what we know.
The Video’s Popularity Is Coming From Within YouTube
A website outside of YouTube is not responsible for driving traffic to the vlog. This can oftentimes be a driving force of a video’s virality, especially if a video is posted on a popular site like Reddit or Twitter and sends traffic to YouTube from their external source. We can see that Instagram is responsible for 50% of the external traffic — but the proportion of the video’s total traffic from external sources is only 0.3%. So Instagram is driving 50% of 0.3% of the total traffic. External traffic is not the answer.
How about YouTube search? Only 3.9% of the total traffic comes from user searches. Phrases like “surprising my boyfriend” and “long distance relationship surprise” are sending a fraction of users to Jamie’s vlog.
Maybe it was the suggested videos feature? Nope. Well… Maybe sorta. Only 1.4% of the total traffic is from YouTube suggestions, but here’s where things get interesting. A video from an established vlogger may be responsible for stoking the fire that helped propel the popularity of Jamie’s video. It is titled “1 Hour Layover In My Girlfriend’s City *emotional*.” Kyle Nutt, who has 55.4K subscribers, posted the video on October 23, which was only a short time before Jamie’s similar video took off. The description of Kyle’s video talks about being in a long distance relationship. The analytics from Jamie’s video indicate that Kyle’s some of our traffic came from the suggested videos section of Kyle’s video. Even so, we’re only talking about a very tiny number of views, but these views could be the initial starting point of what happened next. YouTube started promoting the video for us. Of the total video traffic, 90.7% of it comes from Browse Features within YouTube. This term is a bit vague, but we know one thing for certain: this video’s success is being driven by people’s previous viewing habits.
YouTube defines Browse Features as “Traffic from the home screen, subscription feed, watch later, and other browsing features.” Since we don’t have many subscribers, we know that most of our views must be coming from the main Home page on YouTube, where the site recommends content for you based on your viewing habits. People who watch videos like the one where Kyle visits his long distance girlfriend are now seeing a recommendation from YouTube that they might also enjoy watching Jamie surprise her long distance boyfriend.
The flow of impressions to watch time looks like this: Video Impressions: 720,400 (92% of which comes from YouTube recommending our content); Views From Impressions: 174,900; and Watch Time From Impressions: 391,000 (minutes). Broken down further, this means that 17.4% of the impressions turned into people clicking on the video and viewing the content. The 174,900 views translates into 390,000 minutes of watch time, or 6,500 hours of YouTube viewers watching content that is softly branded to our University.
The Soft Branding Approach Is Working
From the get-go, I’ve felt strongly that the channel should feel separate from the University. This is a vlog series for students by students. Our social team is simply the means of making it happen.
It’s our way of saying that the students can have their own space, and we’re available if they need us but aren’t going to meddle in their business. The heavier the Colorado State brand is present in the vlog series, the less receptive prospective students are to the idea that the content is genuine and true to the student experience. By handing the reigns of A Ram’s Life to Ryan, Grace, and Jamie, we’re granting them permission to be real — with no apparent motive.
Except the thing is, though, we do have an agenda. So our vloggers subtly convey that the lifestyles they are documenting are taking place at Colorado State University in Fort Collins.
It could be the sweatshirts they’re wearing, the brief mentions of CSU, or the admissions artwork displayed on the wall in the background of Grace’s room. Whatever it is, viewers are picking it up without us laying it down hard.
Channel Growth Is Hard… But We’re Building A Community, Not A Media Giant
Jamie’s video alone has surpassed the view count of the video that we think stoked the fire. And the 180,000 views rank it as the 4th most-viewed video ever between both the A Ram’s Life channel and the main Colorado State University YouTube channel. But we’re still just over 2,000 subscribers. We seem to be growing at a pace of roughly 1 subscriber per 1,000 video views, which means that our best strategy moving forward is to continue uploading fresh content each week and not get discouraged if it takes months for our next video to gain so much traction.
Suddenly there’s a need for community management within A Ram’s Life. We have commenters weighing in on the video, saying things like “September 20th was my birthday” and “Woo I graduated from CSU,” which opens the door for us to weigh in and respond to these new members of our community in hopes of building a relationship that can be nurtured into something meaningful. And maybe someday a wonderful college experience at Colorado State University, just like Ryan, Grace, and Jamie.