From September 22, 2012 through August 19, 2013, I hosted Soda Tasting, an online show dedicated to soda reviews and appreciation. In less than a year, I was able to develop a show that was receiving 500 views a day and had more than 1,000 subscribers, trending upward.
I left a show that was growing because I decided to focus my time elsewhere and to hit some new fitness goals. Since I stopped producing the show, it has only continued to grow. I’m kind of surprised by that, but it speaks to the quality of the content and the way I positioned it. One can only imagine where I’d be if I had continued to publish new, quality content.
People complain that there is too much competition on YouTube. That it’s too late. That everyone popular simply got in early. Those are made up obstacles and excuses that don’t give enough credit to the people who are popular on YouTube and the work they have put in.
I didn’t start my show in the early days of YouTube. I started it after everyone already had a show. And yet I was able to be successful. There is a specific formula to what I did that I believe can be replicated. If you are looking to build community on YouTube and build a following on that platform, it can be done and this is a blueprint for getting started. I am going to tell you exactly what I did.
First, a Chart
This chart represents the daily view count for Soda Tasting from when I started it through today. As you can see, I started where everyone else starts: zero.
I was close to zero for a couple of months. It took 3 months until I started to see some real movement and even then we’re talking about 30-80 views a day. 5 months in, I was able to pass 100 views a day (and stay there). At that point I saw some steady growth. At 9 months in, I was doing 400 views a day. When I left, I was over 500 views a day.
Near the middle of the chart, you can see a big bump. You kind of have to disregard that. It does represent some growth, but I happened to be the first person online to review SODA SHAQ, a collaboration between Shaquille O’Neal, the basketball player, and AriZona Beverage Company. That led to a ton of views, thanks to high rankings on Google and YouTube.
As you can see, once that subsided, I was still headed upward.
If you look at that 9/20/13 date stamp, you’ll notice a little stagnation after I left. But then it picked back up and has continued to move upward. At the end of the chart, which is the present day, I’m hitting 700 and 800+ views a day. The channel is now at 263,930 views with 2,822 subscribers. The subscriber count has more than doubled from where I left it 9 months ago. Let’s talk about how.
An Idea and Focus
Your show starts with an idea. For me, it was the passion that I had for soda. I had the idea for the show 6 years before I actually did it. When I walked down a soda aisle, I’d get excited just thinking of the possibilities. Eventually, I simply had to do the show. That excitement drove the hard work that I’ll describe in this article.
Having a focus, even if it adjusts over time, helps you to pursue an audience. There is a place for random video blogs and channels chronicling whatever the host thought of at that moment – and if that’s what you want, cool – but for most people, it probably makes sense to carve out a niche. It is harder to develop a popular show around passion for the host, as opposed to passion for a topic or interest. Unless you are already a celebrity.
Develop Your Format
What do you do on your show? How does it start? How does it end? It might seem like “oh, I’ll just talk about the soda,” but there is a method to the madness. Your format lets viewers know what to expect and when. For example, here is how a typical episode of Soda Tasting would progress:
- Greeting (“Hello and welcome to Soda Tasting, an online show dedicated to soda reviews and appreciation. I’m Patrick O’Keefe.”)
- Do I have any business to take care of? Some news to mention?
- Talk about the product I am reviewing today. The name, who makes it, interesting historical details. Read the packaging and nutritional info.
- Open the soda, pour it.
- Tasting process (for me this was smelling it, tasting it, swallowing a little and spitting most, until I was satisfied that I could construct my rating and opinion).
- Talk about what strikes me about the soda, flavor wise.
- Offer my rating (the rating process was one I thought a lot about).
- Ask viewers a question.
- Tell people where they can find me online – at least mention my website.
- Sign off with my standard “and, as always, everything in moderation!”
There will be some deviation, but having a format helps you create a complete show and a show that people will look forward to watching again.
Have a Unique Brand: Be You
The format that I just described speaks a lot to the brand of the show, especially the spitting. A good number of people have had an issue with the spitting (I explained why I spit in a dedicated episode). Some people just couldn’t wrap their head around it. I received plenty of “soda is not alcohol” comments, as if that is something I wouldn’t be aware of.
What some missed is that the spitting was unique and it set me apart, for better or worse. There is a virtually limitless number of YouTube videos where people review soda and don’t spit. If that’s what you want, have at it. I was the only one who did. It was a branding thing.
But it was also a practical thing. I would tape 5-7 episodes at once. If I swallowed all the soda, by the time I was at sodas 3-7, I’d be feeling pretty full. So I wouldn’t be able to properly consider the soda because I’d just want to have as little as possible and have it be over with. That wasn’t fair to the companies who develop these products. I take reviews seriously. A negative review impacts sales, which impacts the livelihoods of real people. I wanted to taste their product in an optimal manner.
I also didn’t want to swallow all of those calories. Back when I was drinking soda, I wanted to spend those calories drinking what I liked, not simply whatever soda was in front of me.
Even if you don’t want to do something like that – or can’t – your personality is what makes you distinctive. If you want to host a show, be thoughtful and be yourself (or at least a version of yourself). Some people will love you, some people will find you annoying. That’s just the way it is. But, as Kanye West once said, “everybody feel a way about K, but at least y’all feel something.”
Produce Quality Content
Perhaps this is a given, but quality shows are what people want to watch. That doesn’t necessarily mean flashy effects or big budgets, but it does mean someone who gives a damn and takes pride in their work. If you don’t care, you can’t expect your viewers to do so.
Never Take Your Voice for Granted
A small point, related to what I just said: never take your voice for granted. You are powerful. Your words impact real people. Never think “oh, they’ll never see what I said.” They will. It’s a small world. Be honest, but also be fair and respectful. I find that will lead more people to you, than the opposite.
Don’t Jam Too Much Into One Episode
I have had people ask for my advice on doing soda reviews a few times and at least a couple of them were doing something that you should avoid: trying to get too much into one episode.
With soda, that means that they were reviewing 3 sodas in a single episode. If you want to do that, awesome. But if you are trying to build a show and consistently release great content, it makes more sense to break it down a bit. You are taking something that could easily be 3 episodes and making it 1 long one. You might think “I’m giving people more for their value,” but really, people generally prefer web video in smaller chunks. If you can have one review that runs 4 minutes or 3 reviews in one episode that runs 12, always go with the former. It is much more approachable.
It makes your production and release cleaner, as well. For example, if you only review one soda per episode, you can give that one episode a great title that people might actually search for, like “Coca-Cola Review.” If you review 3, you get something like “Coca-Cola, Mountain Dew and Dr Pepper Reviews.”
There are other factors at play here, as well, some of which I’m sure I’m not even thinking of. For example, if I review Coca-Cola and decide it is worthy of a great rating, The Coca-Cola Company might tweet it out and bring me new subscribers. But if I do Coca-Cola, Mountain Dew and Dr Pepper, that is three different companies. They are far less likely to share videos about their competitors.
All in all, producing episodes in that fashion will hurt your traffic and view count while probably offering your viewers a less desirable experience. It’s a lose lose situation.
Decent Audio and Video Quality
This is where a lot of people obsess and get lost. If you are getting started, try to save up at least $400-$600. Invest a consumer HD camcorder, a lavalier microphone, some lighting and a tripod, if you don’t already have one. The last episode of Soda Tasting was produced with a Canon VIXIA HF M500 camcorder, an Audio Technica ATR-3350 microphone and a basic lighting kit. If it is just you and/or other people talking to the camera, you can produce a show with decent audio and video quality using that equipment
That’s the key. You don’t need full 1080P HD, but if you are releasing standard definition (or worse) content, it can turn people off. Even worse than that is bad audio though. Bad audio kills your efforts.
I didn’t even have to wear my lavalier microphone. I just taped it to the front of the table I sat at and it worked fine.
Shooting and Your Set
Find a places (or places) where you can shoot your show. Do some test recordings to make sure everything looks and sounds good. If you can create a set that isn’t hard to get ready or take down, even better. I shot in front of my bookcase. Gregory Ng of Freezerburns shoots in his kitchen.
If you can help it, shoot multiple episodes at once. It is absolutely the way to go. Plan your content out and shoot them. You can change your shirt or outfit for each show, so that it seems like a fresh recording. With soda, timeliness generally wasn’t important. I had the luxury. If you have the same luxury, take advantage of it.
When you shoot, don’t worry about being perfect. That’s a recipe for insanity. Just be good and cut yourself some slack. Don’t worry about getting it all in one take. Hit record and do as many takes as you need, even recording different pieces separately. Sometimes I had to say the same line 15 times because I kept slipping up. That’s what editing is for.
Simple Editing and Production Workflow
For me, this was a big deal. I had so many commitments already that if I was going to do the show, I wanted to make sure the editing process was dead simple and quick. Nothing fancy, no adding logos or images to the videos. Just cuts.
Not to say that you can’t get fancier, but for anyone wanting to get a show off the ground, I encourage you to keep it simple. Import your footage, watch it in full (as hard as it can be to see yourself on camera) and cut anything that isn’t needed, as well as any mistakes or retakes you had.
You’ll be amazed by how much polish that simple act adds to your show. So many YouTube videos have an odd start or end, where the person says good-bye and then there are seconds of dead time or we have to watch them press “stop.” You will look so much more serious and professional.
Publishing on a Schedule
Have a release schedule. You don’t need to say it in your videos (it’s no fun having an old video that says you release on Friday when you actually release on Monday), but simply having a schedule helps you to be more efficient.
When I started the show, I did it 3 days a week. Monday, Wednesday and Friday. When I felt comfortable with that, I added Tuesday (I think). Then I began doing it Monday through Friday. That’s what I did for most of the show’s run.
Knowing what you need to produce allows you to plan your shoots accordingly. I’d usually try to shoot 5-7 episodes at a time – or a week to a week and a half of content. If I was going to be away, I would shoot more in advance. Then I would import and edit the footage and upload it to YouTube. I would set the video titles, thumbnails, tags, etc. and set the day and time for YouTube to publish the video. The YouTube feature that allows you to schedule when to publish a video is huge. You can upload your videos in advance and release your videos consistently. Once that was set, I would create the new post on my own website and schedule that to be published shortly thereafter.
A schedule is what allowed me to produce 215 episodes (plus a teaser trailer) in just under 11 months. I only missed the schedule a couple of times.
Preparing an Episode for Distribution
You have shot and edited a great episode and now it is time to publish it. If you just upload it and let it publish without setting a title, description or thumbnail, you have really hurt the reach of your video.
Giving it a good title does two things: it helps make your video more attractive for people to click on and it helps people find it via search engines (YouTube search, Google search and elsewhere). I opted for a title like “SODA SHAQ Blueberry Cream Soda Review (Soda Tasting #180).” Some would say the show name is superfluous and maybe they are right. But I liked the consistent branding and I suspect it helped me show up in related videos.
This is a big reason why, if you search Google for “Coca-Cola Vanilla review” (without quotes), you’ll see my face looking back to you.
Speaking of my face, that’s another huge one: video thumbnails. Many people upload their video and let Google pick the thumbnail or they pick one from the selection that Google generates. Don’t do that! Create a thumbnail of your own. I would take a good looking screenshot from my video and then add the word “review” and a product shot. It makes your video standout wherever people are viewing it. It looks better in search results, your channel’s page, a subscriber’s list of new videos, websites where it is embedded, etc.
If you don’t believe me, compare these two images.
The thumbnail on the left is from one of my first 8 videos, before YouTube allowed me to change the thumbnails. I had to select the best of what YouTube generated. The one to the right is from a later episode, when I was able to change the thumbnail. Huge difference, right?
Don’t forget to utilize other things that YouTube allows you to specify about the video, such as the description, keywords, etc. Develop a standard format for your video descriptions. Take a look at one of my videos for an example.
Pepsi Throwback was released in 2009, alongside Mountain Dew Throwback, as a sugar sweetened version of Pepsi. This led many to recall the days when the drink did not include high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). The mainstream version of Pepsi available today is sweetened with both HFCS and sugar.
Thank you to John Wilkerson (http://www.thewiredhomeschool.com), mikeypaco, trainsanddominoes1 (Jonathan) and TheFastcarboy1 for requesting this soda and supporting the show. Thank you, as well, to Fiasco Deuce, Kevin Saju, MrKalashnikov9 and AlexPanzerADT.
What other soda flavor would you like there to be a Throwback version of? Coca-Cola is an easy one, so let’s avoid that. Please let me know in the comments.
Calories (per 12 oz.): 150
Caffeine (per 12 oz): 38 mg
If you enjoyed the show, please subscribe to Soda Tasting on YouTube and elsewhere:
Thank you for watching.
As you can see, there is a brief description of the product. On this episode, I thanked some people for requesting it, so they are included. I then mention my viewer question for that show, as well as standard product information that I listed for every product I reviewed. Finally, we have some links to where people can find me elsewhere. Some would say the links should be first, which I’m sure leads to more clicks.
By uploading to YouTube, you receive preference in Google search. Definitely take advantage of the tools they provide you to make your listing in their results as attractive as you can. Stay up to date as the tools change.
If You Mention Someone Favorably, Let Them Know
Just a small tip. If you mention a company or person on your show in a good way, let them know. Send them an email or, better yet, when you tweet it out, include them in the tweet if they have a Twitter account. Or tag them on Facebook. Something like that. They will be more likely to share it with their audience, which can really help a new show.
Obviously, if you do a review, you should be honest, whether good or bad. But if you give something a bad review, don’t tag the people behind it, unless they are expecting you to.
Respond to Comments and Appreciate Your Viewers
I responded to the vast majority of comments that I received. When I left the show, the scale was starting to hit me a bit and I was responded a little less, but still going pretty strong. I was still responding to everything that needed a response as well as to anything that was very kind.
I have no doubt that this strategy fueled my growth. When you only have 5 people, you love those 5 people because that’s how your show will grow. I had more than one person tell me they were surprised I even replied because other YouTubers don’t. That’s where we’re at. The simple act of acknowledging people sets you apart.
Another thing that I did was include my viewers in the show by mentioning them and thanking them individually. I also took requests and credited the people who had requested a given soda.
While I did love and appreciate the people who supported me, I was also careful to ensure I was staying true to myself. At the end of the day, that’s what attracted them to begin with. You should listen to your community and make adjustments, but don’t let them tell you what to do.
Comment Moderation Strategy
With my background in community, I had a strong desire to do something that isn’t normal: build a respectful community in the YouTube comment section. For this reason, I ensured comments were family friendly and that all participants treated everyone else with respect. If that didn’t happen, the comment was deleted. If someone did something that made it obvious they were participating in bad faith, they were banned.
I tried not to spend too much time on it. Quick, consistent decisions. It worked well for me and at my scale.
The great thing is that I was successful. You can check out the comments section on my videos. I have had people tell me how nice the people are and how that’s rare for YouTube. People just felt more comfortable and respectful comments lead to more respectful comments. When bad actors are quickly booted, it is harder for them to poison the well.
Some YouTubers won’t agree with this strategy. Some can’t do it because they feel there are too many comments. Which I can understand. But others are happy to allow their commenters to tear each other apart because more comments mean more views. I want views, but not that bad. I never wanted my great viewers interacting with bad people or defending me to them. I didn’t want them to waste their time like that.
Don’t Put All of Your Eggs in the YouTube Basket
YouTube is very powerful, but diversifying can only bring more people in. I had my own Soda Tasting website where I published content. On your own website, you can do things you can’t do on YouTube. I didn’t come close to maximizing the value of my site. For example, I wanted to eventually offer you the ability to sort sodas by various flavors, brands, my rating and more. That would have unlocked a bunch of traffic.
However, simply publishing the content on my website gave me another optimized listing in Google and another way for people to find me. Since it was my website, I could place ads on it and monetize in a different way than I could on YouTube.
In addition to YouTube, I allowed people to subscribe via email, Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and RSS. There are other video hosting services out there that may be worth your time, as well, but I decided to keep it to YouTube exclusively to simplify the process and my statistics.
YouTube was far and away my most popular means of subscription, but it doesn’t hurt to have people in other places, as well. To go with my 2,822 subscribers on YouTube, I have 16 email subscribers, 122 likes on Facebook, 101 followers on Twitter, 39 followers on Google+ and 23 RSS subscribers. It all adds up.
What I Never Did
I never begged for viewers, I never felt entitled to someone else’s viewers and I never spammed.
Once or twice, I received a comment from someone who would say something like “I have a new show, you have to mention it on yours. I’ve always supported you, please do this for me!” That is totally the wrong way to go about it.
I was fortunate to receive a few mentions from YouTubers who had a lot more viewers than I did. It definitely helped give me a momentary boost. But my own work is what allowed me to benefit from those mentions. And once that momentary blip passed, it was back to my steady growth.
When those YouTubers did mention me, it was never because I asked them. Ever. It was because we connected elsewhere naturally, because I was commenting on their videos or because they saw me and liked what I was doing. That’s it.
I mentioned Gregory Ng of Freezerburns earlier. I learned a lot from him. When you finish this post, check out his website and watch a few of his episodes. Just soak in what he does. He’s a wonderful model to follow and someone that any YouTuber can learn from. I’ve known Greg for many years through various conferences (we shared a panel once at an event). Even though I have some rapport with Greg, I never contacted him and asked to collaborate or be on his show. I probably could have, he might have had me on. But I didn’t feel I was worthy of that, I didn’t feel I earned it.
When I looked at him, I saw someone with (then) 10,000 subscribers (or around there) and I had maybe 500 or so. That wasn’t fair of me. I didn’t have much value to offer Greg. I thought we could each make some great videos together for our respective shows, but I didn’t want to contact him until I knew I could send him some new subscribers, too. The value would likely be more in my favor, but I never wanted to contact him when the value proposition, for him, was essentially zero. As kind as he is, he might have helped me, but I didn’t want that.
My point: collaborate with people on a similar level. Don’t expect famous YouTubers to build your audience for you. If you are expecting that, chances are you won’t be in a position to capitalize on it if it actually does happen. You’ll just lose people.
Finally, never ever spam. Never put comments on videos by other people, telling their viewers to check your channel out. It’s a poor way to build a channel and it’s disrespectful. Commenting on other people’s videos is good and will bring you subscribers. But leave good comments, comments that are on topic and add value. Don’t mention your own stuff. Don’t mention “hey, I also reviewed this product!” You don’t want to be known as that person.
There Are No Shortcuts
When you get to the end of this article, you are probably thinking “wow, that sounds like a lot!” That is sort of the point. For the most part, the successful YouTube shows that you know have worked super hard over a long period of time to build their shows up. If I had kept hosting the show, by now I suspect that I would have been over 5,000 subscribers, closing in on 500,000 views. It would have taken me almost 2 years of releasing episodes 5 days a week to get there.
To me, that says 2 things. On one hand, it’s scary. It’s a commitment. That’s a lot of time and effort. It doesn’t happen in a day, a week, a month. On the other hand, though, it’s very possible. It’s attainable. You can do it. You just have to commit, be consistent and work hard. If you want it, go get it.