YouTube has always been set up for interaction. Subscriptions and comments create an immediate connection between fans and creators, and by cultivating those connections, creators are able to maintain and grow their audiences. YouTube has the kind of interaction other sites only dream of. But it’s not all in the technology and the platform, it’s in the approach too.
YouTube expert Brendan Gahan singles out operant conditioning as one of the main drivers behind YouTube engagement. “The ways successful YouTube creators interact with their audience ‘trains’ them to become a community,” Gahan writes on BetaBeat. By offering rewards, like a shout out or inclusion in a video, or by rewarding feedback by integrating it, YouTubers form their audiences, and condition them to interact more and with higher quality.
“Your fans want to feel as though they’re helping shape your brand. Give them that rare chance to connect with your brand by providing opportunities for feedback or, better yet, involve them in your content,” Gahan quotes from the YouTube creator playbook. Indeed, the success of a YouTube channel or star is built almost entirely on their ability to establish a following.
One such example is Mike Rugnetta, host of the PBS Idea Channel. He poses ideas that raise questions, and fans spend the next week debating in the comments. The following episode will devote time to honoring that discussion. In just two years, PBS Idea Channel has accumulated more than a half-million subscribers. Many of the responses are thoughtful and contribute to excellent debate, which some would think very surprising for a YouTube audience.
Other companies seem to miss out on the idea of integrating audience content. “Brands miss out on the opportunities to build on their ideas, instead focusing on a mishmash of content around a variety of topics and campaigns. Consumers don’t think in terms of campaigns,” according to Gahan.
By keeping all production on the rails of a campaign, businesses could miss out on the opportunity to give consumers content they want to share, which cuts off their ability to form a community. Ignoring feedback could even drive consumers away, Gahan says.
“[McDonald’s] failed to implement the most basic best practices, which I recommend to my own clients — there are no end cards, and titles and tags are inconsistent — and there is little to no self-awareness of the few people who are interacting with their content. McDonald’s and brands like them are conditioning people not to come back, not to interact, and not to bother.”