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May 30, 2020
Eight Essential YouTube Principles for Nonprofits
By Michael Hoffman

Michael Hoffman
Michael Hoffman
All nonprofits should develop a video strategy, a persistent, methodical approach to producing and distributing video content that achieves organizational goals, and YouTube, the largest online video site by far, should be a part of their online communications plan.

Video has become a central focus of the online experience, and today, the average viewer spends an astounding 58 minutes on YouTube at each sitting.

To grab some of those 58 minutes, nonprofit organizations can easily build on their existing video assets, which may include PSAs, general introductory videos, and specific campaign videos. But to ensure that your YouTube strategy helps you reach and retain your intended audience, let these eight principals guide your efforts:

1. Search is critical.

Video obviously is a vehicle for you to tell an engaging story, but it’s also becoming a way for people to find you. Not only is YouTube the #2 search engine online (which means people are going directly to YouTube and searching to find info), but YouTube videos also consistently rank highly in Google searches. Create videos on YouTube that match the keywords you want to online. If your organization is committed to SEO (search engine optimization), you now have another business case for investing in video.

2. Video requires planning.

Like any other communications strategy, video requires thoughtful planning. Even if your video does happen to “go viral,” you want to make sure it reaches the right people and achieves what you intended it to do. Ask yourself upfront: What are our goals? How will we reach our audience? What action do we want them to take? How will we measure success?

3. Your audience is watching.

We recently saw some statistics from YouTube that showed a breakdown of users by demographic. Each of the demographics (under 18, 18-34, 35-44, 45-55, and over 55) were represented almost equally. It’s important to think about your audience’s viewing habits—what content they watch, how they share content—but don’t think your audience isn’t watching.

4. Don’t let the technical overwhelm you.

People always ask us, “What camera should we buy?” or “What are the best microphone settings?” These things matter, but they shouldn’t stop you from producing a video for YouTube. Organizations often get paralyzed by these questions and never get started as a result. Most consumer cameras will be appropriate for what you want to do.

5. Leverage other users’ content to program your channel.

If you don’t have any videos or are just getting started with video, you can still program your YouTube channel using other people’s videos. As a gatherer of content you are providing a service to those interested in your topic. Simply “Favorite” relevant videos and add them to your playlists. You can create playlists such as “Massachusetts Health” or “Boston Education” and fill them with videos on these issues.

6. If you’re not part of the Nonprofit Program, you should be.

In the past year, YouTube has really stepped up and demonstrated its commitment to serving nonprofit organizations. By becoming a part of the YouTube Nonprofit Program, which is free and available to most U.S.-based nonprofits, organizations gain access to a host of additional branding and functionality options. The best tool is the linkable annotations, which allows you to create a “button” in your video that can link to an external website. So you can make a button in your video that says “Donate Now!” or “Sign the Petition” and you can direct viewers to a specific page on your website.

7. Buy a handheld camera—or two—for the office.

You’ve probably seen those video cameras that look like cell phones. We use the Flip Video Camera (which offers a 2-for-1 deal for most nonprofits) and the Kodak Zi8. These little guys cost under $200 and they’re the type of thing you can give to interns, volunteers, or staff members and have them gather footage in the field. You may not have an immediate use for the material, but you’ll have the documentation you can incorporate into future videos.

8. Test and learn.

You track data for your mailings, for your events, and for your websites. Why wouldn’t you track it for your videos as well? Using Insight—YouTube’s free backend analytics tool—you can dig into each video and see when people watched your video and how they discovered it. Did they watch an embedded version on your site? Did they watch it on a particular blog? Did they find it using specific search keywords? Determining these patterns will help you better plan and promote your next video.

Michael Hoffman is founder of See3 Communications, an interactive marketing agency for nonprofits and causes. Contact him at 773-784-7333.
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