Lights, Camera, Upload: Leveraging YouTube for Blockbuster PR Hits

For most people seeking their 15 minutes of fame, YouTube is the best shot they will ever have—and it’s a good shot, at that. Case in point: The video-sharing platform, which launched in 2005 and currently boasts more than 70 million unique users per month, has made everyone from a skateboarding bulldog to a kid doped up post-dental appointment a star—at least for a day.

But these aren’t the only unlikely celebrities shot to fame by YouTube—a growing number of executives across all industries are learning to leverage the platform to get their messages to the masses. And they aren’t relegated to consumer brands, either. Business leaders have used YouTube to communicate everything from a product recall to a sincere apology, to an employee engagement initiative.

Regardless of your desired application, this channel is yet another addition to your communications toolbox, but—as always—a number of best practices are required to make it an effective means of reaching target audiences. With that, the following tips should get you on the road to YouTube success.

â–¶ Get started. Launching a YouTube strategy is as simple as signing up for a free account—that’s the easy part.

Then, “You need to understand the technology and the resources needed to launch a video program,” says Anthony Allen, director of digital media for the American Society for Training and Development (for a step-by-step guide to developing and uploading a video, see sidebar, page 6). “Find someone that enjoys making videos, record compelling [footage], then drive a video-reuse strategy.”

â–¶ Tell a story. What communications vehicle can convey nuances of body language, facial expressions and verbal intonations simultaneously as well as video can? Keep in mind, though, that maximizing the advantages of video takes a healthy dose of restraint.

“The model [of an effective YouTube video] is a smart television commercial,” Allen says, noting the value of creative messaging in taking videos viral. “Get your boss’ approval to get creative with your brand.”

That, of course, is most relevant from a marketing standpoint, but YouTube is also a great vehicle for engaging media. When doing so, says Southwest Airlines ’ emerging media specialist Christi Day, “Be relevant and timely, provide exclusive content and give them the story.”

â–¶ If the viral suit fits, wear it. Viral video—video that spreads rapidly from user to user without a big marketing push—is one of YouTube’s premier features, but it’s not as simple as setting out to “do” a viral clip; rather, it’s up to the viewers themselves to decide if they want to pass it along to their friends, and so on. According to Rick Wion, VP of dialogue at GolinHarris, “Viral is not a strategy.”

The only thing you, as a communications executive, can do is make the content compelling—and, ideally, humorous.

“Most viral marketing videos have a loose, make-believe or comical connection between the product and the video,” Allen says. “Also, remember that videos must be done well, so consider asking a local production company to produce the video [in exchange for] a co-sponsorship.”

Then, if the hope was to go viral but the video falls flat, “Delete it immediately,” Allen says. That said, others could argue that acting so quickly is disadvantageous in the end, as many videos go viral long after they were uploaded; thus, it’s a decision that should be made on a case-by-case basis.

â–¶ Use YouTube to manage and protect your brand. A brand’s YouTube channel—that is, the place on YouTube in which all videos uploaded by a specific user are located—is a creative place to build a community of advocates not unlike those found on social networks or blogs. As is the case with those platforms, though, it’s critical to establish parameters for interacting with other users up-front, lest conversations begin turning sour.

“Be open to dialogue, and create a comfortable position for what you will and won’t respond to,” Wion says. “Settings allow brands to ‘turn off’ all commentary; however, such channels miss bigger opportunities for engagement and feel too corporate.”

â–¶ Monitor your channel—and all of YouTube—for risks and opportunities. In the same vein of managing and protecting your brand, monitoring is a key component of becoming aware of how stakeholders are interacting with said brand on YouTube.

“Monitoring your page is simple; tracking all of YouTube is not,” Wion says. “[YouTube] should be folded into other monitoring procedures. Tune your monitoring to match the vernacular of YouTube users, and have response thresholds and procedures in place.”

â–¶ Don’t forget to include YouTube as a communications tool during a crisis. These days, when the going gets tough, the tough turn to YouTube. A number of top brands, from JetBlue to Mattel to Domino’s, put their CEOs on camera to issue apologies in the midst of their various reputational crises.

If this is a response mechanism that suits your particular situation, then it is important “to understand the role of video in your spectrum of risk,” Wion says. “Pre-planning is key. Create a flexible game plan for likely scenarios, use monitoring tools and thresholds as early alert systems and have production equipment ready. Finally, train your communicators—don’t let this be your CEO’s first time on video.”

â–¶ Measure up. Like most social media tools, YouTube comes with a number of built-in metrics that help gauge general traffic and sentiment.

“You must measure commentary and sentiment, in addition to traffic,” Wion says. In terms of the latter, Wion recommends looking at:

• Views;

• Embeds;

• Regional traffic;

• Referrals to other sites; and,

• Pickup through other outreach efforts.

As for sentiment, consider comments, favorites, star ratings and responses.

â–¶ Make it part of the whole. In most cases, YouTube isn’t going to be a stand-alone communications vehicle, so make sure you take an integrated approach from the get-go.

“Determine if video is a strategy or a tactic,” Wion says. “If it’s a strategy, YouTube should be viewed as a primary channel and managed as such, with a defined plan, allocated resources, dedicated percentage of staff time, rigorous goals and measurement. If it’s a tactic, YouTube should be viewed as an extension to support various plans.”

Regardless of your chosen approach, just remember to stay true to your audience and your brand. And don’t underestimate the power of the platform.

“YouTube videos offer deeper engagement than they are given credit for,” Wion says.


Anthony Allen,; Christi Day,; Rick Wion,