YouTube: Not Just ‘Nice-to-Have’ Communications Tool

Elissa Leif, CEO of MiniMatters Video + Marketing, has started to spend more time working on YouTube channels for such clients as the Foundation for Community and Association Research and other associations and nonprofit organizations. “A lot of what we’re doing is developing existing channels,” she said. “YouTube channels are continually evolving and if you want to look current, you have to use the features as best you can.”

Indeed, YouTube, owned by Google, regularly moves the goal posts to try and ensure more quality subscribers and that the best video content floats to the top of the search rankings.

Last week, for example, YouTube started to remove suspended accounts from all channels’ subscriber counts. For brands and organizations, the result will most likely be a decline in the number of subscribers. But these are not active viewers, so the long-term impact will be negligible.

Subscriber count, of course, helps communicators and PR pros gauge whether their video content is resonating with stakeholders.

Other YouTube metrics to consider include audience retention, how often your videos are shared by viewers and, ultimately, whether the videos are helping to boost traffic to your website. PR pros can help to juice those metrics by raising the bar on their company’s YouTube channel.

Yet for many brands and organizations, having a YouTube channel may still reside in the “nice-to-have” file, but that’s likely to change, and soon. According to a new Cisco Systems report, video is expected to grow to 84% of Web traffic in the United States by 2018, up from 78% this year.

As YouTube starts to resemble TV, it’s incumbent upon communicators to make sure they have a legitimate presence on YouTube, as opposed to slapping some video on the site every now and again.

“The advantages of a branded social site, like YouTube, are many. First of all, it gives a company a presence in the social video space, which is simply growing exponentially, especially on mobile devices,” said Rob Halper, a social video consultant and former director of video communication at Johnson & Johnson.

Halper added that a branded YouTube channel enables companies and organizations to tell their stories in a “relatively discrete environment” and also encourages interaction with viewers, consumers and other stakeholders.


“The back and forth conversations that can result from this are valuable from an informational perspective,” he said. “And in answering comments, the company presents more of a human face than just posting a non-interactive video.”

The herky-jerky qualities that characterized online videos in the early stages of YouTube have, for the most part, been eclipsed with videos that have high production values, can effectively tap into Google’s search algorithm and deliver a sharp message.

In the current climate, “the challenge is not to convince clients that there should be a separate investment bucket for YouTube, but to create the kind of content that people are watching and would want to share,” said Marie Baker, VP of social media at Coyne PR.

Baker and other sources stressed that while the content may vary according to the industry, there are several video genres that are attractive to consumers and business professionals alike.

Perennials include how-to videos, serialized content and mini documentaries (which can be costly, so make sure the commitment is not half-baked). Customer testimonials also resonate. “People tend to be more interested in what their peers are saying, rather than a CEO, and that makes the video more authentic,” Leif said.

The format will depend on your audience, of course. Either way, YouTube channels require regular and varied programming. Otherwise brands and organizations will start to throw bad money after good, and alienate their markets.


The road to a quality YouTube channel is paved with your other media channels. “You should work backwards to create a YouTube channel,” said Robb Henshaw, head of communications at InPowered, whose clients include Chevy, Samsung and Walt Disney Co.

“You need to take the content that’s already resonating on other media channels that are less resource-intensive, whether it’s a blog post or a Web post with a lot of engagement,” Henshaw added, “and use that content to create a video, instead of saying, ‘Let’s create a video and hope it sticks.’”

Sidebar: Programming Video Channels for YouTube

Gwen Foutz
Gwen Foutz

What a brand gets out of YouTube depends on what it puts into it. Brands that want to capture users’ attention and maximize their video investment must make sure their videos/channels are optimized for easy discovery. They also need to keep users coming back for more. If your brand is investing in storytelling on YouTube, here are five tips to maximize your efforts.

1. Customize all aspects of the setup and design. It seems obvious, but setting up your YouTube channel to accurately represent your brand is step one.

• Design compelling icon and cover art imagery that works across all screen sizes.

• Complete the About tab with an accurate bio; include search-friendly keywords and links to your website and other social profiles.

• Link other branded channels in the Featured Channels tab.

• Upload a channel trailer to draw in new visitors. This could be a specific video you create for preview purposes or one of your most engaging videos.

• Maximize the Home tab layout with featured sections for your latest videos and playlists. Refresh regularly.

2. Outline a compelling vision and content strategy. Ensure you are creating content based on strong target audience insights and business objectives. Then make sure to stay organized, and keep the content organized for your audience:

• Use an editorial calendar to guide your efforts.

• Group videos into meaningful Playlists with clear descriptions.

• Include end-cards and annotations on your videos with a clear call to action.

3. Win clicks with strong thumbnails, titles and descriptions.

• Thumbnails – Use high-quality images that convey the most important info about your video.

• Titles – Help users quickly make sense of your content through titles that are concise, descriptive and keyword-dense.

• Descriptions – Add important additional information, but keep it concise.

4. Use analytics. This tip really weaves through all the others. Regularly review metrics within the YouTube Analytics dashboard to assess your channel’s performance, and don’t be afraid to adjust your content, publishing and distribution strategies.

5. Plug your videos/channel. YouTube videos are easily embeddable and sharable across the Web, so you can build a cross-promotion plan to integrate your YouTube content with your other channels (social media, blog, website). Also, consider paid media options such as AdWords for Video to ensure your content reaches your target audiences.

This sidebar was written by Gwen Foutz, senior VP, partner and Americas social lead at FleishmanHillard. She can be reached at, @gwenfoutz.


Marie Baker,; Rob Halper,; Robb Henshaw,; Elissa Leif,


This article originally appeared in the June 23, 2014 issue of PR News. Read more subscriber-only content by becoming a PR News subscriber today.