“Is creating a viral hit really what you want?” It’s a question on the mind of every Web producer. In the first part of our Celebrity Guest Writer series, Miles Beckett, founder of YouTube hit lonelygirl15, divulges his secrets on building an audience.
This is the first article in a series of Celebrity Guest Writers offering their insight into issues close to their experiences.
by Miles Beckett
“Johnson, make me a viral hit!” Right now irrational demands like that are echoing throughout boardrooms and advertising agencies around the world. The question is: What is a viral hit? I don’t think most people know. Most importantly, is creating a viral hit really what you want? Not necessarily. Counterintuitive, I know, but hear me out.
A viral hit is a video, picture, or piece of media that spreads around the Internet like wildfire. Numa Numa. Bonsai kittens. That email from the Nigerian dude. A viral hit explodes into the global consciousness overnight and disappears just as quickly. That’s the problem. In order to create a sustainable business or translate awareness into increased sales, companies must do more than simply create a viral hit that disappears just as quickly as it appears. They need to build and sustain an audience and foster a relationship with the community that forms around the content they produce.
lonelygirl15, the online serial that I created with Mesh Flinders and Greg Goodfried, certainly has penetrated the global consciousness. We made the cover of Wired and we even won VH1’s “Big in ’06 Biggest Web Hit” award. But, was lonelygirl15 actually a viral hit? Not really. There’s no doubt that awareness of lonelygirl15 spread around the world like a virus, but none of the lonelygirl15 videos were actually “viral hits.” In fact, while some lonelygirl15 videos have over a million views, most average 300,000 views.
lonelygirl15 was a popular YouTube series produced by EQAL
The LG15 franchise, comprised of lonelygirl15 (which ended in August 200 8) and its UK spin-off, KateModern, is successful because it has attracted an audience that regularly visits the websites to view the episodes and interact with the community. To date, the two shows had over 190 million views combined. Rather than simply create a viral hit, we’ve built a sustainable audience around two online serials and fostered a relationship between the content and the community.
So, the question isn’t “How do you create a viral hit,” it’s “How do you build and sustain an audience around your content?” Some of the strategies are new, and others are as old as marketing itself. It boils down to three things: producing compelling content, integrating community tools into the show, and marketing to the right audience.
In terms of video production, the content needs to fit the medium. It should feel like user-generated content so that the audience can interact with it, but it also must be professionally produced so that it tells a compelling story. We have created a hybrid approach to online storytelling that merges the best principles of traditional television (weekly story arcs, A plots and B plots, and dramatic cliffhangers) with lightweight production teams and novel techniques including the use of jump-cuts, rapid editing, and concise and witty dialogue.
The communities that form around our shows are eager to interact with the characters and storyline. It’s important to construct content in a manner such that it demands interaction. Characters should reach out to the audience and ask for their input. We break the fourth-wall constantly. Characters talk to the camera, shout out to fans, and communicate via the comment boards, forums, and chat rooms. On KateModern, characters use the social networking tools available on Bebo, including status updates, blogs, and whiteboards.
Finally, it’s important to bring your content to the audience. All of our shows are tied to community websites (YouTube and MySpace in the case of lonelygirl15, and Bebo for KateModern) that are composed of a demographic interested in the content we produce. The members of those websites are young, tech savvy, and interested in short-form, interactive content that fits into their multi-tasking lifestyle.
So, who wants a viral hit? I don’t. I’d choose a sustainable audience over a flash in the pan viral hit any day. “Going viral” can certainly increase awareness of a brand, but the only way to build an audience and create a sustainable business is to do it the old fashioned way: hard work, thorough planning, and persistence.
Courtesy Miles Beckett
Beckett, the founder of lonelygirl15 and KateModern
n1ckola airing on January 26 on the www.n1ckola.pl platform.
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The girl appears to me n1ckola.~mm