The YouTube Snowball

I should hit 4,000 subscribers today on YouTube. I'm not bragging and I'm not saying this is a huge number, because it's not. What I have noticed, however, is that this number that has been increasing exponentially and it demands a little attention.

The Frugal Filmmaker channel officially started on February 7, 2010. I worked hard, uploaded (what I felt) was good content, tagged appropriately and tried to spread the word on forums about each new video I made and how it could benefit filmmakers with only a little cash to work with. It paid off, and I met my one year goal of getting 1,000 subscribers. Sure, I wasn't Freddie Wong who scored a mind-blowing one million subs in one year, but it was a modest success and a goal met.

What happened next shocked me. Three months later, I had another 1,000 subscribers. Two months after that, another 1,000. I am now on the cusp of one more thousand (for a total of 4,000 subs), which as taken under a month. This phenomenon is very exciting and can be repeated by anyone.

The continued increase in attention (which is showing no signs of stopping, but has to plateau sooner or later) reminds me of the "snowball rolling downhill" or even compound interest. Once initiated, you can't stop it. The snowball will continue to get bigger (as long as the hill exists) and interest will always accrue (as long as there is money in your account). It's the same with web viewership.

I have learned a few things that may help you if you decide to embark on the same path that I have, and just want to get started. I'm no expert, but some things seem abundantly clear and need to be shared.

Create content people are literally looking for. I can't stress this enough. YouTube is the #2 search engine on the internet (behind it's owner, Google). Make videos that you would search for. One reason I started the channel was that I couldn't find a cheap alternative to a $20 retail light stand on YouTube. So I built one, and posted the video. Even if I chose not to make any more videos, content that people invariably search for will get hits. You can't stop it.

Tag appropriately. Obviously you want your title to completely explain what your video is about, but tagging with proper search terms (you do this when you upload) is critical. These terms are what you are hoping people are searching for. On top of specific phrases (light stand) you should also come up with a generic phrase that brings people to your videos, no matter what the subject. I use the tags "how to make build cheap diy camera" on every video I post. Use YouTube's Keyword Tool to see what people are searching for in your category.

Contribute regularly. The general rule of thumb is that you create a consistent release schedule (weekly, bi-monthly) and stick to it. Make your viewer expect content on a certain day of the week or month and reward them when they show up to consume it. My life is such that I can't seem to pull this off, but people are still watching. I seem to churn something out every three weeks. And not on the same day (though Wednesdays seem to be working best). If you can, do the regular release thing. If you're like me, make sure something comes out regularly (even every three weeks). Reward your faithful fans with something they want. Remember, subscribers can choose to be alerted by email when you post a new show.

Work your butt off. Creating a web show with any level of success is like having a second job. Making videos takes time and effort and starting from scratch with no fan base means it will take time to let people know you exist and have something to show them. I'm a big believer in technical quality, but the truth is that the material needs to be quality. Whatever you are making needs to be worthwhile. Make sure your instructional videos teach people something. Make sure your comedy makes them laugh. Make your videos something you would want to watch. Set a standard for yourself and work hard to meet that standard with every video. Then raise the bar.

This is just the tip of the iceberg and is solely YouTube centered. There are lots of ways to market your show (even if you have no marketing budget) to get attention, but that's another article. Remember Dori from Finding Nemo? Her adage of "just keep swimming" totally applies here. You "just keep posting" and posting right and the numbers will come. Don't stop. Create a good snowball and you won't be able to hinder its growth. Ever.


mantic59 said…
Congrats!! Coincidentally I just cracked the 10,000 subscriber mark yesterday! I would add "humor" to your list.
Unknown said…
Hey scott, thanx for your input to the frugal filmmaking world..

few weeks ago i build ur 5$ stablilizer and since then im loving it!, and guess what..those PVC pipes are pretty cheap in India, i was able to make that in just 2.5$. Im amazed!
Again thanx for ur hardwork.
And with ur article on snowball only two words..Im Inspired.

i'll definitely make a damn short sketch tht i've wished for so long..

Thanks :)
Kyle said…
Congratulations! I will be starting up my own web series in the next few days and have been a follower of yours for a few months. This entry really encourages me to keep even though this is really hard work. I've also built several of your designs and love them. Thanks a bunch!
Gabi said…
Scott - thanks a TON for this encouraging post! It keeps me re-visiting my regular video posting

I have about hmm... 3 of your projects in the build. You are extremely helpful!

You are so right and it's fantastic that it's working well for you! What you are doing is valuable to so many people. I love being cheap. I love throwing my cheapness in peoples faces too (all in fun of course). I love the challenge of creating good work for as cheap as possible without exploiting others. Your videos and website gives inspiration when the tremendous pressure to spend more to appear "professional" is stifling. Making films cheaply allowed me to make more films and with each film I made, I learned new real-world skills and encountered more problems I could solve for the next time. Cheers!