The new YouTube: a great new branding and engagement platform, or another (@$&ing community to manage?
How YouTube Became A Community
originally published in MediaPost's Social Media Insider
Hey, community managers, the good news is that you have a new community to manage. Of course, that’s also the bad news.
YouTube has always been a funny site to include in social media plans. In the past, it hadn’t felt that social. Unlike Facebook, Twitter, and other explicitly social properties, it’s possible to use YouTube with absolutely no social interaction. For instance, if you’re interested in finding more coverage about the White House’s proposed extension of payroll tax cuts, you can search YouTube and find footage from the White House, Reuters, Fox News, and other established media outlets. Or perhaps you’re a normal human being and you just want to see a music video you heard about, or get a walk-through for a challenging Angry Birds level. In those cases, you’re still just there to find a video, watch it, and move on.
Sure, user-generated content has always been central to YouTube’s success, but even that is often used for broadcasting rather than interaction. And the first widely recognized breakout hit on YouTube, “Lazy Sunday,” was a “Saturday Night Live” sketch (it was shortly thereafter removed from YouTube; instead, you have to go to Hulu or NBC.com to watch it).
YouTube can rightfully counter that it’s tremendously social.  Its stat roundup notes that 150 years of YouTube videos are watched daily on Facebook, and 100 million people take a social action on YouTube weekly. With an audience of 800 million unique users, it’s an increasingly social audience. Yet it never really felt like a place for community. It always felt like a way to distribute content — a channel.
The latest updates to YouTube change everything. There are a couple reasons for this in particular:
1) The homepage is entirely designed around subscriptions, whether that’s to people, publishers, or brands. Your experience on YouTube now heavily depends on these content creators and curators, whose updates appear in a central column reminiscent of Facebook’s News Feed. In my center column as I write this, I see updates from my friends: Jeremiah Owyang shared a video on Google+, Kevin Nalts uploaded a new short, and Walt Ribeiro commented on a music video. These are mixed in with uploads from NASA, Old Spice, Coca-Cola, and National Geographic Channel.
2) As a content producer on YouTube, it’s no longer just about uploading videos. You can share videos with comments, or even post textual status updates. These are far more social and conversational features, rather than before when it was solely about broadcasting your own content. There are more ways to engage audiences.
Granted, this could just turn YouTube into a new form of an interactive program guide. But the more time I spend with the new YouTube, the more I’m sucked into it because of the social features. If Coca-Cola publishes a video and I like the brand, sure, I’ll want to get those updates; as they’re a client, I’m especially interested. If a friend shares a Coca-Cola video, though, then it will really stand out, and I’ll be far more likely to watch it.
Now this leads to a whole series of contorted pros and cons and benefits and challenges. As a consumer, I’m now more motivated to return to YouTube to see what other people are sharing, and possibly share more videos myself. But a lot of the videos are being shared on Facebook and Google+, so then maybe I don’t need to spend any additional time at youtube.com. Then again, there’s so much noise on other social networks that I’ll need to go to YouTube’s homepage to see what my friends are sharing. But do I really need to see more content? As an added hurdle, it’s harder to find and add friends on YouTube than it is on just about any other network.
I don’t know where I’ll net out as a user, but the fact that people can make all of these decisions about YouTube is a strong indicator that community managers need to pay attention. Brands that are already active on YouTube now have a chance to see which approaches attract more viewers, subscribers, and interactions. Should a brand upload more videos? What about sharing more of others’ videos? What about creating new playlists? Do textual updates generate any responses or make a difference in some way? It’s not clear, and it will likely vary based on the brand and how consumers relate to that brand. Yet those brands active on YouTube can start finding out what works. Brands that aren’t involved with YouTube may be more motivated to try it.
All of this means that community managers have more work to do. Given how much demand there is for their services right now, I’m not sure how many are thrilled by the news. They should relish knowing that all of the Web is readily migrating to their worldview, with every site a community just waiting to be managed.