YouTube: Communication for the Masses?

One of the most popular phenomena of the Internet age, YouTube provides a means for ordinary people to connect with each other like never before, speaking out on the things that matter to them, helping others learn new skills or creating their own entertainment. It’s something everyone has become so used to that sometimes it’s hard to get a clear perspective on just how useful it can be. Taking a step back allows some interesting questions to emerge.

Who watches YouTube?

First launched in 2005, YouTube grew rapidly to the point where it now reaches a billion unique users every month, with its most popular video, Psy’s “Gangnam Style”, now having been seen by over 2 billion people. It’s the single most effective way to reach 18 to 34 year olds in North America, and its users watch a total of over 6 billion hours of videos per month. What’s more, over the past two years, that figure has doubled annually.


Industries using YouTube

Unsurprisingly, YouTube is enormously popular with the entertainment industry. It’s used for promoting new music releases and tours, and though big companies dominate, it has also provided a platform for the likes of Cimorelli and Sam Tsui. The film industry also makes extensive use of YouTube for trailers, clips and other promotional material, which is eagerly passed around by fans.
Alongside these high profile activities, many other companies are making an impact within their specific fields. In finance, for instance, there’s a lot of talk about Fisher Investments because of its helpful career videos, and Home Depot’s DIY tutorials rescue many an enthusiast from domestic disaster. The entertainment power of “Will it Blend?” has won Blendtec a legion of fans, while Nike’s sporting insights make their YouTube channel a must for basketball and soccer fans.

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Different types of YouTube video

There are many different ways to use YouTube. The most successful content posted there is entertainment, particularly music videos and short films featuring cute or amusing animals. Look a little deeper, however, and there’s a whole lot more, including the following:

  • Education – as well as big organizations like EdX and the Open University using YouTube to host tutorials, many private individuals and businesses use it to share their wisdom, and the likes of the TED Foundation and the Royal Society use it to give the public access to lectures of a sort once seen only by a small elite.
  • Information – when people struggle with new software, run into difficulty with DIY or want to find the perfect way to serve duck at a dinner party, YouTube comes to the rescue. It’s a fantastic place to find manuals and simple how-to guides.
  • Marketing – from hit viral videos to niche business-to-business communication, YouTube is a marketer’s dream. It takes a bit of know-how to use it effectively, but it means that armed with this, plus creativity and intelligence, even small startups can compete for attention with the biggest in the business – and do so successfully.
  • Reportage – YouTube gives the public access to a much more varied news environment, with professionals and citizen journalists reporting from around the world. It enables viewers to access perspectives they wouldn’t otherwise see, and it’s particularly useful for those interested in broadcasting or viewing niche news such as football team news.
  • Community building – sometimes, people with niche interests or characteristics, such as a shared health problem, are scattered far and wide, with too few in any one area to provide meaningful mutual support. YouTube can bring them together and significantly improve their lives. It can also provide a useful connection point for local communities.

The future of YouTube

How is it possible to tell what the next big thing on YouTube will be? Some companies do it by using big data from search engines to find out which questions people are asking the most about a particular topic, then tailoring their planned YouTube content so it answers those questions and gets in just as the trend is taking off. Others use big computer power to track patterns across videos ostensibly about different subjects, such as the predominant colors used or the style of background music, in order to spot trends that may go on to coalesce in one area.

Companies that can’t afford to do this for themselves (i.e., most of them) can buy advice on trends or can simply get creative on their own. A fresh idea, well executed, will always make an impression.

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