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When to toss out the YouTube Playbook

Sometimes you gotta just optimize for your muse.

The way the recommendation system works, each video is matched to the audience most likely to enjoy it. That audience then often subscribes for more of the same… but what if you don’t want to make more of the same?”

OK, confession time.

While I consider myself an expert at YouTube best practices and have taught them for a decade, I didn’t always follow them myself.

As a creator, I’ve always considered myself more of a narrative filmmaker. A director. I never intended to get in front of the camera, and always resisted putting out the same type of content every week. I enjoyed making singular pieces of work more.

And it’s that reason, I fully admit, that my own channel didn’t take off much beyond 100k subs. It’s also why YouTube’s systems were probably totally confused about what my channel was about! The way the recommendation system works, each video is matched to the audience most likely to enjoy it. That audience then often subscribes for more of the same… but what if you don’t want to make more of the same?

What if you want to use your channel as an experimental film ground, and try all different types of content?

YouTube creator Hallease


This is what I found refreshing about the channel of YouTube filmmaker, Hallease.

She is an indie writer/director who started her channel in 2009. She vlogs, she livestreams, she makes Shorts, gives interviews, tours her apartment, and of course, she uploads her scripted films.

You may not see her at the top of the YouTube views charts at the moment, but thanks to her YouTube channel, she is a professional filmmaker.

I asked Hallease to give us artistic types some advice for operating on YouTube when you don’t want to follow the rulebook, and she had these thoughts below.

You define what success looks like on the platform.

We all want to grow, sure, but some of my biggest producing and filmmaking opportunities have come from just existing on YouTube – not being big. You don’t need a lot of people to watch, you just need a few decision makers to watch.

For example, I was in the second cohort for YouTube Creators For Change in 2018. Essentially, YouTube gave filmmaking grants to creators to combat hate speech and Xenophobia on their channels by making content discussing different topics. It was a global program, and I was only 1 of 5 creators based in the United States. I got this opportunity when my channel was at around 13,000 subscribers. So, very small.

My point is, you define what success means on the platform. Call me old school if you’d like, but I still see YouTube, first and foremost, as a place to broadcast yourself. Traditional Hollywood has a lot of gatekeeping involved and so for me, YouTube provided a space to create and showcase my work.

Thumbnails and Titles will always matter.

Marketing matters. Period. In the same way we see a film poster that intrigues us and want to learn more, or get hyped for a trailer for the next MCU movie. It all matters. Think of your channel as a mini-network (because it basically is). Try to market your videos with an engaging thumbnail and title that will draw people in. For my web series, This Coulda Been An Email I’ve been utilizing the premiering features of YouTube to build hype and watch live with my community. Don’t be afraid to experiment.

With my Tryna Be Somebody video podcast, I decided to experiment with working with an artist (Temi Coker) for each cover of season 1 – just to shake things up visually. It’s longer form content so I already know only my core audience is going to watch those videos. I’ve met a lot of filmmakers who just “throw it on YouTube” and use the platform more as a place to share a digital screener link. Think more abundantly. You really should think of it as a world wide release of your work because most festivals do now anyway and you’re immediately disqualified from entering if you distribute it on YouTube first [eye roll]. YouTube offers easy and immediate exposure.

You define consistency. Just remember it’s a long game.

There is no secret sauce to growth. Trust me. I’ve been on YouTube since 2009 and haven’t hit 100k subscribers. Consistency really does matter, but here’s the thing – you define consistency. Once upon a time I had a publicly known upload schedule. I’ll never do that again. Too hard to maintain with my other (not my channel) production work.

Consistency for me is roughly every 7 days, you’ll see a new video. There’s no specific day. No time. No nothing. Sometimes I post more than every 7 days and sometimes that’s all I can do. I’ve defined consistency for myself and I’m sticking to it. Maybe it’s 2x a week for you. Maybe it’s 1x bi-weekly. Figure it out for yourself.

To that end, Tryna Be Somebody and the StumbleWell Video Podcast are not on my channel to grow it. They’re there for consistency. They’re easy to film, produce and edit, and they keep my watch time up.

Think about other formats that can help you be consistent. Like, whenever I move, I do an apartment/house tour. It brings new viewers to my channel, and then hopefully those viewers stick around and see the wide breadth of other content on my channel and stick around to eventually enjoy and value the podcasts.

I know this because a few times a year, I ask folks why they subscribed. It never fails, people will say things like, “I subscribed for the hair videos, but stayed for the vlogumentaries,” or, “I subscribed for the marriage podcast, but stayed for the filmmaking tutorials,” or more recently, “I subbed for the house plant content but now I just like you.”

I used to tell my YouTube Partner Manager, “I do have a niche, the niche is me! There’s only one me.” And she’d laugh and say “it’ll be a long road to 100k for you.” Both of us are right.