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Part 2: Creating a digital content strategy

For creators of digital content on platforms such as YouTube, a high level of multitasking is required as a channel or series grows in popularity and views.

Quick read

Content creators also become small business owners, as they continue to make videos for their platform, but also juggle managing business strategies and models, ad revenue, merchandising, branding and licensing. Oh, and the real kicker: time management. And this in order to build income streams or secure partnerships that could take their content to the next level.

In Part #2 of the Australians Go Viral series, we go down the rabbit hole of how two different content creators are building and maintaining their following, staying authentic to their brand, creating new business opportunities, and piecing it all together to create sustainable careers.

Each interview is broken into three sections:

  1. Who (the interviewees’ background)
  2. The strategy (digital strategies for releasing content, maximising audiences and building brands)
  3. Sponsorship and ad revenue (incorporating sponsorship and creating revenue streams)

Thanks to The Katering Show producer Tamasin Simpkin and SketchShe writer/director/producer/co-star Shae-Lee Shackleford for sharing with us their own unique approaches to managing their work online.

Some key takeaways include:

  • Figure out the goal and adjust expectations on the number of views accordingly: not everything is going to be a viral hit.
  • Create a digital marketing strategy, the aim being to tip the YouTube algorithms so the content becomes a trending video.
  • Keep up the social media and interaction with fans long after the launch.
  • Ad revenue on YouTube is often a trickle rather than a wave of income but not if the video goes viral for individual YouTubers.
  • If the content features music under copyright that cannot be used for free, it will either be muted or the ad revenue will revert to the owner of the music.

For more detail, read on.

The Katering Show series 1

THE KATERING SHOW

WHO

<h6>Tamasin Simpkin</h6><p><em>The Katering Show</em> producer</p>
Tamasin Simpkin

The Katering Show producer

Producer Tamasin Simpkin and writers/stars Kate McLennan and Kate McCartney (who both also co-directed season one of The Katering Show) started out by crowd-funding the web series Bleak through Pozible. It gave them a budget of $10,000 to create the four-part series, which had episodes ranging from three to six minutes. They used Bleak as proof of their skills as creators and applied for multiplatform funding at Screen Australia with a new web series The Katering Show. They were successful and secured a budget of $150,000.

“That seems so crazy now,” says Simpkin, referring to how that money had to be stretched to cover the first season.

Season one premiered on YouTube on February 10, 2015 and episodes such as this Thermomix one became a viral hit (it currently has 2.3 million views). Off the back of this success they were approached by companies including US streaming service Fullscreen and national broadcaster ABC.

“That was the beauty of it: we had people approaching us that wanted to licence the show rather than us having to go chase people down,” Simpkin says. ABC commissioned a second series of The Katering Show with slightly longer episodes of between eight and 12 minutes, and it again got Screen Australia funding.

But working with the ABC presented some unique differences, says Simpkin: “It was quite interesting to go from having something on YouTube where it’s yours globally all at once, to season two, where we had an ABC iview exclusive period and it went to Fullscreen in the US. So it was quite difficult to manage our social media marketing around the show to our fans worldwide when a lot of them couldn’t see it yet.”

Season 2 became the most watched ABC iview original series ever, and ABC has since commissioned a full-length series called Get Krack!n from the team.

Simpkin says there are a few key things to keep in mind for emerging content creators.

“One: figure out what you consider success is, so that you know what your aim is."

So is it a proof of concept? Are you trying to build and prove there’s an audience for your videos, so you can jump into TV? Or do you want this to be your full-time career on YouTube? Simpkin suggests you figure out what you want, and adjust expectations for views accordingly. Not everything is going to be a viral hit.

“For season one of Katering the intent was we wanted to make more of that show. We wanted it to do well enough on YouTube and prove that it had an audience so we could continue the conversation, whether we went down the network route or decided to go for sponsorship. Also to prove the quality of the writing and the production values of what we were making. But then obviously it went even better than we could have expected and it changed the parameters of what our success was slightly.”

Her second piece of advice concerns marketing and distribution. “Because it is a whole other production on top of the actual show. It’s worth finding someone who’s done it and just having a chat.”

“And three, know that in the online space there’s no completely wrong or right way to do things. For example, we released all of season one at once. The logic behind that was we only had a limited amount of ad spend so if we were pushing people to our YouTube channel we wanted all the videos to be there so people could watch them back to back. But at the same time, others would argue if you do it weekly then you’re encouraging subscribers rather than people just coming and bingeing, and that’s how you build a fanbase.

“For pretty much everything online there’s an argument for doing things a certain way, which makes it hard. But it also means you can choose and it’s all a learning experience.”

THE STRATEGY

If you’re making content for YouTube, Simpkin can’t emphasise enough the importance of marketing when it comes to building your audience and brand.

YouTube has a Creator Academy that gives content creators tips to make videos stand out, whether it’s by adding a subscribe button or having trailers on landing page.

For The Katering Show season one, the team created a digital marketing strategy that included buying advertising around the launch on 10 February, 2015. They put a banner ad on Reddit, Facebook ads and paid to have their videos prioritised on YouTube during that time.

“We even had it come up as a pre-roll ad with season one at one point,” she says. “There was this one person who said, ‘I came here to watch a Dr Phil video and this came on … best ad I’ve ever seen’.

The reason behind the ad spend around the launch?

“You want to push your videos as hard as you can in that first week because of the algorithms on YouTube. You want it to get trending because then it comes up as a suggested video and features on trending websites. One thing about the internet is, if it turns up on one trending website, the same article is mirrored across hundreds of websites,” she says.

“We made it onto the front page of the Reddit video page. And we got on the front page of YouTube for the top videos in Australia.”

Simpkin says in film and television, publicity is ramped up in the lead-up to the film’s release or the show airing. In their experience, web series work in reverse (Read how writer/director/producer Julie Kalceff from Starting From Now built their audience here).

“We realised doing season one that there was no point in pushing it before it came out because no one really knew who the Kates were. So if they read an article the week before it came out, the chances of them remembering when it would launch and then searching for it were really slim.

“With a web series, as least when it’s new, the publicity push begins on launch day and from that point on. That’s when you want to be on the radio station or in articles online so people hearing about it can look it up (straight away).”

But the marketing shouldn’t stop there.

The tail for web series long. Someone today could only just be discovering season one of The Katering Show.

“When we went to season one we had no established audience but with season two we already had a following on social media and they’re (basically) your direct marketing people: if they like the show, they’ll go on Facebook and tell everyone about it.”

She says online you have an “amazing opportunity” to interact with these fans.

“There’s the comments section on YouTube videos and we also have Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and an e-newsletter, which are all little productions in themselves in terms of coming up with all the content and sharing things on a regular basis.”

Because people who have been fans from the start need a reason to keep subscribing or they could be lost.

“When I’m talking to people who are making web series for the first time, I understand that side can feel like a whole second show in itself. You have to figure out a way to generate enough content to sustain it without making too much work for yourself, so it’s this balancing act.”

And by making additional content for those people who champion the work, it ensures they are still present for the next project.

SPONSORSHIP AND AD REVENUE

“There was a time when we were looking at the sponsorship side but we didn’t go that way. We felt you can’t really be making fun of products if at the same time you’re worried about trying to sell them in a way a company would be happy with,” says Simpkin.

“We did do a little bit of sponsorship but in the end me and the Kates deferred most of our wages to cover the cost (of season one) … Everyone else got paid, but they were on an award.”

She said a small amount of money came through YouTube ads.

“There’s an illusion that YouTubers make all this money just from having videos on YouTube but most are doing it from product placement … You’ll notice they often do reviews in their videos, or outside of their show they do product spots and that’s their income.

“So (for us) it was YouTube ads and then we have some merch (merchandising), which we make more money off than the ads. That doesn’t necessarily suggest you can actually make much off merchandise. It’s just that ads are such a small trickle.”

To make this a sustainable career, they reached an impasse at the end of season one: “It was either we go for the sponsorship side or we go with someone like the ABC to commission it, so we can actually get paid, pay our crew and actually step it up. So that’s the way we went.”

Traffic Jam the Musical

SKETCHSHE

WHO

Together Shae-Lee Shackleford, Lana Kington and Madison Lloyd are SketchShe – an all-female sketch comedy group who rocketed to fame making videos in which they lip sync to popular songs from inside a car.

Their first car video, Mime Through Time, has nearly 39 million views on YouTube and 300 million total views across YouTube and Facebook. It has also been reported by Tubular Labs as one of the most viral videos of all time on Facebook and got them an appearance on US talk show host Ellen in April 2015

Read about the personal cost of and budgets for their videos here.

THE STRATEGY

The trio post two to four videos each month that are usually four minutes maximum. The exception is Traffic Jam The Musical, which was their first attempt at longer-form with seven-minute episodes.

<h6>Shae-Lee Shackleford</h6><p>SketchShe writer/director/producer/co-star</p>
Shae-Lee Shackleford

SketchShe writer/director/producer/co-star

“It is about creating a steady flow of content so you never go too quiet online. That’s been our approach anyway. Everyone does it a little bit differently, but for us, just that consistency is important I think,” Shackleford says.

The day-to-day running of SketchShe makes it feel like a production company more than a YouTube channel.

“We have contractors. We pay our editors … A lot of the guys in Australia we use shoot and edit it for us as well. I sometimes edit things on my phone. And there’s the editor at AwesomenessTV. We’re constantly working project by project.”

AwesomenessTV is the US MCN (multi channel network) that’s part-owned by DreamWorks Animation (a subsidiary of NBCUniversal), which SkethShe signed with in 2016. It’s a move that Shackleford says is paying off.

“An MCN has multiple YouTube channels under their umbrella and then they work with you to help you. In AwesomenessTV’s case with us, they provide production support to help us continue to grow our channel and fanbase, as well as plug us into other opportunities outside of SketchShe. They help to connect you with other YouTubers and influencers. They connected us with Violet Benson who’s got the @daddyissues_ Instagram (3.7m followers).

“Now if we shoot in Los Angeles, they have a producer that helps me and there’s an editor, so they really just kind of provide you with whatever support you need in producing content.”

She says AwesomenessTV isn’t just about cultivating talent: “they’re doing TV series and selling stuff onto places like Hulu.”

SPONSORSHIP AND AD REVENUE

When you turn on account monetisation on YouTube you enable pre-roll ads on YouTube videos, but you also must agree to Google’s ad revenue share for YouTube. And of April 6, 2017, channels with fewer than 10,000 views cannot run ads on their videos.

Shackleford doesn’t think they switched on ads for their very first upload, but did for all the videos after.

“For us we don’t make a great deal of money on our YouTube ad revenue because so much of the revenue from the music that we use, goes to the musicians,” she says of the car videos, which sometimes feature one song (like here), and sometimes feature a dozen (like here).

She says one of several things happen when you use popular music.

In one case, the algorithms on YouTube found a song was under copyright and because the owners of the music had stipulated it couldn’t be used publicly for free, the entire video was automatically muted.

In another scenario, the owners of the music “allow you to use it, but the revenue goes to them instead of you, which I think is fair enough. It all depends on who comes to claim it too, because it’s a mashup.”

Shackleford says ads can be very profitable for individual YouTubers but the more people involved in the channel, the more the revenue has to be divvied up. When SketchShe post a video that has no music, their percentage of ad revenue is split between the three of them.

“If you’re an individual and you do have a viral video it can be great. It can be thousands and thousands of dollars. I think it’s worth having them on there. I think people are so used to it (ads) now, but I would suggest against the 30-second ads that you can’t skip. You don’t want to lose anybody because they couldn’t be bothered to wait.”

In the same ways audiences are more forgiving when it comes to pre-roll advertisements, Shackleford also believes they’re forgiving when it comes to branded content too – so long as it feels authentic to the group. SketchShe have been recently associated with brands including Southern Cross Austereo and an #iRebel campaign for the Australian launch of Rogue One.

“Sometimes a brand will come to us and be quite rigid in the way they want to make something and that just doesn’t work for our audience, so we have to say ‘thanks but no thanks’. Whereas somebody else will give us more free rein, or have an idea that really aligns with what our audience would be used to seeing from us, and then it’s just win-win for everyone.

“We have made the mistake in the past where if you do something too branded people just switch off. They’re just not interested. There was a time when the online audience was really anti anything branded and would crucify you. But I think they’re realising you have to be able to pay rent and they’re a lot more forgiving…

“SketcheShe is all about fun and empowerment and being an individual and not feeling like you have to be too perfect all the time.

“So as long as we hit all of our core values within the videos, more often than not people just love it.  And we’ve been really lucky that we’ve done branded deal with things that are just so aligned with us – stuff with LipSync Battles, Viacom and other things where it’s just fun and tongue-in-cheek. It’s when you’re able to poke fun at yourselves that’s generally when it does work the best.”