How to YouTube with success: six tips for optimizing online videos.


IN SEPTEMBER 2009, A GROUP of communications students at the

University of Quebec in Montreal (UQAM) worked on a fun project as part

of orientation week. All 172 of them played a role in a lip-synch video

shot in just one take (known as a “lipdub”), which was

produced by seniors Luc-Olivier Cloutier and Marie-Eve Hebert. In the

four-minute video, students lip-synch to the Black Eyed Peas’ tune

“I Gotta Feeling” while touring campus facilities. A couple of

weeks after it was shot in Montreal and then uploaded to YouTube, the

video was picked up by CNN and some excerpts were played on the air. At

that point, it turned viral and reached a million views in about a week,

less than a month after it was first uploaded.

This unscripted success story is a dream come true for the

French-speaking institution, highlighting the quality and creativity of

its students to the Montreal community, but also to the world. It also

demonstrates how powerful YouTube videos can be when it comes to

promoting your institution to web users, traditional media or even the

general public.

Online video has become a great way to reach wide audiences at a

minimal cost–or even at no cost. The reason is very simple: lots of

people watch videos on YouTube.

According to a survey conducted by the Pew Internet and American

Life Project in April 2009, 62 percent of adult internet users have

watched videos online, compared to 33 percent in December 2006. The vote

of confidence is even stronger with internet users aged 18 to 29, with

89 percent of them saying they watch content on video-sharing sites,

with 36 percent doing so on a typical day. In August 2009, comScore

Video Metrix, which measures online video activity, recorded the largest

U.S. audience ever for online videos, with 161 million internet users

and a total of 25 billion views during that month. Close to 40 percent

of these views were logged on YouTube by more than 120 million people in

the United States.


While there is no recipe for creating and producing a YouTube

success story similar to the lipdub video from the UQAM students, you

can do a few things to increase the chances of having your

institution’s YouTube videos be found, liked, and shared as widely

as possible.

1. Get listed on YouTube EDU.

If your YouTube channel isn’t listed yet on the portal

dedicated to channels from colleges and universities around the world,

just fill out the online application form and get this item off your

to-do list right away. While the rules to become an educational partner

at YouTube were not clearly spelled out before the launch of YouTube EDU

in March 2009, they are now very simple and easy: The program is open to

qualifying two- and four-year degree-granting public and private

colleges and universities.

Your university channel needs to be set up first and should include

educational, not just promotional, videos before you apply to YouTube

EDU. Once your channel is added, it will stand a better chance of being

found within the directory, and the institution’s productions will

have a shot at being featured on the EDU homepage as a most viewed video

for the current month–or even on YouTube’s all-time honors’

roll–and get even more traffic as a direct result.

2. Make videos that are easy to share.

Leave “embedding” turned on for your videos so external

sites may embed them. YouTube blockbusters get watched within the

website itself, but they don’t get all their eyeballs from there.

Most of the time, a successful video is going to start (or continue) its

road to success on blogs that invite their readers to watch the video

right there.

In a recent HigherEd Experts webinar about the topic, Elizabeth

Giorgi, web communications manager for the University of Minnesota News

Service, explained that she pitched “The Science of Watchmen”

to blogs as soon as it was posted on YouTube. The six-minute

video–featuring Jim Kakalios, consultant for Watchmen and professor at

the University of Minnesota, explaining the science used in the

movie–got 1.5 million views between February and April 2009.

3. Choose keyword-rich titles, descriptions, and tags for the


Like the web itself, YouTube is a world based on searching,

sharing, and a bit of serendipity. Only a small set of viewers will come

right to your channel to check out your latest videos. Even fewer will

subscribe to receive notifications of your latest productions. But the

majority of prospective viewers will either watch videos recommended by

their friends (or by YouTube in the “related videos” box) or

listed in the search results for keywords of interest. That’s the

reason why it’s important to put some thought into the writing of

video titles, descriptions, and tags.

Try to place yourself in the shoes of your targeted viewers: What

would they search for to find this type of video? What is the most

compelling piece of content in each one? Be sure to select a catchy,

keyword-rich title to optimize your chances of being found. Don’t

just use the name of the person on camera as a video title unless she is

well-known beyond the walls of your institution or you want the video to

be seen mainly by an internal audience.

4. Produce context-rich videos.

Unless your videos include the entire context necessary to

understand and enjoy them, they won’t be shared or embedded by

viewers. It is crucial to keep in mind that these videos should (and

will) have a life of their own outside of your own YouTube channel. They

can appear in search results on YouTube or Google. They can also be

embedded in blogs or other websites. As a result, they should contain at

least some element of branding, as well as the name of your institution

and a link to your website in the end credits. Duke University News

Service has done a great job at branding its online videos with

consistent intro/end credit screens and audio announcements, making it

easy to recognize any of its productions on YouTube or elsewhere.

One caution: Avoid uploading bits and pieces of video

work-in-progress projects to YouTube without changing the privacy

settings to “private.” If it’s not meant for

everybody’s eyes yet, it shouldn’t be accessible to all on


5. Don’t ignore your most fervent video fans–and critics.

Most higher ed institutions use YouTube as a media repository or a

showcase for their online videos. They rarely interact with the viewers

who leave comments about their videos–even when they include direct

questions, praise, criticism, or suggestions. Even though YouTube is

home to some wild crowds and the kingdom of quasi-anonymous users, it

doesn’t mean that all should be ignored–especially not the most

engaged users who rate and comment on the videos they watch.

If you decide to leave the comments open (this is the default

setting), be cautious in your replies, as you would on blogs or Facebook

pages. Just don’t ignore the feedback from your community. Correct

facts, be helpful, and don’t antagonize viewers with your own

comments. Also, be sure that comment voting is enabled, so the community

can police itself by voting down the worst (and in favor of the best)


6. Add closed-captioning.

Closed-captioning is the right thing to do. By offering synched

transcripts of video dialogs or voice-over comments, you make your

YouTube videos accessible to viewers with hearing disabilities. This

also provides convenience to people who need to turn off the audio on

their computers or who aren’t totally fluent in English. Last, it

can increase the findability of your videos by attaching a keyword-rich

text to them.

Depending on the topics of your videos and your strategic goals,

you might have your captions translated into different languages to give

even more international mileage to the institution’s YouTube

videos. Captioning YouTube videos is easy and free to do with

CaptionTube. Other software or services can also be used. There is

really no reason for any institution to bypass closed-captioning.



Higher Ed TV (reviews, tips, and more about online videos),

“The Science of Watchmen” video,

UQAM lipdub video, YouTube,

YouTube Duke News channel YouTube EDU,

YouTube EDU most-viewed videos,

Karine Joly is the web editor behind, a blog

about web marketing public relations, and technologies. She is

also the founder of the professional development online community