Our Relationship With Online Video is Changing

Recent research from Pew notes that online video, particularly on YouTube, is increasingly becoming a key way that the public informs itself. An embrace of online video could offer a potential opportunity for associations to stand out.

I’m really particular about the way that I watch videos on YouTube. If I stumble upon a guilty pleasure, I’ll make a point to delete it from my history because I know it might skew the balance of what shows up in the future.

That’s in no small part because the algorithm’s strength is that it pulls up content of very specific niches, and spending too much time with the wrong video can lead the algorithm in the wrong direction. So that video of the guy who gave away $30,000 in tips at various restaurants (for glasses of water, mostly, I might add) might have been fun to watch, but I’m removing that from my list, because I know it tells YouTube I’m into videos I don’t actually want to see on a regular basis. (My usual watching habits, in case you’re wondering, lean heavily into retro gaming, DIY, and tech history.)

This is an interesting user behavior, of course, but I think it also speaks to something that a recent Pew survey just highlighted: We’re relying on online video in new ways. We want our videos to be longer, to be more in-depth, and to teach us things that we didn’t previously know. In fact, 87 percent of respondents to Pew’s survey reported that they consider YouTube important as a way to help them figure out how to do new things, with 51 percent of users saying it’s very important for that purpose.

And YouTube is an important news source as well for many, with roughly a third of the site’s heavy users stating it’s an important source for helping to learn about the world around them. The percentage is less for less-heavy users of the service, but it nonetheless highlights the way those who are most passionate about something are quickest to embrace its value.

And like I pointed out above, we rely quite heavily on YouTube’s algorithm to help us find the next thing to watch. Of course, this cuts multiple ways: The algorithm has a natural tendency to push users toward more popular videos, along with longer ones. If you lean into the algorithm too much—say, by watching a lot of videos in which people give out $30,000 in tips—you might find yourself watching some incredibly mainstream videos, which often tend to be of two types: Videos targeting young children or popular music videos. (Pew actually tested this as a part of its study.)

You might also find yourself running into a whole lot of misinformation or risky things—63 percent of respondents say that they see false information their feed at least some of the time, while 61 percent say they see dangerous or troubling behavior.

Beyond Going Viral

But I think that even despite its clear weaknesses, for many users the benefits of YouTube as a medium (and online video in general) are pretty clear—it’s the perfect way to dive deep into the niche, to learn larger lessons, and to build an engaged audience.

And I think associations are well-suited to take advantage of these trends; just like many YouTube channels, their target audience is relatively narrow, but is really into learning new things. A recent Community Brands study found that professionals are moving away from joining associations simply because they work in a specific industry but are looking for ways to grow professionally. They’re looking to learn, and they want more educational opportunities.

You can have a major success story with just a few thousand views, if the few thousand people who are watching are the ones you want to reach.

“The landscape is becoming more competitive, as newer learning formats grow in popularity among members, such as short videos and webcasts, on-demand learning courses, and mobile learning opportunities,” the report stated.

(It’s like the study was written about YouTube!)

It’s also worth remembering that the highly engaged communities of Patreon were born from the YouTube community. While I don’t think a lot of the elements of crowdfunding are specifically what associations are always looking for in online video, I do think that the way that these tools help build relationships over time are very much the kind of strategies associations want. A good video can make a great introduction.

We’re past the era where a video has to go absolutely massive to make a meaningful impact. Kony 2012 happened nearly seven years ago at this point, and that video certainly did a lot for Invisible Children. Likewise, the Ice Bucket Challenge was definitely a huge win for the ALS Association four years ago. But YouTube hasn’t stayed still since then, and neither should your online video strategy. There is so much content out there, and so many types of ways that people consume video, that you can have a major success story with just a few thousand views, if the few thousand people who are watching are the ones you want to reach.

Online video isn’t easy, but given the right strategy and the right rhythm, it can truly be a new avenue for engagement, online learning, and storytelling. And it doesn’t have to go viral to be a worthy experiment.

Those algorithms may swing left sometimes, but they can also ensure the right people are finding you.

(Tero Vesalainen/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a senior editor for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. MORE

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