The Science Behind YouTube | Part One

“10 tips on how to get more views!” – “Be noticed on YouTube!” – “This YouTuber says…”

You don’t have to wander around social media platforms for too long before you are bombarded with advice on how to get more views, more followers, more online social influence. The cover of the February 2014 UK issue of Glamour magazine is emblazoned with “Secrets of the YouTube millionaires – And how you can be one too.”

YouTube began in 2005 as a sharing platform for user-generated media, from home videos to how-to videos, as well as video diaries, called ‘vlogs.’ As comedy, beauty gurus, and vloggers gained ground, educators began to realize the potential of YouTube as a teaching tool and a way to reach students around the world.

At the 2012 YouTube conference VidCon, an entire session was devoted to education on YouTube and shortly thereafter a system to help nascent science and education vloggers create better content was set up. Increasingly, science and education channels are becoming more prevalent and science museums and other institutions are starting to become canny.

But what really makes someone want to watch a science video on YouTube? And beyond that, what makes someone watch an educational science video? There isn’t a magic formula. But there are some elements that might nudge it into the limelight.

  1. Forget about getting views. Sure, you might want them, but if you’re setting out to make something simply to get people to watch it, YouTube isn’t the place to be putting it up. Viewers sniff out insincerity and shy away from it. They want something that feels truthful.
  2. Make something you’d want to watch. Don’t expect people to watch something just because you’ve made it. Be thoughtful, be funny, be intriguing… Just make sure that the end product is something you’d want to watch.
  3.  Be humble. Plenty of big name companies have tried to make it on YouTube – but they’ve either had to restructure or pull in already well-known YouTubers to keep their channels afloat. Part of this returns to the idea of sincerity. Viewers on YouTube are actively choosing to watch a video—if they feel talked down to, or that the video is arrogant, they’ll simply click away.

Plenty of science and education channels on YouTube are getting this right.  For example, you can check out,

The Brain Scoop, for natural history content

Vi Hart, for art and math fusions

Sexplanations, for frank discussions of sexuality

and SciShow, for a variety of science content

They might not get the views of the ‘YouTubelebrities’—but they are gaining an interesting and engaged audience, which can be far more valuable. Many of these channels have adopted a pay-what-you-want subscription method through Subbable to allow viewers to pay what they think a show is worth to watch ads free.

In the end, what all that comes down to is making ‘good content.’ YouTube is about putting a piece of yourself online; as with any piece of art, it should reflect a story you want to tell. If you want to learn more about how to create successful YouTube videos, then head to Part II of this post to learn tips and tricks that will take your video a long way on the YouTubesphere.

Janine Myszka is currently studying for an MSc in Science Communication at Imperial College London.