Ryan Welton

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The secret to small-channel YouTube growth? More about ‘subscriber’ than ‘creator’

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Combing through my October reports on YouTube, and one thing is clear: I did something right last month.

I’m a small-channel creator on YouTube. I have 755 subscribers as of this morning, and while we’re all chasing the elusive 1,000 mark for monetization (which is only part of that equation), we’re all chasing growth.

I’ve tried YouTube’s ad capabilities. It’s good for garnering mass amounts of views on the cheap, views from real people — but views without serious targeting and views with virtually no engagements.

We forget sometimes that YouTube is both a search engine and a social network.

One of the tactics Gary Vaynerchuk has always preached relative to Instagram is the ‘grind’ required to build audience by being a good platform participant — meaning that to grow an audience that provides your channel with real, quality engagement, you have to take the first step. You have to get into the comments.

You can’t just create for your platform.

You have to use it like a madman.

For the month of October, I got 4,165 views on youtube.com/ryanweltonmusic — up from 1,919, 1,418 and 2,053 the previous three months. On YouTube, however, “watch time” is the more important metric. My watch time for October was 4,207 minutes, up from 3,108, 1,703 and 3,288 the previous three months, respectively.

There are a couple of ways to increase watch time, the most obvious of which is to drive the number of views you get. That could mean creating more videos, more often. Another tactic is to create longer videos. But you can’t just create lengthier videos for the mere sake of doing so: folks won’t watch unless they’re getting value from your content.

Value can be information or entertainment, either or both.

What was a bit odd in my measurements for October was that my average duration-length-per-person was actually down — 1:00 versus 1:37, 1:12 and 1:36 respectively for the three months previous. That’s not as important as watch time overall is because YouTube’s mission is to cause folks to stay on the platform for more time each day.

Makes sense, right?

So, what did I do to drive that? First, I lucked out with a tutorial video. I created a “How to play ‘Rosanna’ by Toto” video that did really well for me. Despite the fact that five people smashed the “dislike” button, more than 1,550 people have watched the video at this point, and it has garnered a lot of minutes of watch time and, I suspect, provided some value to at least some viewers.

It helps to create content often and to create longer-form content. Check, check, check.

But it was what I started doing mid-month that really moved the needle both in terms of views, watch time and subscribes. Oh, let’s talk subscribes for a moment: I gained 28 new subscribers in October, my biggest gain probably ever. The previous three months, it had been -2, +3 and -2.

That felt really stagnant.

What I did was real simple, too. I became a YouTube junkie. I started looking for other musicians and songwriters, identifying compositions and performances I really liked — and then I did something utterly crazy.

I complimented them. Kindness.

So crazy it might work.

If I really liked their content, I subscribed. I didn’t ask for a subscription back, but I did try to provide value in my comment. That might mean that I made them feel good or that I gave them a tip. On one person’s channel, I ended up being their first subscriber. I subscribed, let them know I had done so and then offered some encouragement and a couple YouTube tips.

YouTube is a search engine. Your creations are index-able, and so are your comments.

The subscribes started pouring in.

But you know what else started to happen? I started gaining new YouTube friends. Like every other social media platform on the planet, that’s ultimately what their creators seek — the development of a community of users.

If you’re stuck on YouTube with no growth or slow growth, I’m here to tell you — your challenge might not be all about your content. It might be about how you use the platform. Spending 30 minutes a day participating as a viewer and commenter on other videos will do you a world of wonder on YouTube.

It is guaranteed to work. It’s natural. It’s totally aboveboard — and dare I say, it’s the way we’re supposed to do it all along.

Last but not least, here are my Top 10 videos for the month of October, in order of “watch time:”

youtube-top10-october-2018

YouTube channel update: The YouTube growth struggle is real.

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A few days ago, somebody noted that they enjoyed seeing me play the piano online, and I gave a jumbled nonsensical reply about trying to master YouTube, which is at once the truth but not nearly as effective as just saying, “Why, thank you!

Everything I’ve been doing over the past 4-6 months online, personally, has been about trying to figure out which platforms I could possible master, which I’d want to master and which I should just forget about, personally, not professionally. With work, there are platforms such as Instagram and Twitter that I need to conquer for work purposes, but I’m especially passionate about YouTube.

But, damn, is it a grind these days.

When I started in 2007, it took me a while, and then it kind of blew up. And then I stopped making videos after YouTube started cracking down on cover songs. It’s like my willingness to execute is never matched by a vision for where the platform is going — and in this case, as of March 18, 2018, I’m convinced that YouTube is the new gold rush.

It’s where stars will be made.

It’s where businesses will be made.

It’s where experts will be made.

Even beyond FaceTwitaGram, YouTube is the platform where I’d tell an ambitious person to start their quest. It’s important to do the others to the extent that you can, but YouTube has the biggest upside. Just my opinion.

But I sure have gone nowhere the past six months, although it’s not for lack of trying.

I tried vlogging some piano tutorials.

I tried vlogging about Big Brother.

And I’ve tried doing some personal vlogs.

Oh, and I’ve done more covers of pop songs, old 80s songs and whatever I can knock out pretty quickly, trying to replicate some success I had last year with The Weeknd’s “I Feel It Coming,” which garnered me 13,000-plus views and probably accounted for most of the 100 or so new subscribers I’ve gotten over the past year.

Branching out hasn’t been the answer so far.

So I’m returning to the original niche that propelled me in the late 2000s: smooth jazz or contemporary (c-jazz). When I uploaded “Step To It” in 2007, I had no idea it would soon exceed 160,000 views. Of course, I attribute that mostly to the great sax work of Oklahoma City’s own Chris Hicks. However, I’ve had a modicum of success with other instrumentals.

And I go back to what Gary Vaynerchuck always says about documenting the journey. Well, this is my journey, kind of back to square one in terms of narrowing my scope of YouTube production back to smooth jazz, some covers and personal vlogs, most of which will probably have something to do with music.

I also decided to put a little money behind what I’m doing, so I set up a few $1-per-day ads on four of my most popular songs. I’m not that well versed on what makes a particularly successful AdWords campaign, and the AdWords system doesn’t let me target nearly as narrow as I’d like. For this campaign, which stretches over four songs, I’m only able to target “music lovers.” There is no “likes smooth jazz” selection, although I might be able to associate some demographics with that tendency.

For now, I’m just gathering data and telling you what I’m doing.

Oh, and I figured out how to add a watermark to all the videos on my channel. That was pretty easy, although I’m not sure how effective it will be. And last but not least, here are the songs I’ve put money against. We’ll see how they do after a couple weeks.

And I’ll report back.

“Step To It” by Ryan Welton featuring Chris Hicks


“Nocturnal” by Ryan Welton featuring Chris Hicks


“Cool Like Kelsey” by Ryan Welton


“Vibe” by Ryan Welton featuring Eric Montgomery

 

 

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