January 30, 2008
YouTube: (De)Coding Culture Online (2 of 2)

Based on the observations from our YouTube coding project presented in my previous post yesterday afternoon, I'm trying to formulate some hypotheses to work with as I delve more deeply into the research for a project I'm working on with the Consortium on viral marketing, interactivity and film, and we begin to analyze the coding we've done to date for YouTube videos. To recap, the most prevalent observations I found were that:

1 - What's most popular is often taken from "traditional" media.

2 - YouTube has its own celebrities - and soap operas - that spur user participation.

3 - Webrities and traditional don't always mix.

So far, I have two hypotheses. First, the most effective way to promote something with YouTube is not with trailers and commercials. Second, YouTube is about YouTube users, not copyright infringement.

Hypothesis 1: The most effective way to promote something with YouTube is not with trailers or commercials.

Sure, some people will forward a commercial or trailer or link to it on their blog, and they may seek it out on YouTube, but frankly there are a lot of sites (such as official sites, imdb.com and movies.yahoo.com for films) where you can get the same content and be assured of easy access to a complete and high-quality copy. So, although putting promotional material on YouTube will get you some attention, what really seems to drive up views and participation are unrealease/censored content that people (at least) perceive to be leaked or something where the users are generating something interesting - opinions, artwork, skits - based on a product or entertainment property, particularly if the company is not directly soliciting that content. Remember Diet Coke + Mentos?

Hypothesis 2: YouTube is about YouTube users, not copyright infringement.

This is related to my first hypothesis. The "traditional" media content tended to be strongest in the "Most Popular" category, but it was the vlog entries and other user-generated content that I observed popping up across the categories we looked at. This often meant that it was about the users. "Traditional" media producers have a legitimate concern when it comes to copyright infringement on the site, but I think that YouTube users, their stories, and creations have, and will continue to have, the strongest presence and the most response from the community, across the board.

In the coming months, I'm looking forward to analyzing the data and seeing if these observations and hypotheses hold up during the analysis. I'd also be interested in hearing if what I've said here lines up with the perceptions of anyone who has either studied YouTube or spends a lot of time on the site. While comments are down, please send me an email at ecbaird@mit.edu with your thoughts. We hope to have comments up and running again soon.

And stay tuned...