About 2 and a half years ago I had attained my bachelors degree, and was happy I finished my studies. That lasted about a week, and then I started realizing that I had zero direction or clue what to do next. I didn’t see myself working a mundane 9 to 5 job spending the majority of my time doing something I don’t give a damn about, and I didn’t have a clue what to do instead. I’ve always been a computer nerd, so I decided that a combination of marketing / business and computers would be my angle. I picked up a book about SEO which I read in the 30 minute breaks at my factory job, and started to gain interest in learning more about being an online entrepreneur.
At that time, I had started listening to laid back instrumental hip hop type music, and notice there wasn’t much of a community for it. As a fun first project and with the idea to learn as much as possible, I decided to make a website called Chillhop where I would review music and make playlists, as well as upload music to a YouTube channel. Fast forward to 2015, here are some current stats for Chillhop.
In this entry will be focusing on our YouTube channel with a few mentions of other platforms when they influenced our YouTube channel growth, describing the process from 0 subscribers to where we are now and the things that caused certain decisions or subscriber growth. I will reserve other posts to go more into detail about specific aspects like the website, branding and so on. These are point specifically applicable to different stages in the growth of a channel.
0 – 1,000 Subscribers
I started this channel at the beginning of 2013. Back then, currently big YouTubers like MrSuicideSheep and Majesticcasual were already growing at a massive amount, and a music promotion channel wasn’t a new concept by any means. I mention this because while there was certainly room for more channels, I wanted to approach the whole ordeal at an angle that was more unique. In other words, I didn’t want to become “just another music promotional channel”. I wanted a channel which created a real personal link between artists and fans, create a spotlight for artists who could really use it and create a full “chill experience”. I was going to do this by providing more info about artists on our website and seeking out artists that didn’t already have a lot of views on YouTube or Soundcloud.
I started the website and any upload I did was in addition to a post on the website reviewing an album. The community for this genre existing out of just a few small and personal circles, I knew there was a big empty space in front of me. Because of the fact that I started listening to this music a few months earlier and quickly discovered the few communities there were, I figured that with a personal approach I could build a solid foundation. This is something that is most vital for most starting channels; seeking out the most easily attainable audience and approaching them in a personal way.
YouTube algorithms tend to result in a snowball effect for most channels; as soon as they see your videos are getting some attention, they will show them more often in their search results and similar videos, resulting in even more views and so on. That being said, the first thousand subscribers are most likely not going to be organic and you will need to seek out people in a similar way to what you would do for any blog or website. Search videos that your target audience are watching, and comment on those videos but don’t spam. In addition, seek out communities on sites such as Reddit and Facebook, and start participating. Once again don’t spam, aim on providing value. In addition to getting people to check out your content where you think it could provide extra value, you will learn more about your target audience. Here’s an overview of subscriber growth up until we hit 1,000 subscribers. You can see that there isn’t any signs of a snowball effect yet, and most subscribers gained was because of myself reaching out to people who might enjoy the content.
While doing all of this, make at least 1 video that you think is sure to trigger people once they find your channel. For example, when I noticed the immense interest in music mixes (30 Minutes +), I decided to do a monthly mix. The reason for this is you need a convincing video as your featured video in order to trigger people to subscribe. I took a snapshot of when we reached 500 subscribers, and you can see we used a mix as our front page video in order to trigger people.
Take a personal approach, seek out the most easily attainable audience and connect with them in other YouTube videos and communities without spamming your content. While doing this, make sure your channel is interesting for people with a front page video that is likely to trigger your audience and a profile / cover picture which fits your brand image. This part is the hardest as you’re less likely to gain organic views through YouTube’s algorithms.
1,000 – 10,000 Subscribers
Now you’ve attained a solid base of subscribers and videos, it’s time to explore the options that become available because of it. The first interesting approach is to collaborate with other YouTubers. While having less than 1,000 subscribers might not give bigger YouTubers incentive to work with you, now that you have a decent audience people see the value in working together with you. Seek out YouTubers with a similar target audience and with a subscriber base of around 1k to 10k and connect with them, asking if they would want to collaborate some time. These collaborations take different shapes for each subject your channel is about, but as an example I hooked up with people that made mixes that fit Chillhop and asked them if they’d like to make a mix for Chillhop sometime. Now you might think the only way to reach the audience of your partner is by having a video on his or her channel, but having a video on your channel often results in them mentioning it and redirecting viewers, which results in more people checking out your channel. Another form of collaboration is featuring similar channels in the featured channel tab (example). This is nice as it will always pop up whenever someone views that particular channel, and it doesn’t require a big time investment. Here’s a message sent to me asking for a feature in the similar channels list which I thought was nicely constructed. These are just examples of collaborations, get creative and decide what fits your channel best.
Secondly, now you have more views coming in and more videos lined up, it’s important to create a good environment for those who watch videos. That’s where playlists come into play as they will get your audience to watch more videos similar the ones they are watching and help you maintain a structured channel that is easy to navigate. The earlier you start using playlists, the better. To give you an idea, about 10% of our views come from videos played in one of our playlists, with an average view time of about 25 minutes (which is about 8 tracks / videos).
Seek out YouTubers to collaborate with in order to connect with their audience and branch out. Start creating playlists in order to create structure in your increasing amount of videos.
Once you get to 10,000 subscribers you will maintain a steady subscriber growth on a daily basis as you continue to put out regular content like you’ve been doing. At this point, you have a pretty good idea about your target audience and the optimal process of your channel. There’s a lot of steps you can still take to stimulate the growth and quality even more, but here are some steps that are specific to channels that are in the 10,000 – 30,000 range (I’m assuming you don’t need help once you get to 30k+). Apart from creating a community on social platforms such as Facebook and Twitter which I won’t go into for the sake of staying on track, it’s important to have a structured continuous improvement process. The good thing of having a significant amount of subscribers and views on a daily basis is that you will have a solid foundation for the extensive analytic platform which YouTube offers. What I usually do is go over statistics and optimize videos in which ever way possible. This can be improvements in terms publishing days or times, choosing popular subjects, different annotations, playlists and so on. The statistics YouTube provide are very detailed and useful for any sort of analysis.
There are no specific tips as the ball is already rolling. The best thing to do is structure your process and make use of YouTube’s extensive statistics to improve on whatever you can for your channel.
To keep in mind
The basic idea for growing basically any kind of qualitative YouTube channel is pretty much the same. You start with a personal approach, identifying your target audience and communicating with them, both on YouTube and other communities around the web. When you start to gain traction, make sure your channel presentation makes people want to subscribe, and structure your videos from the start. Continue with the personal approach by collaborating with other YouTubers and sharing audience in which ever way you think suits your channel. When you grow above 10,000 subscribers, continually make use of the YouTube statistics to optimize the distribution of your content.
These are pretty basic steps but outline the general tactic I used to get to 31,000 subscribers without a penny spent on marketing. There is a lot more to talk about, but in order to keep it structured for everyone I will dedicate specific entries to aspects such as advanced YouTube functions, design & paid YouTube promotion.
Thank you for reading. If you have any questions or would like to add to what I wrote, feel free to leave a comment below.