Ray William Johnson presents “Equals Three” – a home made video show featuring clips from viral videos wrapped with amusing commentary. Ray, who is in his early 20’s, films, edits and produces his show from his apartment in New York, and twice a week, uploads a new episode for distribution via YouTube.
In the two and a half years he’s been publishing his show online, Ray’s videos have clocked up close to half a billion total views. Whenever he releases a new video, within a week it gets watched by more than 3 million people.
To put these figures in context, the Irish Times, a publication founded over 150 years ago with a turnover of over €100m and a whole team of writers, editors, researchers and designers claims to have a total monthly readership (at home and abroad) of 2.3 million.
In an age where most traditional media outlets are in decline, in the last twelve months, the total subscribers to Ray’s YouTube channel have increased by over 800% to over 2 million people. Ray started out with no budget, (and even now his entire show could be produced using kit worth less than €5000) yet in less than three years, he has amassed more regular viewers than the Irish Times.
How is this possible?
Technology is all about tools, and a tool, by definition, makes performing any given task easier. When you combine multiple tools and technologies together, whole paradigm shifts occur, and as a result, what was arduous, slow and expensive less than a decade ago is easy, quick and cheap in 2010 for those who are technologically fluent.
Rays formula is simple yet ingenius. He crowdsources popular viral videos (videos are recommended to him by his fans) and uses free statistical tools (like viewer statistics on YouTube) to analyse these same videos to calibrate their popularity. Once he identifies a couple of great viral videos that are proven to be loved by the market, he extracts clips of the best parts, and then records himself reviewing these clips with an irreverent style of humour. Finally, Ray edits his commentary and the viral video clip extracts together with a few comments from his fans, to create a satisfyingly entertaining show.
Over time, Ray has built up a reputation and trust with an online audience who have discovered his episodes to be consistently buzz-worthy, a key quality that leads friends to show viral content to other friends. Each episode, being three to five minutes long, is short enough to fit the preferred consumption patterns of modern busy consumers with limited attention spans and a perceived lack of time. By distributing his videos via YouTube, he can syndicate his episodes globally to computer and smartphone users, who watch his videos at any time of the day or night at no cost. His success is assisted by incredible growth of YouTube and the growing use of social networks, where in a few clicks, Facebook and Twitter users can link to and make their own comments about Rays latest episode.
Ray’s success is possible because he researches and gives modern consumers what they want and are naturally inclined to share. They keep coming back for more, and sharing his episodes. In this way, he expertly leverages the power of social media.
Teaching Old Dogs New Tricks
Consumer paradigm shifts, driven by technology, have changed the culture of how people engage with brands and each other, and how individuals and groups consume, share and co-create information.
The tools and methodologies that Ray uses are available to everyone at low or no cost, however, just as owning a supercar doesn’t make a person a good driver, the existence of a plethora of free research, communication and content creation tools, doesn’t mean that most marketing managers will use them well, or even, will use them at all. Many marketers are so intimidated by and/or in awe of the rate of change in the World and resulting novelties, they struggle to think with calm, strategic, technological fluency. As a consequence, most under-utilise easy opportunities to do business better in 2010. While technology makes it easier, quicker and cheaper to identify what modern consumers want and to communicate with them on their terms, the hard part is learning to do business in a different way. It requires that marketers reclassify themselves as novices, and apply conscious effort and an attitude of curiosity and open-mindedness to learn anew what works and how to do business differently as necessitated by the new communications environment.
Ray’s success is possible because of the people he is competing have, thus far, been less effective than him in keeping with changing times.
Anti Social Media
Many forms of traditional media, distributed via traditional outlets, are clunky compared with their modern counterparts.
Young people, who are less entrenched in traditional ways of doing things, tend to adapt faster and figure out how to leverage new technology sooner than older generations. In the 1990’s, this created a phenomena of grandparents asking their grandchildren to operate their VCRs. In 2010, this creates a phenomenon of younger people figuring out technologies that underpin the fabric of modern society sooner than older generations, while older generations include most of the leaders and decision makers who choose what happens. The tendency of older generations is to create expensive content, that is difficult to share and ill-fitting with the lifestyles and consumption patterns of modern consumers; you can call their outputs anti-social media.
So if you think in terms of books instead of blogs, if you figure you can catch up by attending a seminar instead of watching tutorials on YouTube and Vimeo, if your strategy to keep up to date is to read magazines instead of looking at Twitter, if you don’t know how to run advanced searches on Google, don’t be surprised if you struggle to compete and sooner or later, your business goes past it’s sell by date.
The good news is, you have a choice, and by leveraging the opportunities created by modern technology and social media, by learning the ways of listening, engaging and giving consumers content that is easy, entertaining and satisfying to consume (like brief summary videos with sincere engaging presenters), you can gain a very worthwhile competitive advantage. The best way to learn about social media is to use it for this purpose! The productivity gains afforded by expertly harnessing modern tools and social media, means that, all other factors being equal, businesses who don’t use such tools will not be able to compete with those that do.
I encourage you to embrace a spirit of adventure and discovery, reclassify yourself from being an expert to a novice so you are spurred to keep learning every day, and just like great explorers of old, you may find treasure that comes in the form of growing your business at rates previously thought of as impossible, despite changing and challenging times. For in a World where the rate of change keeps increasing, the agile will be the champions of the future.
(as published in The Digital Times)