One Million for Mona: A YouTube Experiment

With Gerard J. Senick,
Contributing Writer and Editor

 “Mona Lisa is the only beauty who went through history and retained her reputation.”
— Will Rogers, American Humorist

In this month’s column, we will explore the social media known as YouTube. It is a tool that helps us in our professional lives for the purposes of low-profile marketing and positioning. Increasingly, attorneys, experts, and other professionals are using this media to reach potential clients and colleagues. When we search on YouTube for the term “Michigan attorney,” we get more than 6,000 results. Likewise, searching for “Michigan lawyer” brings more than 4,500 results. Of course, due to the relativity of these terms, we expect to find significant crossover. As we peruse this cyber-arena, we notice that many attorneys have only a few videos with which to represent themselves while others have constructed entire series. The videos range from short promotional pieces to multi-hour films on medical malpractice, law enforcement, and other topics. We have noticed that videos made by small firms often receive more views than those made by larger firms. All attorneys who are interested in using YouTube effectively may want to watch some of the videos with the highest view count and attempt to understand what makes them tick.
In 2011, I (Dr. Sase) created a video on Leonardo Da Vinci’s painting La Gioconda, commonly known as the Mona Lisa. I drew geometric shapes on the painting in order to provide evidence that Da Vinci used geometry to lay out his paintings and possibly to hide codes in them. Currently, my video has received more than one million views. Therefore, I will use my experience to demonstrate how YouTube can be an effective vehicle for attorneys and other professionals to promote themselves and their practices.

Mona Lisa Smiles upon You

Marketing through social media has been an interest of mine for a number of years. As a university instructor of economics and a creator of videos, I have had the opportunity, inclination, and facility to experiment with this medium in ways that many professionals do not. My Mona Lisa video did not begin as a marketing project, but it turned into one. Since economists like to draw graphs with a lot of lines in them, I created a four-minute video for my students as an illustration for drawing complex patterns and animating them in PowerPoint. However, I chose not to select a topic from economics for my presentation. Instead, I used an example from the field of art, one of my areas of avocation as an aspiring polymath.
For marketing/positioning purposes, I tied this video to a book that I wrote that I use as one of my economics texts, “Curious Alignments:  The Global Economy Since 2500 BCE, an Exploration into the Pre-History of Urban Areas, Land Use, and Geodesy from the Bronze Age through the Age of Exploration” (Create Space, 2009, ISBN 1449567738). The connection is that the Mona Lisa video is about geometry, art, and arcane knowledge of the ancient world. Over the past five centuries, debate has ensued over the possibility of hidden geometry and codes in the paintings of Leonardo Da Vinci. Some art historians have asserted that he used spatial patterns to lay out the work in his masterpieces before he started to apply paint. In order to present a tutorial about PowerPoint geometry, animation, and conversion to video while presenting evidence of Da Vinci’s use of geometry, I chose one of the best known paintings of western culture — Mona Lisa. I built my own geometric rendering upon the work and on the techniques developed by artist Robert A. diCurcio, geometrist Robert Lawlor, and others. In my contribution, I drew animated lines over the famous painting and posted the result on YouTube (http://youtu.be/JFTSAjZEqPw).
Since this video is best described as a low-profile marketing and positioning piece, I sent a standard alert through YouTube Share. This is a good starting point for attorneys, other professionals, and small businesses. I distributed the link to a few dozen students and to the purveyors of a number of YouTube channels who exhibit an interest in such esoteric analysis of art. This was during the week of 19 January 2011. Fast forwarding to 4 October 2012, I found myself shocked by the total number of views of my Mona Lisa video:  It had surpassed one million views. I asked myself whether this happenstance was nothing more than dumb luck; perhaps it was. However, as one who actively develops his social-media skills, I took some definite actions to help Mona along the way. Therefore, in the remainder of this column, Mr. Senick and I will share a combination of tips, suggestions, insights, techniques, and advice that you can use easily in the marketing of your own professional careers.
 
Analysis and Action
When you first use YouTube and other social media for marketing purposes, you need to start small and at the beginning. During the first six months of “publication,” I managed my Mona Lisa video “passively,” letting the views come naturally. I did this because my initial intent had been to use the work as a learning tool with my students. However, as I began to average about a thousand views per month, I saw a marketing potential, not only for myself but for the entire legal community as well. Therefore, I decided to turn this project into a social-media experiment. In active management, you analyze the data, make changes to the site, reach out to viewers, and answer their comments and questions.
Now, I will share everything that added to dumb luck to help my video project surpass one million views. At the beginning of the second phase of marketing, it will serve you well to use a few of the simple tools upon which I relied. On your YouTube channel, click on your username and find the drop-down menu beneath it. Next, click on the second item, Video Manager, and then choose Uploads along the left of the screen. When you find your video, click the video name next to the picture icon. This takes you to the work screen of that specific video. Along the top of the video is a menu bar with tabs named Edit, Enhancements, Audio, and Annotations. The fourth button from the left beneath your video is the Share button. Clicking on this button allows you to post your video to Facebook and elsewhere and to “inmail” and e-mail the video link to others. We will use these in a moment. However, we need to get some information first. Directly to the right of the View Count display is a small icon of a graph. Clicking on this icon will take you to the statistics for your video. Explore these various tabs until you feel grounded and comfortable.
In starting the active management of my video, I used the Edit tools provided by YouTube to adjust the description of the video and keyword-search terms. I then sent inmails to the wider community of channels that displayed related videos. Next, I changed the response setting to pre-approve postings in order to screen out comments that I had received from “trolls” using the names of deities in vain and harsh expletives or making comments that could be construed as racially, religiously, or sexually offensive. I took this step because the statistics for this video indicated that 10 percent to 20 percent of viewers were in the thirteen- to seventeen-year-old demographic. Therefore, I consciously chose to maintain a tone comparable to PG-13.
As part of my experiment in social media, I wanted to increase the distribution of my link. First, I entered the search term “Mona Lisa.” However, this proved to be too wide of a cut (apparently, the name Mona Lisa is popular in the skin trade today), so I proceeded to add other words such as “analysis,” “geometry,” and “Da Vinci” to my search. Play around with this a bit until you get the hang of it and find relevant videos that are related to yours.
YouTube allows members to inmail links and messages to other YouTube channels or external e-mail addresses. Currently, the server permits sending video links to five e-mail addresses or usernames at a time, up to a maximum of fifteen per day. In a manner that I recommend to others, I clicked on and watched related videos posted by other YouTubers. Then, I selected, highlighted, and copied the appropriate channel names to spreadsheet cells, five names separated by a comma in each. This technique allowed me to copy and paste five addresses simultaneously and to include a personal note. This note stated that I had found and watched the YouTuber’s video and indicated that they may appreciate and value the one that I posted. For specific posts that strongly paralleled my own, I sent individual inmails with more detailed information.
The next step, which is comparable to the traditional practice of personal note-writing, will take you a bit of time on an ongoing basis. As views of Mona increased, I made certain to review each submission posted and to respond to it. Depending upon the content of the comment or question, I thanked the person for contributing to the discussion, at the very least. Furthermore, I avoided argumentation and treated each response with the same weight that I would give to a question or comment from a student in a live classroom setting. Then, I provided sincere answers and often suggested related material of interest. On occasion, I received comments that fit the topics of the debate well. In such cases, I credited the submitter and added information either to the video description or to the annotations on a rotating basis. These are some suggestions that I hope you will use. As I have found, they are very effective techniques for promotion. Mr. Senick and I hope that you will use them in promoting your own videos.
Using the Annotation button on the menu takes you to a screen in which you can view your video against a timeline. On this timeline, you can add a variety of annotation boxes and size them to your desired length. On the screen-view above the timeline, you can stretch the annotation boxes and move them around. Video annotations can be added and edited at any time after a video has been uploaded. A convenient editing bar allows one to change font, color, position, and other attributes. Multiple annotations can be posted concurrently, though less is often more and brevity serves us best. One valuable feature of using annotations is that they do not download with the video when using software such as YouTube Downloader. As a result, a complete work cannot be reloaded automatically on a different YouTube channel-a bit of Intellectual Property protection in the Wild West of Cyberspace.
I mention this preceding point because two other YouTubers performed a sleight-of-hand with my video during February and March 2012. However, their reloaded exhibitions (without my annotations) provided a quasi-control group for my experiment. Therefore, I did not file a protest. To date, one of the bootlegged copies has garnered 221 views and the other 112 views, both using titles that virtually duplicate my own. This shows the power of the annotation. I would project that these bootlegged videos have received minimal views because they lack detailed annotations and knowledgeable responses.
Now owned by Google, YouTube is a search engine as well as a social-media site. As such, YouTube can support your marketing efforts in a number of ways. Since it is a social media, I believe that many viewers value the interaction through comments and responses, or at the very least, they enjoy watching the interaction of others. An old sales adage states, “Everything else being equal, people prefer to do business with those that they know, like, and trust.” Therefore, rather than being a place for posting overt commercial messages, the YouTube forum serves our professional communication needs best as a cyber-place in which we can develop the qualities of knowing, liking, and trusting before engaging in business with one another.

And Who Are You?

You may wonder who has gone online, found your video, and proceeded to watch it. This data and related information can be most powerful in helping you to fine-tune your video offerings. In my experiment, which hopefully has produced valuable insights for our respective professional practices, it is important to understand who our viewers are and from where they come. Upon an analysis of age brackets, I discovered that the largest group of viewers of my Mona is between 34 to 54 years of age. This group comprises 43.5 percent of the viewership while a large 25- to 34-year-old group adds another 14.2 percent to the count of those viewing the pretty lady (two-thirds of which are male). These percentages are consistent with the overall profile of YouTube.
In addition, I discovered two pieces of data that may be valuable to many of our readers. The first helps to identify the type of screen device on which a video is viewed while the second indicates the source of referral that brought viewers to the video. These variables provide valuable information for fine-tuning our postings. In respect to the first piece, I found that 89 percent of viewers watched my individual YouTube page on a computer. Since January 2011, 6.5 perent viewed Mona on mobile devices. Recognizing the growing popularity of mobile devices, I dug deeper. Over the past twelve months, I learned that three things happened in the viewing of my video. Direct views through my YouTube homepage dropped from 91 percent to 76 percent. Simultaneously, views of my content embedded on other sites increased from 2 percent to 10 percent while those on mobile devices doubled from 7 percent to 14 percent.
This revelation suggests that, though many mobile Internet users have an iPad, Android, or similar device with a mid-size screen, it may be prudent to remain aware of visual details and the general viewability of small-screen devices. Therefore, let us keep our fonts large and our lines thick for those with tiny screens. Potential clients for attorneys may have only a small mobile device when they decide to search for an attorney and contact him/her.
In an effort to refine your online marketing process, look at your YouTube statistics. They report the primary source that your viewers used to find an individual video. When I did this for Mona, the data hit me like a thunderbolt. Over the lifetime of the video, 81 percent of views have come from visitors who found her on the Suggestions List of related videos along the right-hand sidebar of their screen. The next largest traffic sources came from mobile applications and direct traffic, only 9 percent percent in all. In further analysis of views within the past year, I discovered that the sidebar as a source has decreased by 5 percent while traffic from mobile apps has increased by about the same amount. This is a profile that appears to be changing rapidly across the Internet. You may find that a book or article that is only a year old is already out of date. In market-managing your own video, these changes underscore the importance of doing current research if you want to stay ahead of the curve.
Nevertheless, it stands that Mona (as with many videos) derives two-thirds of her views from association with related-content videos. Less than 10 percent comes from direct search by viewers looking for a specific topic. How will you use this bit of information in managing your YouTube channel? I do not hold myself out as any sort of Cyber-Marketing Guru. However, the phenomenon described above suggests to me that building an online community around a common theme with other YouTubers may be the best and easiest way to create a very powerful driver for everyone in that micro-community. Therefore, today may present an opportune time when cooperation among similar YouTube users is more productive than competition. Individuals with the same specialty or at least a similar one may fare better in an online group rather than attempting to go it alone. In this context, I am reminded of the San Francisco music scene of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Rather than engaging in cutthroat competition for gigs and audiences, the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Sly and the Family Stone, Big Brother and the Holding Company, the Steve Miller Band, and others promoted one another mutually and put the San Francisco Sound on the international charts. Would cooperation help you to take your professional practice to the next level?

Keep It Short and Sweet

Before you invest time and money into developing promotional and positioning videos, you may want to take the following information on the retention of viewers into consideration. With Mona, I compared viewer retention against two benchmarks. YouTube itself developed the metric of Relative Audience Attention (RAA). A second one, developed by the brand-focused video marketing company TubeMogul, is known as Audience Attention Span (AAS). In respect to Mona, the RAA has remained above average during the first minute of a four-minute view. However, for the duration of the video, the RAA dropped below average. This is a valuable piece of information to have. Nevertheless, even though YouTube provides clear actual retention data for videos, their relative measurement (RAA) lacks somewhat in transparency.
In the course of my experiment, I tracked a dozen other videos against the TubeMogul index as described by Greg Jarboe in his book YouTube and Video Marketing:  An Hour a Day (John Wiley & Sons, 2012). I highly recommend this book for its thoroughness and insight. Jarboe states that the TubeMogul index indicates that less than 90 percent of viewers remain engaged beyond the first ten seconds. In “music-speak,” this may indicate a failure of putting a hook-line at the head. Beyond a half minute, average viewership falls below the two-third mark while the rate dips below 50 percent after one minute. Moving past the two-minute mark, less than a quarter of viewers remain. Retention drops below 17 percent after three minutes. Perhaps this phenomenon reflects the street wisdom expressed by producers of 45 rpm records in the 1950s and 1960s. The wisdom suggests that the attention span of an average four-year old is about three minutes long. Thank you, Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA)!
Here is a very important piece of information that can guide you in your creation of YouTube videos. Though I noticed that Mona stayed well above the TubeMogul rates of average retention, the scale itself suggests something about which all of us should remain aware. Shorter videos are best for getting a focused point across to an audience. In part, this is because we can expect that only two-thirds of viewers will remain after the first minute. If we are launching our videos into cyberspace for the purpose of professional positioning, then we need to make them more engaging than the average video-cute kittens excluded, since news and educational videos run second to comedic ones. Of course, the handful of viewers who have a deep interest in the subject matter will remain engaged until the end. However, let us wrap with the caveat that average retention of viewers beyond five minutes falls below the 10% mark. No matter how great we think that our videos are, these are the viewership odds that we face.

The Wrap Party

To our readership of attorneys, professional experts, and others, let us offer a solid takeaway that may help many of us to improve our online visibility. Building upon the social-media theory and empirical insights discussed above, we leave you with four key points. First, we want to focus toward, and reach out to, those who we define as our respective opinion leaders on YouTube. Reaching these leaders helps us to reach five to ten times more additional viewers in turn. Second, we should continue to strive for the creation of compelling content that is worth sharing. Third, video works best as part of a mixture with other social-media channels that complement one another. Typically for any small business, this is a combination of a Web site, YouTube, LinkedIn and/or Facebook, and whatever Deus ex Machina may come down the pike. Fourth, informational and educational videos are popular with viewers. As a result, this attribute enables us to develop the qualities Know, Like, and Trust with our viewers in a manner that can help us to guide potential clients toward making decisions that are best for them.
We hope that our suggestions will provide attorneys and other professionals with the tools to create videos that will successfully enhance your practices. May the perspicacity of your videos leave you with a sly smile like that of La Gioconda, who has held hers since the early sixteenth-century.
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A PDF copy of this article is posted at http://www.saseassociates.com/legalnewscolumn.html. We continue to post videos related to our monthly column on www.YouTube.com/SaseAssociates in the Legal News Features playlist.
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Dr. John F. Sase has taught Economics for three decades and has practiced Forensic and Investigative Economics since the early 1990s. He earned an M.A. in Economics and an MBA at the University of Detroit and a Ph.D. in Economics at Wayne State University. He is a graduate of the University of Detroit Jesuit High School. Dr. Sase can be reached at 248.569.5228 and by e-mail at drjohn@saseassociates.com. You can find his Economics videos of interest to attorneys at www.youtube.com/saseassociates.
Gerard J. Senick is a freelance writer, editor, and musician. He earned his degree in English at the University of Detroit and was a Supervisory Editor at Gale Research Company (now Cengage) for over twenty years. Currently, he edits books for publication and gives seminars on writing and music. Mr. Senick can be reached at 313.342.4048 and at www.senick-editing.com. You can find some of his writing tips at www.YouTube.com/SenickEditing.

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