How Journalists Can Develop a Successful YouTube Strategy

By: Inaara Gangji | 01/29/2024

Implementing a YouTube strategy can be a surprisingly effective way for news organizations to achieve a measure of financial sustainability.

“One of the top sources of news consumption in the world is YouTube,” said marketing and media business strategist Adriana Peña Johansson during a recent ICFJ Global Crisis Reporting Forum webinar. “Facebook is pulling away from news, and users are consuming less news there.”



Johansson was joined by Talha Ahad, founder and CEO of The Centrum Media (TCM), an independent news outlet in Pakistan. Ahad previously acquired key YouTube engagement skills during a training with Johansson last year through ICFJ’s Elevate program, which he used to enhance the reach of TCM’s content.

While journalists do not need extensive knowledge to get started, it is essential for them to understand how YouTube works. Here are some tips on how to develop a YouTube strategy for news:


The appeal of YouTube

Half of U.S. internet users watch online videos daily, and more than 90% of online users globally watch videos at least once a week. Journalists should develop a strategy to reach these audiences on video-centric platforms, said Johansson.

Unlike Facebook, which recently shifted gears to focus less on news, YouTube is prioritizing news on its platform, explained Johansson: “[YouTube] has put a lot of effort with news partners to understand what the needs are of the particular type of content news produces.”

“Short and long-form videos are the formats that are growing the most in popularity in newsrooms,” she added, noting that YouTube is an ideal place to host these videos. “YouTube offers faster monetization than other social media, it has low barriers to enter and relatively low production costs to start.”

At TCM, Ahad has shifted the newsroom’s focus from Facebook to YouTube. The latter allows for more evergreen longform content that won’t be lost in newsfeeds, he said. Newsrooms can also post shorter snippets of their content on other platforms like TikTok and Instagram to help funnel traffic back to the longer YouTube videos.

These shorter videos can help generate audience loyalty, Johansson added, though the platforms they run on offer less monetization potential than YouTube. 


Serving your audience

Knowing how your audience prefers to consume video content can inform strategies to drive engagement. YouTube offers multiple formats for users, including shorts, video clips, long-form videos, live video, and podcasts.

Among the most popular types of content on YouTube are debates and panels, live-blogged events, explainers and documentaries, Johansson said. Audiences find these videos in a variety of ways: they might navigate YouTube’s search function, subscribe to specific channels, follow the platform’s suggestions for similar videos, or be driven to content via social media. 

Publishing content that resonates with your audience can help create a strong community, Ahad said. His team has created niche channels that appeal to specific interests, and published longform historical and political video series that have been especially popular.

When assessing the impact of your video content, look first at views, suggested Johansson. The other metrics will follow. “The number of subscribers and average views don’t grow at the same rate. You should consider subscribers, but what matters most is your views, not subscribers,” she said.


Growing your channel

Utilizing YouTube to its full potential requires knowing what to “feed the beast,” said Johansson. Journalists should turn to their analytics to inform their editorial decisions on YouTube.

“YouTube can be a very data-driven platform. If you know how to understand this data on a daily basis then you can really optimize your channel,” she said.

The more users interact with your content, the higher it will rank in YouTube’s algorithm, continued Johansson. YouTube measures audience interest through video clicks; engagement through comments and shares; and satisfaction via likes. The better your video content does with these metrics, the more YouTube will push it to users. 

Newsrooms should look beyond YouTube’s analytics tracking, too. “YouTube Analytics is a full universe of insights, [but] you need to dig deeper,” she said. Paid tools, such as vidIQ, can suggest keywords you can use to drive engagement and also show how your competitors are faring on the platform for comparison. 

An eye-catching thumbnail that is accurate to the content of the video can also boost its ranking in YouTube’s algorithm and help bring in more audiences.

Ultimately, following the data drives reach and impact. “Be open-minded when you work in video,” said Johansson. “It’s about getting attention, and knowing what you’re doing gives you a lot more information that can help you make a better channel.”

Photo by NordWood Themes on Unsplash.

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