Starting an Explainer Video Channel on Youtube + Update on Progress
Where I Started
- Making Videos a Hobby
- Charles Trippy: YouTuber Inspiration
- My First YouTube Channel Disaster
Going Back To YouTube
- New Skills, New Inspiration: Casey Neistat
- Being Consistent
- Finding A New Style: Explainer Video Content
My First YouTube Explainer Video
- How I Knew What Ideas Were “YouTube Worthy”
- The YouTube Frame of Mind
- Writing Scripts
- The Editing Room
- Finding & Building a Style
- Title Cards & Fonts
- Sound FX
- Videoclips & Screengrabs
Sharing To YouTube & Beyond
- YouTube’s Tagging System
- Thumbnails & Titles
- The Power of Reddit
- My First Big Hit
- Where My Channel Sits Now
- Going Forward
Making videos is fun, for me at least.
In my teens I got my first digital camera. I took it everywhere.
Snapping pics and filming 2 megapixel, 360p videos. I enjoyed documenting life.
Then I discovered YouTube. A website with a library of content featuring everything from music videos to movie clips. I was hooked.
As someone who loved music videos, this was heaven. It was like watching MTV, only I got to choose the music videos that aired.
Then I discovered “YouTube Creators.”
Everyday filmmakers using YouTube as a platform for their own content. This was my first exposure to “vlog” content and one of the OG vloggers, Charles Trippy
Charles holds the Guinness World record for most consecutive episodes for a running vlog series. Charles posted one vlog per day for 3,653 days before ending his streak.
Let me do the math for you: that’s 10 years posting one video per day! And ya, he didn’t put the camera down while his wife was giving birth.
He’s posted over 4,418 videos and built a following of 1.4 million subscribers.
I didn’t find my life nearly as interesting as Charles’, but I did like his style.
So me and 2 of my friends started making vlogs. Each one centered around some kind of concept, like pretending our houses were haunted or tobogganing. They were terrible.
But when I look back on them now, I see what could’ve been, and I notice the 2 key qualities we were missing: patience & persistence.
We were looking for a big hit. A “viral” video. We had no long-term plan or goal in mind. We just wanted views.
And with that as our goal, we easily became discouraged, and eventually ended our channel.
Of course, it was those skills which would also help me get hired at a top video production agency in San Francisco.
Going Back To YouTube
I graduated university, studying communications & sociology. I never put down the camera though.
I took video productions classes, wrote and directed short films, got familiar with how to professionally record quality content and edit with elite software.
I upped my skills. I made more short films after graduation and entered a few contests. But I wanted something more consistent. A way to make multiple videos per week all attached to the same throughline.
That’s when I found another inspiring YouTuber, one who mastered the art of patience and persistence: Casey Neistat.
“I wasn’t successful because I was consistent. I was successful from the much more human relationship that came with it. Being a part of someone’s life every single day.”
- Casey Neistat
So on my second YouTube venture, I didn’t try to copy another YouTuber’s style. Instead, I copied their work ethic.
I knew I couldn’t make 10 minute vlogs like Casey, but I knew I could be consistent like him if I found the right style.
Finding Explainer Videos
As an avid YouTube viewer, I saw several creators experiment with different styles.
I knew I could research and write quickly, and I knew I didn’t want to be a staple on camera.
I was also very conscious of people’s time. The shorter the video is, the better, in my opinion.
Explainer videos break down complex topics to their core. They are a great way to convey information to educate and entertain an audience.
I wanted to entertain with humor and fast paced cuts and narration, all within a short 2-3 minute runtime.
I’d like to say I drew up wild plans filled with content calendars, CTA’s, and promotion strategies, but I did none of that.
I knew the kind of content I wanted to produce. I knew what I wanted it to look like and I knew what ideas I wanted to tackle.
And I had a goal: consistency.
Consistency in content, style, and posts. So I dropped the planner, and picked up my camera.
My First YouTube Explainer Video
“What should I film?”
Every filmmaker, YouTuber, and commercial advertiser faces this question while staring at a blank slate Word document or sheet of paper.
This is an important question to answer as it can determine the success of an entire production.
I wanted to make videos that I enjoyed watching. I wanted to make videos telling stories that I enjoyed hearing. Stories that I was passionate about. But at no time did I want this to be a selfish venture.
To me the beauty of video is that it can be shared with the world. I took this channel as an opportunity to share my interests with online communities, while educating and entertaining.
How I Knew What Ideas Were “YouTube Worthy”
My first ever Explainer Video discussed Peanut Butter, Lettuce, and Mayonnaise sandwiches.
Quite the introduction if I do say so myself.
What possessed me to think this was a good starting point for my channel?
Every idea I had had to meet 3 requirements, neither of which I wrote down, until now:
Niche: It didn’t appeal to the masses, but should have the potential to appeal to the masses.
Sharable: To me this meant being able to post my video in subreddits that found the content interesting, educating, and entertaining.
Existing Content: Other people should be aware enough of the idea to make their own content about it, so I could research and learn from them. And yes, other people were aware of peanut butter, lettuce, and mayonnaise sandwiches.
If my idea met these three requirements, then I knew it was filmworthy.
Otherwise, it would be a similar process to how youtube explainers are made.
The YouTube Frame of Mind
I was going to be producing 3-4 videos per week.
Ideas feel like they come out of thin air, but you have to be looking for them and know how to identify good ones. Sometimes I would have an idea. For example:
“Why don’t pitchers use a slow-pitch in baseball games? Wouldn't it be more effective to throw off the batter? You know, throw at 99mph and follow up with a 60mph pitch.”
Then I would go investigate these thoughts. And I would usually find that other people had them too, and they went ahead to write entire articles on them:
Sometimes ideas worked in reverse. For example, I would read an article like this:
People starving themselves of pleasure to experience more pleasure?
To me that idea was niche, shareable, and already had existing content. So it made it on my channel.
To post consistently you have to be thinking of ideas and confirming them through research, while keeping your eyes open for potential ideas you might come across in everyday life.
Just make sure you have criteria to justify your ideas.
The Process Behind Making YouTube Explainer Videos
The Scriptwriting Process
Once I decide on an idea, I get writing.
The script is the foundation for my entire video. It determines the tone, flow, speed, and visuals.
I try to write with as much visual detail as possible.
Scripts were based off research: reading other articles and watching other videos on the content. For example, the script for the Peanut Butter Lettuce & Mayonnaise video was based off of information in articles like this:
I wrote scripts in a blog style, good enough to be posted as articles.
When writing scripts I always kept entertainment & education in mind, filling in the gaps with metaphors & subtle light-hearted jokes, while explaining complex ideas at a basic level.
Scripts would take me around 1-2 hours to complete and edit. We will do a more detailed piece on this, but about 80% of whats true in B2B scriptwriting applies for YouTube (with more focus on entertainment).
A lot of people would rather not listen to the sound of their own voice for hours on end. I was one of those people.
Luckily over time, you get used to hearing yourself ramble on.
After writing and editing a script I would print it off and prepare to record. My setup was simple.
I used the built-in GarageBand software on my Mac, which has enough manual inputs to help tweak your voice to your liking.
I use a standard pair of over-ear microphones to listen to myself as I record, and that is my very basic and affordable setup.
When recording I try to chunk the script into paragraphs. I know that I'll be able to edit out any mistakes afterwards. I stay focused on pace, tone, and reading with as much clarity as possible
The recording process usually took me between 15-30 minutes depending on the complexity of the script and how many times I hit the delete button.
The Editing Room
After the recording process, I would import the audio file into a video editor. I used Adobe Premiere Pro, but any video editor would suffice.
When I started making videos, I used Windows Movie Maker! It’s not the tool, it’s the person behind it.
I started by chopping up the audio. Removing any gaps or errors. I wanted it to sound seamless and fast paced. Like it was one long thought. I knew this might be an issue.
I wanted to inform, but I also wanted to entertain while staying mindful of the viewers time. And it's a fine line between a proper pace and having one that’s too fast or slow. My pace was on the faster side. But it was my style.
Finding & Building A Style
A trend I noticed in most of my YouTube idols, (Casey Neistat, Charles Trippy, David Dobrik, Nerdwriter) they all have their own style.
Yes, Casey Neistat and David Dobrik both make vlogs that look similar on the surface, but they are very different in style.
Here’s an interview of them discussing the differences in their channels:
Finding a style allows you to carve a niche in a particular genre.
I noticed that a lot of explainer videos would ramble on for 10-12 minutes, and while channels like Nerdwriter1 and Now You See It did a great job holding a viewers attention for the entire run time, most creators were adding too much fluff.
My goal was to cut the fluff, similar to David Dobrik, whose videos are wall to wall action and comedy in a 4:20 runtime. He has the same opening title cards and sounds, the same fonts, and same themes throughout. That’s what I wanted to bring to my channel. Consistency, not only in posting, but in style.
I thought of it as a sitcom. Each video would deal with different subject matter, but the fonts, cuts, narration, visuals, and music would be the anchors of consistency.
Here are some decisions I made in my first video that carried throughout my channel:
Title Cards & Fonts
Each video would open with a title card using a specific font. The number would represent which video I was on. It was to keep myself on track, but something viewers could be involved in.
Sound Effects & Musical Tracks
My videos would feature a lot of sound effects but I had a few go to tracks to keep each video consistent. This included bass boom sound effects and bell sound effects when text would appear on screen.
I would also have music playing quietly under my narration. This music helped to drive the pace of the video and served as another layer of entertainment, as some music would fit in with the theme of the video.
For example, using “Safety Dance” by Men Without Hats when discussing “Why Men Don’t Wear Hats Anymore.
Videoclips & Screen Grabs
Most video clips I pulled were from movies, music videos, newscasts, and content readily available on YouTube. I edited this video footage together with some footage I filmed myself using an iPhone and a mini tripod. I would use ClipGrab software to take video footage from YouTube to feature in my videos
My channel was under the Educational category and I was using these clips to help deliver my ideas.
This did not save some of my videos from getting copyright strikes (as seen above)
If you’re going start your channel I recommend using Creative Commons footage to prevent your videos from being removed.
Sharing to YouTube & Beyond
I had a lot of experience making videos that didn’t get the views that I hoped they would. Most of them were passion projects like short films, so I got most of my satisfaction out of just making them.
This channel was different.
While I did enjoy making these videos, as they were all based on topics I am curious about, I still wanted to grow my channel and discover how much traction I could get.
To start I used YouTube’s tagging system, which is....not very helpful on its own.
The best results came from using key terms that people were already searching for in relation to my video. For example:
A quick keyword search on YouTube will give suggestions and all these suggestions would be used as tags in my video.
Thumbnails & Titles
If you look at David Dobrik & Casey Neistat’s thumbnails above, they are quite entertaining.
They entice the viewer to click to watch the video. This is known as Clickbait.
Now viewers will get upset if you promise one thing in your thumbnail and title, but deliver another. The goal is not to deceive, but to make the video seem as entertaining as possible.
In order to get more views and engagement with my channel, I used some creative titles and thumbnails like these:
I always tried to keep my channel name in the thumbnail as well so people could find my content without having to know the title of a video.
This also helps your channel rank higher if certain videos get traction.
I also added hashtags to descriptions using keywords from my titles. For example: #hat or #ducks
But I knew that even with proper tagging, thumbnails, and clickbait, it still wouldn’t be enough to drive traffic to my content.
The Power of Reddit
I discovered the power of Reddit when I was promoting my shortfilms. For those of you who don’t know, Reddit is a forum based website filled with communities interested in specific niches ranging from technology to squirrels.
I would make posts in appropriate Reddit communities including r/Shortfilms or r/Filmmakers to promote my short films.
The more upvotes my content received, the longer it would stay at the top of a communities forum, and the more views it would receive.
I used the same strategy for my YouTube channel, and I would say that the majority of views for my videos came from Reddit.
I would come up with a list of 10-15 subreddits to post my content for promotion.
I would have to be careful and ensure that my content actually appealed to community members, otherwise I’d be banned, which happened countless times.
For example, for my “Why Sriracha Became Popular” video, I posted links in the following communities:
r/Shamelessplug, r/videos, r/videoessay, r/curiousvideos, r/interestingasfuck, r/interesting, r/DamnThatsInteresting, r/hotsauce, r/Sriracha, r/spicy, r/thailandtourism, r/hotsuacerecipes, r/shortfilms, r/shortfilm.
All of these subreddit communities tied into the video in some way. All my post had to do was be successful in 1 or 2 communities, and that would translate to hundreds of views
The more upvotes these posts receive, the longer they would trend on Reddit and the more community members would view them.
This was the promotion process for all my videos.
If my videos cracked 1,000 views within the first day or two I would consider them successful.
Anything above that was icing on the cake.
It takes a lot of work and luck to get a video to crack 1000 views within the first 24 hours. But once this happens, it is a good indicator of more views to come due to momentum.
My First Big Hit
My first big hit of a video didn’t follow my video templates at all. It didn’t feature the same fonts and it wasn’t even an explainer video.
I heard about Justin Bieber challenging Tom Cruise to an MMA fight, and I couldn’t help but think of Tom Cruise's role as Les Grossman in Tropic Thunder, and how funny it would be to edit together a video of him speaking with Justin Bieber on the phone.
I was going to create a separate channel for the video, since it didn’t fit my current channel’s style, but I decided to modify it just enough to fit in. This turned out to be a great choice.
And even though it didn’t fit my style it still aligned with my niche, shareable, existing content idea criteria.
This is the overall lifespan of the video. As you can see within the first 2-3 weeks the video earned nearly 20,000 views. It also did extremely well on one particular reddit: r/JoeRogan.
1.9K upvotes is still the most upvotes I’ve received on a Reddit post to this day. My content resonated with Joe Rogan’s audience which translated into thousands of views.
This taught me 2 things about content creation: (Kristof can make graphic here)
1) Make content that ties into trending topics. This helps to funnel views while making a piece of content that contributes to the overall conversation.
2) Don’t be afraid to publish. It doesn’t matter how you feel about the content. If it’s done and you believe it offers value to some group, even if it doesn’t fit into your personal style, post it! If it catches on, then it will expose people to more of your content, and you might pick up a few extra subscribers along the way.
In my experience, I’ve felt really good about certain pieces of content, and they didn’t end up doing as well as I expected. And I’ve been unmoved by other pieces of content, which went on to be top performers.
I never knew. That’s why I stuck to the process, and kept posting.
Where My Channel Sits Now
Currently I have 79 videos on my channel. 480,000 total views, and nearly 830 subscribers. Almost all my videos have over 1,000 views.
As a testament to my previous point on not being afraid to publish, there is one video that is responsible for these numbers, and it covered a topic that was not trending at the time: “The Shoebill Stork”
This video was posted over a year ago on April 5th, 2020. It was one of those videos that I thought would be a high performer, but it didn’t do so well...at first.
The video gradually built up views becoming a top performer in March of 2021.
That’s when it experienced its first boom.
From March to July, it went from 15,000 to 85,000 views, which was great on it’s own.
Then in July, the bird took flight!
It soared from 85,000 to 231,000 views in one month! Earning me 353 subscribers in its lifetime.
It is true that success yields more success. These views started coming from a different source: YouTube’s suggested videos and search features.
This was the kind of traction I hoped all my videos would get, becoming their own view generating machines outside of reddit. This all happened a year into the video's lifespan.
I haven’t posted a video to my channel in over a year. That’s because my channel gave me something I didn’t expect: opportunities.
My channel gave me the honor of working with several companies to expand my skills and hone my craft. It acted as a portfolio for not only my editing skills, but my promotional abilities.
If I start posting again I would beef up my content promotion strategy and take advantage of LinkedIn.
I believe LinkedIn has extreme potential for explainer videos of this caliber, those that can generate discussions amongst professionals while remaining entertaining.
I would also share this content on my personal social media platforms.
This channel taught me many lessons about content creation and promotion, but there is one main idea that stuck with me: If you believe your content is worthy, post it.
I spoke to many content creators who are trying to get their content just right, or perfect it. I can reference back to the Casey Nesitat Steve-O interview earlier, where Steve-O wanted to post videos that were “Tarantino-esque.”
Make your content as good as you possibly can, but have metrics for satisfaction, as I established for my videos.
Once those metrics are met, post, promote, and let the views fall where they may.