Promoting Your Gaming YouTube Channel

Plus more on Multi Channel Networks (MCN)

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Our series of articles on making a gaming YouTube channel have been pretty positive and optimistic so far, but it's time for a reality check — the legitimate odds are that you aren't going to be rich and famous by making gaming videos on YouTube. There is just so much competition out there at the moment, and even if you make the greatest videos ever, chances are pretty high that they'll just get lost in the shuffle and ultimately ignored. It turns out that making the videos is the easy step in this process, promoting them is the hard part.

Effective Promotion is Difficult

You've read a general guide on how to make gaming videos, a guide to capturing gaming video, a guide to capturing commentary audio, ranked the best video capture devices, and even cleared up your confusion about copyright, but none of this matters if you don't know how to promote your content.

Promotion is the #1 most important, most vital, most necessary part of being a YouTuber, but it is also by far the hardest. Unless you have already made a name for yourself elsewhere and can bring that audience to your channel (like Jim Sterling or other press personalities have, or even folks like JonTron or egoraptor), or luck out and have someone notice you extremely early on and give you a deal (like how it worked for the Two Best Friends), you're probably going to have to work your butt off just to get any viewers at all.

Having the best video quality, the best commentary audio quality, the catchiest intro song, and the greatest personalities, unfortunately, isn't enough anymore. You can't sit back and think that quality alone will attract viewers. Right now, in 2015, there are hundreds of thousands of channels all doing the exact same stuff and trying to attract the same audience. Even if you make the best, most unique, most original content you can imagine, you still have to promote the heck out of it to attract an audience.

Promotion is hard. Really, really hard. It isn't enough to just send links to your content into the void on social media, either, you need to actually interact with people and build an audience that cares about you and your content. You have to be aggressive about getting followers (but not crossing the line into being annoying). You really have to put a lot of effort in.

One annoying drawback of having so much competition is that, again, even if your video is unique and amazing and great, most people still won't care. Back in the day, you could come up with something good and submit it to Kotaku or Destructoid or somewhere and, assuming they liked it, they might run a post or something about it. Not anymore, at least not for small-time channels. They get hundreds, or perhaps even thousands, of "Watch my YouTube channel" story pitches every day and just have to ignore them. These blogs have the power to make new stars with just one post, but generally, choose not to and instead run a story about Rabbaz or PewDiePie or someone else who's already famous.

One thing that should be pointed out is that subscriber counts on YouTube are not always what they seem. Whenever you see some truly crappy channel (bad audio, loud annoying hosts, etc.) with 1000+ subscribers, there is a high possibility that they didn't actually do it legit. There are a number of Twitter and other social media accounts that are set up purely to be sub-for-sub networks where everyone all follows each other to artificially inflate their subscriber counts. There are also services that allow you to spend money and buy subscribers. These things don't really benefit you because these fake followers and subscribers won't actually watch your stuff, so your videos still won't get any views. Better to do it the legit way.

The Truth About Multi-Channel-Networks

All of this brings us to Multi-Channel-Networks. MCN's on YouTube exist for a couple of reasons — to help you with copyright issues, to open up YouTube features you might not have access to yet (like custom banners, thumbnails, monetization, etc.), and also to help promote you. The first two benefits aren't as important as they used to be (most game companies openly allow you to use their videos now, and advanced YouTube features will open up over time if you're patient anyway) but the third — promotion — can be very useful.

With that said, however, not all MCN's are created equally. Some of them — a lot of them, actually — are just scams that are only out to make money. If a network brags about having 100k+ members, for example, why would you want to join them? They aren't going to be able to help you or really promote you (you just get lost in the shuffle again). They just want to make money off of you. A lot of the scammy networks also are the ones that tell their members to engage in sub-for-sub shenanigans or spamming folks on social media (sending direct messages begging for subs to anyone that follows you on Twitter is super gross, stop doing that YouTubers!). Joining the first network that messages you on YouTube (their messages almost always end up in the "Spam" folder for a reason, by the way) isn't the best way to go.

Some networks have recruitment systems where recruiters get a percentage for any channels they find that join, which is another clear sign the networks are only interested in attracting as many users as possible and don't really care about quality. The more channels that join, the more money the network makes. And also because they deal with a bazillion channels, they probably don't have time to actually promote you. So what good are they?

Joining a good network can actually help you a lot, though, but even good networks have a lot of caveats. You join an MCN as one of two groups — "Managed" or "Affiliate". Managed channels are the big boys that the MCN actually gives a crap about. They'll get the promotion, and brand deals, the special treatment, and they get paid faster as well as the MCN will take responsibility for any copyright issues. Affiliate channels, on the other hand, generally are on their own when it comes to copyright and don't necessarily receive the same benefits that managed channels do. By splitting members between Managed and Affiliate, MCN's can take on more channels than ever before, but without taking on all of the risk.

A lot of folks seem to think that joining an MCN is a required step towards YouTube fame and fortune, but that really isn't the case. The affiliate designation allows networks to basically accept anyone and everyone who applies, but because of that they don't offer nearly the value back to members that they used to. It seems like people think they have to join an MCN, but really take a look at what they offer you in exchange for the money you pay them because it might not be worth it.

General Promotion Tips

  • Engage in conversations on social media. Don't just post links everywhere, but actually participate to show people you know what you're talking about. Fans earned through this organic interaction will be far more likely to follow to whatever else you do.
  • Hashtags are awesome. Use the right hashtag or Tweet @ the right accounts, and they'll probably re-tweet your video or whatever to their subscribers. Again, don't spam people and be annoying, but getting a key re-tweet can attract a lot of new viewers who will, hopefully, also watch your other stuff too. Tweet @ publishers or official game accounts and things like that for best results.
  • Collaborate with other YouTubers. If you're both local, then maybe make a video together, but that isn't necessarily what this is about. Instead, work together to both promote each other's videos. Give YouTubers you like a shout out during a video. Helping people out is cool.
  • Put a "Subscribe" button at the end of your video. You'd be shocked at how effective it can be.
  • This tip is more for viewers than YouTubers themselves, but if you like a channel or you like a particular video, tell people about it! Positive word of mouth is one of the most powerful things on the internet. Content creators spamming everywhere trying to promote stuff is greatly frowned upon (it's called astro turfing), but actual real, honest, organic word of mouth by people that like stuff can have amazing results. If you like a video, tweet it. Share it on Facebook. Tell your friends to watch it. Taking a few seconds out of your day to re-tweet something will have a huge impact and really help out channels you like.

Bottom Line

The most important thing aspiring YouTubers should know is that promoting your channel is the hardest part. Really put some thought into it before you start.

Of course, you shouldn't ever start making gaming YouTube videos because you think you'll get rich. Make them because playing Minecraft or Madden or Halo is fun and making videos is enjoyable, and any money or recognition should be considered a bonus.