8 Questions To Ask Before Using YouTube As A Communications Tool

YouTube As communications professionals, it’s very easy to get caught up in the hype and excitement about all the new online communications tactics we have available to us today. YouTube is a great example. It’s tempting to view tools like this as a silver bullet for our communications woes.

YouTube used to be primarily a great source for videos of music and kids hurting themselves on skateboards. No longer. It’s becoming a more common tool for corporate communications.

Your management may want to rush out, jump into the deep end and start using YouTube to communicate directly with people. If you can, you should get them to pause and consider several questions first:

What are your objectives?

What do you want to get out of this communications effort?

What do you want to achieve? Do you want to drive people to your website? Increase sales elsewhere? Raise awareness? Stimulate behaviour change? Generate discussion? Does video help you reach this objective?

Who’s your target audience?

A few interesting stats for YouTube’s U.S. audience:

  • 51% male; 49% female
  • 60% of users aged over 35 (18% under 18; 20% aged 18-34)
  • 71% employed; 15% students
  • 47% married
  • 69% college educated

Not what you’d expect, is it?

Are you looking for sustained interest?

Is this a one-off, or part of a sustained campaign? Who will produce follow-up videos? What will they be about?

It may not be necessary to publish regular videos (the Dove Evolution video, for example, was highly successful without being part of a frequent series). However, if regular videos are the intention, consider how that process will work.

Do you have the resources to do this in-house? Do you have the budget to outsource it? You may be better off buying a decent video camera and editing suite and training your staff to produce and edit video. You’ll re-coup this cost quickly if you’re producing videos regularly.

How will you measure success?

Please, oh please, don’t use views as your only success criteria.

Yes, video views are a helpful indicator of your video’s reach. However, they don’t tell you whether people absorbed your message or whether they took any action based on it. I’m no measurement guru, but video views SUCK as a success criteria. It’s like citing TV audience as a success criteria for TV advertising.

Find a way to at least measure a proxy for your objectives.

Do you have a good visual for video?

Rigid, scripted talking heads make for boring video. Don’t expect great pick-up if your video is boring. Be interesting or be forgotten.

How will you handle comments?

Decide how you’re going to deal with comments on the video – both text and video.

First, are you ready to accept negative comments? Assuming you enable comments, how will you respond to them? And who will respond?

The Wall Street Journal recently published an article outlining five approaches that companies use to deal with "negative consumer- and employee-generated content on the Web."

  1. Do nothing
  2. Put the lawyers on it
  3. Throw money at the problem
  4. Invite and engage the critics
  5. Stop it before it starts

If your company plans to do anything other than options four or five, consider whether you should enable comments. You may get criticized for not doing so, but it may be better than the criticism you’ll get if you allow them and don’t respond or respond inappropriately.

Will you allow ratings?

Are you going to let people rate your video?

I would suggest that if you’re not confident about the video, you shouldn’t upload it but we all know that sometimes these decisions are out of our hands.

Will you let people embed the video?

This may be a no-brainer, but the last thing you want is your boss calling you up and asking why your video is up on someone else’s website. You could argue that if people don’t like the possibility of this happening then maybe you should re-examine YouTube videos as a tactic for your campaign.

YouTube can be a great tactic but if you’re looking for a traditional one-way, controlled information flow, perhaps it isn’t the best tactic for you.


This is a basic list of fundamental questions you should answer before you launch into using videos on YouTube (or another video site) as a communications tactic. This is just a start, and some of these questions should already be part of your communications planning process.

Also, please remember, don’t have a YouTube strategy. This is just another tactic to add to your toolkit.

If you treat YouTube videos as a standalone piece, handled separately from the rest of your communications, they’re likely to fail. Throwing out random videos is about as likely to get you somewhere as throwing out random press releases (if a video is published and no-one views it, was it really published?). Think strategically. Think about this in conjunction with your other communications products.

If you’ve used YouTube as a communications tool, what lessons have you learned? What other questions should people ask before diving in?

Dave Fleet
Managing Director and Head of Global Digital Crisis at Edelman. Husband and dad of two. Cycling nut; bookworm; videogamer; Britnadian. Opinions are mine, not my employer's.