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If you want to be a star on YouTube, shock factor still reigns supreme. But with thousands of videos released every day, it's a long road to the top. David Wilson guides you through the dos and don'ts.
Some internet exhibitionists have talent, others just crave attention, and for many, YouTube, the Google-owned video-sharing site, has become the online showcase of choice.
Since thousands of fresh videos hit YouTube every day, it remains difficult to get yourself noticed, let alone reach the top of the viewing charts. Gaining the attention of a traditional mass-media outlet - a newspaper, radio or television - can help enormously, says Heather Polinsky, a professor at Central Michigan University's school of broadcast and cinematic arts. Instead of relying on the slow progress of word-of-mouth marketing, savvy video-clip posters send press releases to media outlets or tap friends-of-friends who have connections in the mass media.
Bringing the press on board is half the battle. The posting also needs to be infused with 'news value', she says. 'Whether it is prominence, timeliness, novelty or conflict, the post needs to hit the culture at the right time and place.'
Blogging and joining the community on a large social networking site are also a good start. They offer audience exposure to your videos, with the possibility of their being picked up by a fan and posted on YouTube.
The chances of making a name for yourself on the site increase if you were lucky enough to be armed with a camcorder at the scene of a spectacular crash by a catwalk model or at an acrimonious public quarrel, such as in the 'Bus Uncle' episode - a profanity-laced hit video filmed in Hong Kong on a camera-phone in April last year.
The pursuit of online fame requires an element of strategy. However, Ashley Wong, 22, project co-ordinator at the Kowloon-based media arts institution Videotage (www.videotage.org.hk), claims there is no magic formula. Founded in 1985 as a non-profit interdisciplinary artists collective, Videotage focuses on developing local video and new-media art, and presenting it to a broader community.
'It depends on what the masses think of as funny,' says Wong, who has a degree in fine arts from Concordia University in Montreal, Canada. 'For me, it's about creating meaning rather than popularity. Hopefully people will find meaningful comment interesting and that will generate more interest.'
Wong advises that a sole spunky video offers little chance of making a splash online. Instead, she recommends building an entire project around a theme and posting a wide range of video clips.
Her favourite YouTube oeuvre, for example, is a 12-part 2005 series devised by American rhythm and blues singer R Kelly. Called Trapped in the Closet, the series portrays the consequences of being caught in a one-night stand with a married woman. Ten further episodes were released this year.
Described by Wong as 'a movie-drama-musical', each episode unveils something that compels viewers to keep watching. Wong also sees the production as a 'mini-epic comedy'.
She says humour is a recommended ingredient for any video posted online.
So is brevity. YouTube is an inherently snappy medium - video clips need to cut to the chase. Coincidentally, this also makes them easier to upload. The tag lines encapsulating the 'plot' should be snappy too or allude to someone famous. Videotage artist 'Duran Duran Duran', for example, often attracts viewers seeking footage of the similarly named 1980s-era British pop group.
One video clip currently grabbing the limelight online is for a three-minute pop song called Girlfriend by Canadian singer Avril Lavigne. The clip has notched up more than 60 million views in eight months. The pop-punk princess already has a huge fan base; her MySpace page logs almost 1 million friends. What's more, she is pretty and can sing, dance and string a story together a la R Kelly.
If you lack this kind of talent, observe the 'short, sweet and to-the-point' rule and be 'funny, sexy or sick', says independent filmmaker Adryenn Ashley, the self-titled 'chief idea bunny' at California-based marketing consultancy WOW! Is Me (wowisme.net).
Another tactic by online posters is to make up joke taglines, also known as 'porn names'. 'This will attract random hits, but not necessarily the people you want,' says Wong.
As for design, anything flashy or populist should help your cause. Consider incorporating clips of celebrities - or pranksters posing as them. Your video's resolution need not be super high as the Web does not demand good quality. This is because the average computer screen does not render as well as that of a television. Feel free to use any old camcorder, Wong says, but avoid webcams, which produce poor resolution and video time delays.
Roger Wu, vice-president of New York-based marketing strategies and services firm Digital Power and Light, offers just one powerful, non-technical tip: be confrontational. In this respect, it helps that most videos on YouTube are boring trailers and the like.
Wu claims most of the site's viewers are becoming numb to shock videos such as the Bus Uncle tirade. 'However, shock videos will still rule the top of the charts if they are sufficiently shocking,' he says.
You know you've hit the YouTube big time when your shock video shoots to the top of the viewing pile. 'If you can game your way into the 'most viewed' section with a decently interesting video, you'll have a good chance of staying there,' says Wu. Fine examples can be found in the Most Viewed (All Time) page.
Traditional mass-media outlets latched onto the six-minute Bus Uncle video and used it to debate a larger social issue - rudeness. 'My understanding of the Bus Uncle phenomenon is it hit Hong Kong at the right time to begin a cultural discussion on social etiquette,' Polinsky says. 'If society was not primed for this discussion, the Bus Uncle video would never have been so prominent in that society.'
Ingenuity can mean the difference between average and viral. 'Look at Randi Zuckerberg,' says Ashley, pointing out that Zuckerberg, sister of Facebook's founder and chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, addresses amusing topics on her popular blog. She asks, for instance, what is a surefire way for a girl to get a geek to notice her. Answer: slip an iPhone down her top. And if that kind of humour can make the grade, imagination combined with intelligence can create a life-changing experience.
Breakout stars such as David Lehre - who wrote, produced and directed the 11-minute viral video MySpace: The Movie - leverage YouTube to launch a movie and television career by pushing the creative envelope.
Says Ashley: 'Look at all [Lehre's] videos - they are all super-funny and rip on everyday stuff we all know is true but, in our politically correct world, never think we could say out loud.'