In the 1980's a new technology platform burst on the scene that opened up the sport of skateboarding to the masses. The VCR enabled anyone with a video camera to film, package and sell it on video tapes. One of the first to do it for skateboarding was Stacey Peralta and George Powell who formed a skateboarding group called the Bones Brigade. Peralta understood early on how to use video to influence the next generation of skateboarders and was widely credited with capturing the spirit of the sport at the time.
Fast forward to today and a whole new brigade of filmmakers are pushing skateboarding to new heights. Like Peralta and Powell, these skateboarders are using a new platform to promote themselves and their sport. Yet this platform has something more - much more than the old VCR tapes. That platform is of course YouTube which allows and encourages the active participation of its viewers through sharing, commenting and interacting with the content uploaded there.
But who and how are this new generation of filmmakers using the platform? What are the top channels that are building and engaging their audiences? And what can we learn from them?
So in partnership with Blast Motion, we decided to identify and highlight the top 20 skating channels that are engaging with their audiences the best. It's clear that these 20 individuals and companies have learned that high engagement involves the ability to emotionally connect with their audience - but it's not clear how.
So we took the liberty to ask the channel owners and provide some analysis for you. These are 5 things that we learned:
1. Authenticity sells and builds audiences
The first rule of high engagement on YouTube is to be yourself and to be real. Don't act commercial, don't be a commercial, just be who you are.
Josh Katz (Enminem) told us, "It's all about personality and progression. Sure, I'm not the best skateboarder out there. But you get to see me struggling to land tricks, showing all the attempts, even highlighting the embarrassing ones. People watch me progressing from video to video, comparing their own progress to mine. Many of the pros are so talented they become unrelatable. And since they can only give so many interviews, we know little about their personalities and they become like robots--incredibly talented robots.
But I try to talk to the camera in almost every video and respond to as many personal comments, messages, and emails as possible. I also make Day in the Life videos where people get a peek into my social life outside of skateboarding. People truly get to know me as a person. From all this, my viewers establish more of a vested interest in me; so even if my skating talent isn't the best in the world, personality can make up for it to a certain extent. I become more of a relatable human to them; not just a guy who does some cool skate tricks"
2. Ditch the commercials, layer in your product in a natural way
We also learned that smart brands are now working with these highly engaging content creators to showcase their products in natural ways in natural settings. It's far more effective and engaging than a TV commercial and at far less cost. This type of product placement is the future.
14 year-old Steven Fernandez (BabyScumbag) explains, "I think social media and skateboarding match well because people want to see what a skater does and wears in his normal life and is a cool way to look at brands without having to see commercials. For example, I'm helping a new company called Honey Brand break into the industry by showcasing their clothing in my videos."
Meet the top 20
3. Become a consistent, stand out media channel
Almost everyone in the top 20 viewed themselves as a media channel. And media channels need to do two things to grow their audiences. First, they need to put out regular content. Second, they need to ensure that content entertains, educates or engages their audience (the best do all three).
Expert Andrew Schrock tells us how it's done: "My advice to anyone using social media to engage skateboarders is simple; Do it consistently. The Internet works fast. You need to keep reminding people you're there producing content. Add personality: Odds are you're not in street league or the X Games. So if you're not doing the biggest, best skateboarding, then you need to do something to stand out and make people remember who you are. As with anything in life, you have to figure out how to stick out so that at the end of the day they remember your name. So add personality to your content!"
4. Tell a story that is designed to be engaging
This isn't new but needs to be repeated. People are accustomed to learning and engaging through story. But most of the top 20 have figured out how to develop videos that evoke a strong emotion in people to share, comment or engage the channel.
Alex Buening (AlexBskating) agrees, telling me: "Social media and really any activity makes a great match. The fact that you can pretty much interact with anyone around the world is absolutely amazing! If a kid has a question about something in a video he can simply just ask and more than likely I'm going to respond. It's incredible really how times have changed since the start of the internet."
5. Create an action movie
One of the advantages of skateboarding is that the sport is perfect for action video. But what if your subject matter isn't action video friendly? For example, explaining conceptual concepts like parallel universes? How do you make that interesting in video and do it on a low budget?
Think like an action movie director. Build the concept, product or solution into a scene in an action movie. Then develop additional storylines to create sequels or serial videos to continue the story. This might be hard for some subjects, but pulling it off can increase your chances for engaging content.
If you're on a low budget, use animation or backyard type concepts. Blendtec's viral series Will It Blend demonstrates that a blender on a counter is all you need to produce engaging content. Their content was so engaging, millions shared them with their friends and family.
But back to Skateboarding, TransworldSKATEMag's editor, Jamie Owens explains why it works within the sport: "Skateboarding has always been about photographing and videoing the action taking place and now with Facebook and Instagram, and other outlets, skateboarding fits perfectly into that model of sharing videos and photos."