SMWNYC 2011 – YouTube as the New Campfire

Description from the Social Media Week New York schedule event listing:

Since the beginning of time, human beings have connected through stories. Over time the mediums for storytelling have changed dramatically, and in the past five years, YouTube has emerged as one of the most engaging and powerful storytelling platforms in existence. From the entertaining (Double Rainbow, JK Wedding Dance) to the political (Neda’s story) to the inspiring (the Fully Sick Rapper), the stories that have been told on YouTube are part of our cultural narrative. YouTube is the modern day campfire, allowing people and brands a platform for creative self-expression and social connectivity through video story-telling.

This session will feature experts from Google discussing how the YouTube platform presents a new opportunity for storytelling in terms of both content and advertising opportunities.


  • Lauren Siegel, Creative Content Specialist, Google
  • Ali Pulver, Creative Content Specialist, Google

Event Recap:

Lauren Siegel and Ali Pulver, two Creative Content Specialists  of the YouTube Zoo team at Google, presented a fireside chat about storytelling from YouTube at the Business, Media & Communications content hub at JWT.  They present a series of videos demonstrating the history and impact of the YouTube platform (including the first video ever posted to the site.)

What are the elements of a good story?  The great stories being told in the digital space today share these elements:

  • Informative
  • Entertaining
  • Conversational
  • Useful
  • Inspiring

A good story provides you with knowledge that you didn’t have before.  Siegel and Pulver shared a video from The Khan Academy, an online one-man classroom of 12 minute lectures on a variety of topics.  Even Bill Gates is a viewer of the lessons.  Pulver stressed the differentiated quality of The Khan Academy isn’t its channel; it’s that people are being educated by a passionate teacher and not a static textbook.

The Coco Cam from Conan O’Brien and Team Coco was presented as a perfect example as an entertaining video (two words: “dancing taco.”)   YouTube is also capable of extending the reach of live events through livestreaming.

Brands use YouTube to create conversations with their videos in order to change an existing conversation.  Pulver shared Toyota’s Swagger Wagon campaign as an example of a conversational campaign.  In addition to the entertainment value of a suburban couple rapping about their minivan, Toyota added user-generated videos to their page to encourage participation and viral growth.  An even better known campaign that leverages a variety of social channels including YouTube to engage and converse with customers is the Old Spice campaign.

Engaging citizens and public officials about political issues is a way that YouTube can be used in useful ways.  Around the recent State of the Union address, YouTube collected and ranked questions from users through their Moderator tool.  Then, their news editor got the “best” questions answered by President Obama in a video a view days after the address.  This gave YouTube a role in democratizing the role of information in politics and on the internet.  Another example shared was the YouTube Symphony Orchestra campaign, which not only offered viewers a chance to perform with the best of the best at the Sydney Opera House, but also offered master classes to aspiring musicians.

Finally, YouTube videos can give consumers the tools to succeed and create inspiring stories.  Users can make themselves into celebrities through their videos.  One example provided was the transformation of Pancea81 from a woman teaching how to apply makeup on YouTube to a makeup guru with her own makeup line at Sephora.  YouTube’s Life in a Day campaign provided an opportunity for many users to add parts of their story to a narrative that was featured at Sundance.

Using YouTube is ultimately about providing value to your audience, through one or more of these elements.  It’s easy to oversell the effect of social media tools, but the core of success comes from good storytelling.  If you are able to create a strong narrative, then you are primed to be successful.

Analysis and Commentary:

Even as communication technologies have evolved, the way that people share stories with one another hasn’t really changed.  This is why it’s vital to look at more than just the newest channel technologies when aiming to engage with consumers.  A flashier presentation may catch attention, but there needs to be an emotional resonance in order to hold it.

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