GOTV: Broadcast Your Political Ideas on YouTube

Recently, the New York Times newspaper reported that each month one billion YouTube videos are watched. And those are just the ones with cats in them!

One billion? Wow! As a political communicator do you have a strategy for using this popular media channel? More people watch YouTube than watch the evening news or read the newspaper. (By the way, what’s a New York Times newspaper?) Have you considered making your own videos and putting them on YouTube?

Toward a YouTube Communication Strategy

When people think of political video they often think of TV commercials. TV spots are important, but there is so much advertising clutter in an election that many campaigns have found a successful and affordable way to reach people with online videos. When you think of web video, try not to think only about how TV commercials are used, because there is so much more online video can do. You can use video effectively in a campaign on YouTube and take your message straight to the people–for free!

If you are serving in public office, YouTube can help you explain your goals, update constituents on the progress of your work, show you are listening to voters, and supplement other communications. When you need to get your side of the story out, if you use YouTube, you don’t have to wait for a reporter or editor to decide if your message is newsworthy before you talk to the public.

Here are a few other ideas for using YouTube videos:

  • Talk about your biography, experience, or resume
  • Make a mini-documentary about an important issue
  • Respond to an attack from an opponent (careful, there)
  • Answer frequently asked questions
  • Make “on the scene” videos showing you at important community events
  • Feature endorsement testimonials from your supporters
  • Appeal for support; recruit volunteers or do some fundraising
  • Create a regular “show” with a video blog (often called a “vlog”)
  • Add video to accompany a news release or email blast
  • Have a video that is linked to a QR code on printed postcards
  • Have a YouTube Town Hall meeting

More ideas…

  • Lights, Camera, Ready for Taking Action

Okay, it’s time to talk about making a video. First, don’t get caught up worrying about all the production values. Too many people focus on the hardware and software of video. All these are nice to have, but even if you’re just shooting a video using your smart phone, you can make an impact. Some people hinder their communications because they worry their videos don’t seem professional or catchy enough. Avoid trying to make the runaway mega-hit of political videos; just connect with voters. You don’t need a million hits; you just need to be a hit with the right people. The good thing about YouTube is that the viewers there don’t expect high quality video productions, but they crave good communication. There is a proverb about good communication that applies to political YouTube videos.

“The purpose of a fish trap is to catch fish, and when the fish are

caught, the trap is forgotten.

The purpose of a rabbit snare is to catch rabbits. When the rabbits

are caught, the snare is forgotten.

The purpose of words is to convey ideas. When the ideas are grasped,

the words are forgotten.

Where can I find a man who has forgotten words? He is the one I would

like to talk to.”

When your video connects with people, it starts a conversation about ideas. You don’t need great videos if you have good ideas. Since every YouTube video has a place for comments and links to your other media, you really can start a conversation. So talk about your good ideas in front of a camera and post the video on YouTube!

Ten Ways to Make Your Political YouTube Videos Click-Worthy

  1. Be aware of the scene. When you shoot your video, pay attention to what is in the background. You don’t need a “set,” but don’t do a video with something distracting in the background of the shot.
  2. Light and sound. On YouTube the most important production qualities are lighting and sound. Pay attention to how easy the video is to see on a computer screen or tablet. Listen to make sure the audio quality is good. Some viewers may be in places that are poorly lit or will be trying to listen with other noises distracting them.
  3. Write a good title. Above all, title your video! Put some thought into the title. If your title were a link on Google, would you click it? Your title is what will show up on search engines or when people share it on Facebook. Make the title count!
  4. Include a description. Each video needs a clear description. Write what the video is about. That’s for web surfers to read to help them decide if they want to watch. Also search engine “spiders” scan this text and use it for placing your video in the search engines. Don’t forget to include a link to your website in the description.
  5. Fill out meta data. Meta data are descriptive key words that help YouTube categorize videos. There is a space to include keywords about the subject of your video. Make sure you include this text. Keywords (or tags) are also useful for search engines and help promote your video online. Don’t be shy about targeting your competition by mentioning their names in keyword tags, too. That way when people watch their videos, YouTube will also suggests they watch your video too. Pretty slick, huh?
  6. Enable embedding so your video will play on Facebook and other sites. To enable embedding, simply click the option to allow embedding, in the video manager of your YouTube account. It’s very frustrating when a video is linked on Facebook (or other social media) and it won’t play in the news feed. Make sure users can embed your video. This will help it go viral easier because it’s better to share a video that will play in the news feed.
  7. Select the icon. Look and see what freeze-frame icons are available for your video. This is the image people see before your video starts playing. YouTube usually gives you a choice of three. Pick the most flattering one you can get. If your video goes viral, you don’t want a still image of you with closed eyes as the icon, right?
  8. Start your own channel. Post regularly. Using videos should be an ongoing part of your strategy. Political leaders are usually great at talking, so use your assets to your best advantage. Don’t only post commercials. There is so much more you can do with YouTube!
  9. Share your videos on other social media networks. Once you have a video, make sure you share it on all your other social media channels and link to it in your other communications. Include a YouTube icon (linked to your channel) on your website, so people can find your videos and subscribe to your channel.
  10. Allow comments, but pay attention to them and moderate. There are a few people out there who seem to live to make negative comments on YouTube. (These folks were probably not hugged by their parents. Pity them.) Don’t let them keep you from allowing comments on your video. Videos with comments have more viral potential. The key to dealing with caustic people is to moderate their comments.

More about advertising on YouTube in a later post.

Chris Forbes ( is a frustrated ex-comic, Indie Film Marketer, & Co-author of “Guerrilla Marketing for Nonprofits.” As an Oklahoma-based social media strategist he has been leading political social media campaigns since 2009. Follow @cforbesoklahoma on Twitter.