Sean's "Rules" for Web Video

I originally wrote these rules for the on-screen host of a YouTube channel I created in 2013 which grew to about 4,000 subscribers and about 200,000 views within just two months. While I've shared them a few times with people in my capacity as a consultant or producer on other jobs, I never posted them publicly... Until now!

So without further ado, here are my "rules" for successfully creating good videos and building a strong YouTube Channel:

  • Be Awesome
    What I mean by this is that you need to create and offer value to others. Be a person and a host who produces content that other people want to watch not because they are honor-bound as your friends or because they're in your "tribe" already, but because the stuff you're presenting is genuinely entertaining, interesting and enlightening. 
  • Be Cute
    Broadly, be attractive. Image matters. Presentation matters. Don't ignore the clothes and makeup and all that, but more importantly... smile. Always be kind and genuine, and as long as you look good, you will be attractive to viewers. Being a girl helps, but this doesn't only apply to girls.
  • Be Prepared
    More for me or anyone else who has to work with you. Know what you want to say, know how you want to say it, be ready with additional graphics, video clips, and music, so that the filming & editing process can be quick and efficient.
  • Be Positive, Not Negative
    Optimism is contagious. Hope is emotionally powerful. Positive thinking is inclusive and inviting. Even when you want to make a video blasting an idea you think is horrible, find the way to positively support a better idea. Solutions turn people on and gets them thinking, negativity is divisive and turns people (and their brains) off.
  • Engage the Audience Every Time
    Every video needs to start a conversation and invite new viewers into the party. And it is a party. You're doing something cool that they want to see and that they want to share with their friends, because their friends want to see it too. We do this by asking open ended questions, creating direct opportunities for audience participation (Ze Frank is brilliant at this), and leaving enough room for people have their own ideas about what you're saying.
  • Let People In On Who You Are
    In addition to engaging the audience in a conversation, engage the audience by humanizing yourself and making yourself actually relatable. You will do this by letting them see at least some honest moments about how you feel and sharing details of your personal life. No need to overshare, but share enough of yourself to let people know that you are a feeling, breathing, caring person who is hurt by insults and is excited for success - just as they are. The internet rewards authenticity, and most audiences can spot a phony from miles away. So it's good to be yourself and even to be vulnerable on camera. People will appreciate you for talking from the heart, and they will abandon you if they start to feel manipulated.
  • Be Consistent 
    A channel that only puts out content at random is a channel that's just going to frustrate audiences. Even if you can't make a new video every day or every week, try to make sure that you're putting up new content regularly and predictably so people who like what you do know when to come back and get more.
  • Do Talk About Pop-Culture!
    Popular media is one of the most unifying things any culture has. "Did you see the new episode of Game of Thrones!?", "What did you think of Modern Family last night?", "Have you had a chance to play Borderlands?", "Omg, Justin Beiber finally broke up with Selena Gomez! It's about time, he's been cheating on her for years!!". Not only will everybody have something to relate to, it also provides a jumping off point to almost any idea you want to talk about.
    [Note: See my writings on Superman: 
    http://seanwmalone.blogspot.com/2012/06/character-story-economics-in-comics.html
    ...or on "Taking a Lesson from Jazz: Libertarian Cooperation: 
    http://seanwmalone.blogspot.com/2009/04/taking-lesson-from-jazz-libertarian.html)
  • Do Talk About Ideas!
    Ideas - especially interesting ones that many people haven't thought much about, are great conversation starters and bring people into discussions - especially when presented with some humility. Ideas can be unifying.
  • Don't Talk About Politics (Don't Make People Hate You) 
    Unlike talking about great ideas and offering solutions, talking about politics invites tribalism. Tribalism puts up an automatic barrier between you and audiences, and some will love you for it, but others will never listen to you again. This does not mean you can't touch on immediately relevant political issues or issues in which politics is the driving problem - but the presentation of those topics should not be expressed from a partisan or politically polarizing angle, because that only exacerbates the divide between you and the people who don't already think exactly like you. If you want to talk to people who think exactly like you, go talk to a mirror.

One other thing I would add to this list is a simple reminder that if your goal is to win friends and influence people, or change a culture of ideas, you must be careful that the kinds of content you're putting out attracts more people than it turns off. If you start with 100 people on your side and 100 people against you, and grow those numbers to 1,000 people on your side and 1,000 people against you, you've accomplished nothing except perhaps gaining a little attention for yourself.

If all you're looking for is attention, then this is a way to get it... But if you want to become an inspiration to people around you, you'll need to be more than a lightning rod.

Other than that, just be yourself and have some fun. Making videos is supposed to be fun, remember?

Sean Malone

Washington, DC