For at least 2 years now accepted wisdom has been that the second most important place a band should focus on (after their own website of course) is their Facebook Page. Like many I’ve focussed on social media campaigns there, and many would still consider it the best place for artist’s to connect with fans.
Of late though, things have been changing and shifts are occurring. Since Facebook introduced Timeline for Pages, there has been much talk of the devaluation of the Page for bands. After all, with no means to stipulate a default landing tab, fans-to-be cannot land on a page of music or video to enjoy. Instead, they land on the high visual impact of the main Wall page and, whilst you can pin a post to the top of that Page which might be a YouTube clip or a Soundcloud player, the reality is that means to have immediate connection via your music has been undermined. Its just too… wordy.
In the meantime, a a tortoise has been slowly creeping up on Facebook’s hare: YouTube. In the last year or more they have been slowing introducing a number of changes to their platform, and in combination these amount to a very compelling proposition for artists and their fans. Let’s take a look and run through the benefits and drawbacks:
1. Improved Channel layout
YouTube’s aspirations to become The Ultimate TV Station were never made more clear than when the “Cosmic Panda” design of their channels came into effect. Stripping back the clutter, the new layout placed the video clips at the centre of the design (and your attention) and focussed on offering a more streamlined, minimal interface. Alongside this came the means to offer a more immersive backdrop to your channel, granting far more creative control:
As you can see on the example above, the channel has infinitely more visual impact and can be styled easily to match your campaign aesthetic. In addition, a simple image map allows you to create links elsewhere – e.g. to your other presences online or simply just to buy the album.
Something else I like is that you can now use playlists to better round up your content. Previously playlists were possible but they weren’t presented too clearly and their function wasn’t always fully understood. With the new layout, you can use these to organise your clips. As you can see, on The Temper Trap’s channel, that means separating clips into official promos, live clips, interviews, tour diaries and other miscellaneous uploads. This ensures fans can navigate the uploaded clips with ease – a huge improvement over the previous version of the channel platform.
2. The Store
A recent addition to the new YouTube channel setup was the store function. Wisely, YouTube have not tried to fully own this area (something they could have done Stateside with Google Music, for example), instead linking out to key retailers as applicable. This covers three main areas: Downloads, Tickets and Merchandise. For downloads it is possible to add links to iTunes and Amazon. For merch, Amazon is the sole mainstream retailer. For Tickets, Songkick are the primary partner. However, across all three of those sections one can also integrate Topspin, allowing you to easily retail not just downloads, merch and concert tickets but also physical items, deluxe bundles and more – a powerful and empowering proposition for any artist.
It is worth pointing out that once activated, the Store doesn’t just live as a tab on your channel: it places buy options below every video you upload, ensuring maximum exposure is provided to any viewer:
3. The Feed
Every channel now has its own news feed, covering both activity (e.g. video uploads, new playlists created, favouriting other users’ videos) and comments. These are then presented in a dedicated Feed tab, allowing fans to see all the latest activity and what other fans are saying:
In aggregate then, these features combine to create a highly engaging first landing place for fans seeking out your music. Compare landing on a YouTube channel with landing on a band’s Facebook Page and ask yourself this: which would you dive into first? Which would create a deeper connection with the artist and their music?
For me? No contest: YouTube wins every time.
Having said all that, YouTube still don’t have it 100% right; there’s quite a few annoying niggles with the new Cosmic Panda layout. For starters, the video watch page (ie the page you land on when clicking on its direct URL) does not allow you to match the creative of the channel – annoying as it strips you of the means to have the header banner with clickable links etc. Furthermore the Store element is incredibly badly designed at present, as it forces you to create one Buy link per track, per territory. So for example if I wanted to add Need Your Love as a download for The Temper Trap, I would have to create one button for the UK, one for the USA etc etc. It doesn’t geo-locate you, and overpopulates your Store with useless buttons. Its not a complete disaster as you can mercifully use Topspin to fix that problem, but nonetheless it does highlight how the design falls short.
Beyond those niggles though, YouTube has a far bigger hurdle to overcome: the incredibly poor views channels receive at present. Typically, views from an artist’s channel page (ie viewing via, for example, http://youtube.com/thetempertraptv) only accounts for less than 1% of total views. This is a long-standing stat so has always been the case; it isn’t a recent development or any kind of reflection on the Cosmic Panda upgrade. However what YouTube have to address here is user behaviour – which in most cases is simply to go to http://www.youtube.com and search for the video they want (or click a direct link – which also ensures they do not land on the channel page).
Changing that user habit is not going to be easy. It is where the battle here will be won – and not just in terms of artists engaging the fans. For YouTube to become the TV station to end all TV stations (and let’s be clear, that is certainly its aspiration now with the ubiquity of connected devices), they have to get fans both subscribing to and landing on channels directly.
The Cosmic Panda makeover is still very much “in progress”, with fairly constant updates being added to it. YouTube videos are already a primary currency of artists online, the videos being shared across websites, social spaces, mobile devices and more. But the critical change here is the channels, and YouTube’s intent on not just being a provider a clips for the web, but a primary point of engagement between artist and fan. Ignore them at your peril.