Talk Marketing

The Magical Power of Empathy in Video Marketing and YouTube Optimization (with Matt Johnston)

In this episode, John McDougall talks with Matt about the power of empathy in videos. He explains how to use empathy to optimize YouTube videos and drive engagement with marketing videos.

John McDougall: Welcome to Talk Marketing Made Easy. This is John McDougall, and I’m here today with Matt Johnston of Peak Video Creators and Guide Social. Welcome, Matt.

Matt Johnston: Hey, what’s going on, John?

Interviewing Mark Hamill From Star Wars

John: Yeah. Good to see you, man. And first, as a fellow Star Wars fanatic, how on earth did you stay calm interviewing Mark Hamill.

Matt: Oh, we’re just launching into this question. Okay, sure, let’s do it.

John: That blew me away.

Matt: No, he was cool. I will say, not to toot my own horn, but I was around a lot of celebrities that week, and this was right at the end of the week. So I was covering Sundance. So we have around, we had tons of people in there. But I didn’t actually interview them because I was just helping run the video team. But yeah, Mark Hamill was the last day, and so I decided to interview him.

How did I stay calm? The hardest thing for me was getting the guts to ask about Star Wars because he wasn’t there, and this is very normal. He wasn’t there to talk about Star Wars. He was there to talk about an indie film that he did with, I don’t even remember, was it Adrian Brody? No, no, no, no, it was somebody less famous than that.

Anyway, he was there with two other people. Can’t even remember the name of the movie. He was there promoting that. And he’s very old. He looks old in person. He’s just a really nice guy though. So we were 20 minutes into it, and I had to get the guts to ask him about Star Wars. So that was the hardest thing, because I knew that he wasn’t there to talk about it. And I was like, is he going to get a little pissed because people always ask him about Star Wars? So yeah, I don’t know.

But the funny thing was his publicist met me. Well, we didn’t have a meeting in there, but we were both in urinals next to each other right there. And he looked over at me and he’s like, “Hey. So with Mark, there’s just some things you just don’t want to ask him about. Don’t ask him about Carrie.” Because Carrie, she had just died. Princess Leia. What’s wrong with me? I forget her last name. But yeah, she had just died, and that was one thing that he was touchy about.So they didn’t want to talk about that. Don’t ask him about that.

But it was actually amazing because I got the guts and I said to him, I said, “Mark, I wouldn’t be doing my job as an entertainment journalist if I didn’t ask you about Star Wars.” That’s what I said. And he goes, “Oh, okay.” And then I was just, I don’t even know what I asked him. I have no idea what I asked him.

John: It was a blur.

Matt: And that was the great thing, because he just went off. He just went off on this huge rant about how Jake Lloyd, who played young Anakin Skywalker in the Phantom Menace, was given a bad rap by everybody because everybody was like, “Oh, he sucks. He’s just a stupid little kid. That’s not future Darth Vader.” And he was like universally panned by everybody at the time. And Mark Hamill, just for some reason, I didn’t even ask him about this, he just went off about it. He was just like, everybody gives that kid a bad rap. He was just doing what George told him to do, and it went viral.

John: That’s awesome.

Matt: All over the place. It went viral on Reddit and all this stuff. And then he said something else about, I must have asked them about how they convinced him to come back or something. And he’s like, “Well, they want to come to my house with pitchforks after Harrison said that he would do it,” and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. So anyway.

John: That’s awesome. We’re living in Star Wars now with ChatGPT as the lightsaber.

Matt: Yeah.

John: This is crazy.

Matt: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Anyway, that was cool.

John: That’s awesome.

Matt: Cool experience.

John: Yeah. And you worked at New York Magazine and Business Insider. What are some of the takeaways from that experience?

Matt: There’s a lot. What do you want to know?

John: Well, about content creation in particular.

Matt: About content creation in particular.

Takeaways From Creating Content for Business Insider

John: Talk about what you did and how you helped grow the content and the team there.

Matt: So when I was first at Business Insider, I was one of the first hundred-ish employees. So then eventually two years later, they got bought for $500 million almost, $468 or something. It was crazy because when I first started there, it was pretty small. There were 100 of us in a smaller office, and I was one of the first video producers there.

So I was making video content, which for me, I was animating stuff and after effects and writing. I’m a good writer. I’m really good at story ideas and headlines, and I didn’t want to be out in the field. So I taught myself how to animate, and I made videos about that stuff. But then I was just always way too ambitious for my own good, and I’m really good at freaking knowing what people will click on. It’s my gift.

John: Superpower.

Matt: So they moved me to the news division. So I was a news editor managing all the content that the whole place was… And it was just crazy because it got bigger and bigger and bigger. And it was like 300 people a year later. So I was literally managing, rewriting and writing 200 headlines a day. Business Insider was early on the map for being one of these. They write amazing clickbait headlines. I hate that word, clickbait. But yeah, you clicked it didn’t you?. Welcome, that’s my job. I was managing content across all the different divisions and everything.

And I would say the biggest takeaway, I was telling you this before the show, is that the internet is just a fire hose. I got very obsessed with, and this was through the rest of my career with un-niched content essentially. It’s interesting because I think it flies in the face of a lot of the SEO strategy that as a marketer, I’m always hearing about now. But at a publication that large, where most of our traffic was coming from social media from broader audiences, we were going viral with posts and Facebook would show them to other people. There was a time when that happened. And so the broader, the better.

Business Insider started with business news, but we were all over the place. We had fashion, style. We became this huge internet fire hose of people that wrote… Our writers wrote five to seven posts a day. They were just chugging through it. I was there to massage the headlines. I was assigning story angles out, like “This happened, let’s do this. This happened, let’s do this. This headline’s bad.” I was monitoring the performance of headlines to see which ones were performing better, and I would change them on the fly, just optimizing for traffic. All this stuff that in SEO, Google’s just doing for you on autopilot, I was the human becoming the algorithm.

I was like a human algorithm because people would actually come to the site, and I had real-time reports of which articles they were clicking on, and which they weren’t. And I knew why they weren’t, because that was my expertise. So I was changing thumbnails, changing images, changing headlines all the time. It was pretty exciting. It was pretty fun.

John: It sounds fun.

Niched Content Creation at New York Magazine

Matt: And then when New York Magazine hired me to run their video team and stuff, they just ran stuff completely differently. So it was interesting.

John: Did they niche down more, or were they also broad? Because a big site can get away with broad.

Matt: Yeah, they were more niched. They were more niched and precious about their content. Where a writer, it was more Bohemian. A writer would just pour his heart into an article and take weeks to write it and stuff like that. And I came from hose land where it was just like, boom, boom, boom. I optimized for volume. I was like, we need to be publishing 10 videos a day. And so I put together a team that did that. And we were successful. But there’s pluses and minuses to all of it, right? It’s like that whole, you’d rather go deep than shallow. I don’t know.

John: But I think you just showed that both strategies worked in different situations.

Matt: Yeah. What’s interesting is obviously with Business Insider, we had a crap load of domain authority. So we did get a lot of SEO traffic. But most of our 60 plus million uniques per month were coming from social media and direct traffic. We got a lot of direct traffic. So it was interesting. It was very, very interesting. It was almost like producing a TV show with the level of real-time stuff at the time. But that doesn’t happen as much anymore. It’s just different now.

John: Certainly more competitive.

Matt: Well, it’s more the changes in social media algorithms. I guarantee you, if I had the insight, which I don’t, into where Business Insider’s traffic comes from now, Facebook would not be a large driver, I’m guessing.

John: Because they put a governor on it to make it so just a small percent of people, friends and friends.

Relying on Social Shares Vs. SEO

Matt: Yeah, because Mark Zuckerberg just cut news sites off at the knees, at one point. He was just like, “We’re not doing this anymore.” There was a few years ago, or four or five years ago maybe it was when he was like, “Listen, we’re going to make it so we’re going to get Facebook back to this original experience where you see things from your friends and you talk to your friends.

And news sites were like, “Oh, crap, there goes my business.” Because their business is based on traffic. Because the ad sales people obviously sold the traffic assets. They were like, look at our 60 million uniques. So if you start seeing your biggest traffic driver drop, we were never that concerned with SEO back in those days. It didn’t seem to matter very much.

John: Yeah, yeah. I’ve heard other people, Mark Schaefer wrote a book talking about how in the early days he had a really popular blog without thinking about SEO. Then later he modified and incorporated that and doubled down on both sides of it. But the most important thing is the valuable content. So with your book, Producing Empathy, you obviously talk about empathy, but how did you come to that? Was that an extension of those experiences that you just mentioned? Or how did you come up with the idea that empathy is the kingpin?

Empathy Drives Viral Content

Matt: That’s a good question. So my whole thing is I got really good at figuring out what would go viral. I got really good at knowing what people would click on. I was behind videos that did hundreds of millions of views. I think when I started writing the book, I started thinking about why something would go viral, and empathy kept coming back as the concept.

I think that in general, the reason why anybody clicks on anything online is because they see themselves in it in some way. So whether it’s value that they’re going to receive, like the five foolproof ways to organize your desk and to reduce your stress every single day. A headline like that I just made up, I don’t know, it’s not a real article. That is empathy because in general, it’s sort of saying, “Hey, I see you. I see how stressed out you’re feeling about your desk. Let me give you some valuable content to fix that problem.”

Cool? All right, cool. We’ll be friends now I’m going to guide you. That’s empathy that gets people in there. That’s why the educational-based stuff, the best of the educational stuff has that empathetic root in it. Right? I’ll never forget a BuzzFeed post that I remember when I saw it, this was eight years ago. I saw it in my Facebook feed, and I was like, that’s going to go viral. The thumbnail image was a 5′ girl reaching up over the top of her laundry machine to try to get the laundry thing from the cupboard above it, and she couldn’t reach it. And the headline was, “Things Only Short Girls Understand.”

And I was like, this is going to go viral because every 5′ girl, 5′ to 5’4″ girl is going to see this post. And they’re going to be like, “Yep, I know that story. I know that story, and that girl is me in that thumbnail image.” And it’s going to apply empathetically to a very unique but rabid subset of people. That’s their existence. I’m a short woman, that’s my thing. It’s a huge part of their lives. Empathy. Or we had so many stories go viral, cancer survivor stories and heartfelt soldier surprises, wife coming home from war after not being seen for four years and shows up and throws out the first pitch at Angels Stadium. It’s empathy because we know, we’ve been married, we understand. We’ve been in love. We know what it’s like.

So anyway, I started to realize that the reason why anybody clicks anything online is because they see themselves in it or they want to see themselves in it. And that to me was empathy, not sympathy. It was empathy. It was feeling in another what you have felt yourself is my definition of empathy. And from a content creator standpoint, it’s just constantly creating content that says, I understand how you feel, over and over again in different blog posts. So that is why empathy became the crux of it. And having my experience that I had a Business Insider, I could easily rewrite that whole book for any type of content, written, whatever, and it would be the same that it’s driven by empathy at the end of the day. That was a really long-winded answer, but I haven’t articulated that since I wrote the book, I don’t think in depth.

Using Empathy to Create Content

John: And the book is really helpful. I recommend everyone check it out. Again, it’s Producing Empathy by Matt Johnson, and it’s awesome. I listened on Audible, and Matt’s voiceover is amazing. It’s him doing it, the talking and that’s great Talk Marketing. So anyway, leading that into YouTube and starting a channel, it’s depressing to be empathetic. And I know the feeling, I’ve been doing SEO a long time, but I’ve had plenty of my own projects or like, “Oh shit, I’m on YouTube,” or I’m starting a new blog, and it’s tiring when it takes time to work. What are some tips for people to get their YouTube channels going and use empathy?

Matt: Yeah. It’s just the same. As far as using empathy, this is just general in business, whether you’re creating content or whether you’re selling something, the more you make it about you, the more you’re going to lose. So you need to make it about them. So the best way to be empathetic is just what are the…

For example, I teach a college class in PR. I’ve been teaching it for years. And we had our test today on content. I do the class in three thirds. And this middle third was all about content creation. And the process that I take them through to create content is, and this is a great strategy for anybody starting a blog or a YouTube channel. This is in the book, so you might recognize it, John. Essentially, I have them do what I call a persona exercise, which is a psychological profile, sort of the ideal target customer or the ideal target audience member, including their needs and wants and pain points. But not just with relationship to your product, if you have a company but in general.

And then do a lifestyle map that basically puts out the five core pieces of their life, like wife, mother, whatever. And then ask yourself or research, what are 50, if you really want to go for it, but what are the things that people would Google about those five core lifestyle traits? And then turn those into headlines. And then there’s your content. So essentially, what would your target customer search for? And then make content about essentially what it is.

But I teach it as a process so that you go through the persona exercise so you understand that person emotionally. The emotional stuff leads into the lifestyle map, and then you can turn it into headlines based on what people search. Anyway, and then, I have a old system for coming up with headlines too.

Using Your Own Content for PR

John: But with PR, you’re teaching that through the lens of trying to get journalists interested in the headlines that you could run a story for them?

Matt: No, no, no, no, no. Great question, John. That’s what PR used to be. PR means many things. The way that I define PR, and this is just the way I define it so you don’t find it anywhere in a textbook or anything, but the way I define it is mass awareness and mass affinity in your niche. That’s the way. You want everybody that could ever buy from you to love you, trust you, and know you exist.

So that is how I define it. And I actually came up with this thing called the PR love triangle that I teach them, where it’s essentially at one corner of the triangle you have… It’s hard to really describe. But at one corner of the triangle, you have the company, here, you have the media, like journalists, and down here you have the people. And they’re all fighting over the narrative, which is the story of the way the brand is perceived.

But the company wants the narrative to be in one way. They want the brand to be perceived in a certain way. The media doesn’t give a shit what the company thinks about how they’re perceived. They have their own agenda trying to get people to click on their articles and watch their news shows. And then the people have their own agenda because they just want to be consumers and just buy stuff that they love and have good experiences. And they’re all fighting over this all the time.

But this triangle also teaches us how public relations has evolved, because we used to have to go through the media to get to the people because they had the audiences. Why are we pitching the Wall Street Journal? Why are we pitching Time Magazine? Because they have the audience. We don’t have the audience. We can just do press releases that nobody will read. Okay. But then the internet came around, and now we can create content. We can create content directly for people. So we don’t need to go through the media to get our message out, to control the narrative.

So that is why I teach content. Creating your own media content is the most powerful form of PR because you get to put your message and give the value that you want to give directly to your people without the filter of the media. Does that make sense?

John: Yeah, absolutely. That’s the theme of this show, is Talk Marketing, which is sort of the intersection of SEO podcasting and videos. So if you look at podcasting versus radio.

Matt: You’re just creating your own media company within your company. You don’t need the regular media. Obviously, there’s a place for that because they have new audiences potentially. They have obviously credibility. If you’re published in the New York Times, it can mean something social proof wise to people. But the power that you have to create content for your audience is deep. You don’t have to worry about this other stuff, and you have complete control over it.

It’s just your time and any other resources that you put into it. But you can say whatever you want to say, do whatever you want to do, be whatever you want to be for people directly. So that’s why I was… Oh, because college, yeah. So that’s what I teach them in college. The two ways that we do PR, first, I teach them how to deal with people by How to Win Friends and Influence People, that book. And then I teach them how to create content directly for people. And then I teach them how to pitch journalists, basically. That’s PR.

YouTube Provides Owned Media Opportunities

John: That’s a good course, I like that. And where does YouTube play into it?

Matt: 40 years ago, there was nothing else. 40 years ago, there was nothing else. It was like, who are you pitching today? What clips are you getting? Right? YouTube is owned media, right?

John: Yeah. The little black Rolodex of the PR person was the key.

Matt: Yep. In PR terminology, it’s owned media and earned media. So owned media is content that you make. Earned media is when you get in Time Magazine. So YouTube is just probably the best opportunity in owned media right now.

John: 2.6 billion people.

Matt: Yeah. It does something that blog content was never able to do, right? Even though writing can be a very personal thing, it’s almost like the Instagram of content in some way, because you can edit your writing to the bone. If you’ve ever met a really good writer, you’ve read what they’ve written, and then you’ve met them in person, you’ve been like, “You are nothing like the writer.” Because it’s like that side of him or her that comes out on the page is totally different. But you get the SEO traffic from the blog. So from a business point of view, people that are searching for the problem that you solve, that’s SEO’s whole game.

The whole reason SEO is important is because people are searching for the problem you solve. And that’s why it moves the needle for your business. So YouTube has all that. So YouTube’s got all the SEO you need, and it’s much more deeply personal, like a much more deeply personal experience between reader slash viewer and creator, because you’re seeing the person and you’re feeling them, and you can even go live and talk to them. And so it’s the ultimate thing. But of course, everybody knows that. And so now it’s really competitive.

Using Video to Personalize Your Brand

John: Well, one super quick story with that. We had a mesothelioma law firm, SEO client, and we were running pay-per-click at a $100,00 a month, and we had a landing page, and we were doing user tests on the page. And people were like, yeah, another law firm, whatever. And then we put a video on the page of the lawyers talking. We flew to their office in Texas and did some video with them. And then we did the user test again, and people were like, “Oh my god.”

Matt: That’s super interesting, John.

John: I didn’t know lawyers were real people. I could actually work with these people. They seem really nice.

Matt: It was one of the lawyers that did a video, it was their face?

John: We recorded several, about six or seven, and we took the best of them, a woman and a guy that were really good on camera. And when we tested it with user tests, I’ll never forget this one particular tester that literally lit up like, “Oh my god,” light bulb moment.

Matt: Interesting.

John: Actually, I would contact these lawyers. And it was on a dime. It was like, yeah, another freaking lawyer site. And then let me check this video out. Wow, sounds really nice. I think I’m going to call them. So all the writing in the world and the blog articles and whatever has, like you said, that value. But I think what you’re saying is if you want to show real empathy and human know, like, trust with video.

Building Know, Like, Trust With Videos

Matt: And it’s fast. It’s fast. You can build know, like, trust really fast, before you start putting them through a sales process, which I think is a big part of the value. Because when you’re having someone sign up as a lead from a blog post, it’s this thing with sales. In order to close a sale for someone to convert, they have to be both logically and emotionally convinced to take the action.

So typically, when it’s something like a blog post, they’ve gone to search for a very specific problem. They read the article, there’s a problem there, there’s a form to fill out. I fill out the form. So I’m sort of logically really down my level of logical certainty is really high here because I understand they know I can solve that problem. But the emotional, there’s no emotional impact at all really, most of the time.

But if you have a video there, you have the opportunity to do that through all sorts of ways. You could just talk, but you could easily have a law firm where you interviewed some former clients and get them crying on camera about things that have happened. There’s some empathy. So then you’ve moved logical certainty and emotional certainty at the same time. That lead is much better. They’re much more primed to buy, theoretically. So there’s also X factor intangible things that go along with that when you’re looking at it through specifically the business lens.

HERO: Hook, Empathy, Response, and Overdeliver

John: In your book, you have the hero system. How does that work?

Matt: That was just a system that I came up with to articulate how to prepare videos to go viral, basically. It’s for social videos. What’s funny is that it’s almost a little, it’s not outdated because of TikTok, because it works on TikTok.

John: No, I thought the hook, like H is for hook, right?

Matt: Yeah. But it’s funny, I built it when we were crushing out hundreds of millions of views a month on Facebook video, because that used to be the thing. Human psychology doesn’t change. So the way that people consume video is going to be the same. So the way that the algorithm works is going to be the same at the end of the day. So the TikTok algorithm works very similar to the way that the Facebook video algorithm worked back in the day with a few differences.

But yeah, I mean, essentially it’s just hook empathy response overdeliver. Make sure you have a hook at the beginning that blows people away. Amazing footage is the best, or know how to create great headlines and put great headlines, put that right on screen.

If you ever want to make a great headline, by the way, because most people suck at headlines there’s a system in the book I talk about called the Seed System. But essentially, all you need to really remember is be as specific as possible. People are never specific enough. I could say and tease to one specific thing. For example, this coffee cup could change the world. I used to have people that would write blog posts about coffee cups and stuff. They would say stuff like that.

Nobody’s going to click that because it’s so vague. It’s this concept that I call click expectation. You have no idea what’s going to be on the other side of your click. And so you’re not going to want to. That’s why you started seeing blogs put “two minute read”, right? It’s click expectation. I know exactly what I’m going to get on the other side of my click. It’s just human psychology stuff that I learned along the way.

And so if you make it more specific, it’s great though. This innovative coffee mug designed by a woman is so eco-friendly that all of your friends will beg to have one or something, maybe eco-friendly isn’t the best. But you see how the specificity of that makes it really sexy. It’s like, oh God, there’s all sorts of reasons to click on this. This must be really unique. A woman designed it. Well, you said that it’s an innovative mug. You didn’t just say it’s a mug that can change the world. That will change everything for your headlines if you just key in on specificity. So anyway.

John: There’s a guy, Flint McGlaughlin, I think is his name from MECLABS, and when I was studying conversion optimization years ago, I saw him speak and he talked a lot about specificity also in terms of show the numbers. In our class with Oli from Next Level Business, we’ve helped 207 businesses.

Matt: Yeah.

John: You brought it to whole nother level, which was awesome.

Adding Something Unique With Your Content

Matt: It’s so much easier. Yeah, you’re going to find that every headline that you write, the click-through rate on it goes up 2, 3, 4% if you are just more specific. It’s crazy. But whatever, people aren’t conditioned to that. But yeah, the rest is kind of self-explanatory. You start with that hook, it’s a headline or the footage, and it’s like a checklist. Make sure that it’s empathetic, make sure that it makes people feel something which is response. And then overdeliver is sort of a reminder that your content needs to be a little bit different.

A lot of that came out of the time when I remember back when I was running all these, I was also at NowThis for a while, I built three new lifestyle channels over there in men’s health and women’s health and everything, and a lot of us. When I was running video at all these places, our competitors were making the same content.

And so we had to be different in some way while still making it streamlined and making the video in an hour. So I would always make sure that we added another extra layer of information. Like when I was a business insider and somebody would give me a blog post to edit. I would be like, okay, but can we flesh out the context on this whole piece here? Because that’s going to really make this more than just the story. That’s going to make it an article. Eventually, that will make people share it more as a result of that. So yeah, that’s the idea.

John: And how did you work out script templates or talk about creating a good YouTube script?

Matt: For YouTube?

John: Yeah.

Using a Deep Tease to Get People to Watch to the End

Matt: So all these algorithms are different. YouTube is big on retention. So is TikTok. They want you to watch the video all the way through. On TikTok, they want you to loop it. So you have to get people to the end. So if you ever see a big YouTuber, you’ll see that they always save the best for last and stuff like that. But yeah, you have to have a hook at the beginning. It’s a really good thing. We used to do this in all these… There’s nothing new under the sun. In TV news, because I worked in TV news for a couple of years producing TV news in Las Vegas, we used to call it a deep tease.

At the beginning of the show, the end of A block, five minutes in, we would do a tease to something that was in the D block because we wanted people to watch the whole show, just stick around because that was really good for ratings. So you do the same thing. It’s good to do the same thing in YouTube because then you’re essentially giving people a reason that they can’t resist to watch the whole video.

So the most egregious example of it would be like, I’m going to show you five ways that you can get a job in the industry that you love and you do not want to miss number five, it is by far the best one. Three is really good too. Okay, hold on. Let’s get into the first one because we don’t want them to skip to number five, but that’s how you do it. You want a deep tease, and then it’s just giving super amounts of value in the middle and being raw. And then I guess the best way to end a YouTube video is to not end it.

I used to teach public speaking. I have a weird background, don’t I? I used to teach public speaking in college, and there’s this concept in the public speaking textbooks called, I think it’s called brake lighting. Essentially when you’re driving a car and the car in front of you, you see its brake lights, it’s a signal to you to slow down as well. So you don’t want to do this in public speaking until.. No, no. Actually, in public speaking, it was something you were supposed to do towards the end of your talk. But essentially, you’re giving a signal to the people watching that it’s ending soon. You don’t want to do that in YouTube because people just bounce. You want them to binge-watch your content. So don’t end the video.

John: Just shut up.

Matt: The best thing that you can do actually-

John: And put an end screen, right?

Matt: Yeah. The best thing you can possibly do is be like at number five is blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. This video goes even deeper on number five. Watch that now. No ending to the video. It’s just this endless replay.

John: And then their total session time on YouTube’s way higher if you’re dragging them into the whole series.

Matt: Yeah. Tom Breeze, who is a YouTube ad mentor of mine for a while, he used to always tell me that average session time on YouTube was like 45 minutes or something or 40 minutes. It’s pretty incredible when you consider that the mini dopamine hits that the newsfeed algorithm apps give us. Facebook is like, go up, pick it up, scroll around, put it down, open something else, pick it up again, scroll around, put it down. YouTube people sort of stick around. So you want to encourage that behavior.

Subvert Expectations: Viral Videos for Local Marketing

John: And what about a lot of small businesses think, well, maybe I’m getting on YouTube, I got to make something go viral. But the average law firm or dentist probably shouldn’t be setting out to make viral videos per se, but how can they add a little dash of that, or how should they think about virality within the context of local businesses?

Matt: It’s funny, I was reading a book that Oli recommended to us over and over again, which is called The Ultimate Sales Machine. Have you read it?

John: I haven’t. I should.

Matt: Yeah. It’s a must read. I’m just getting through it now. But this morning, I’m halfway through it or something. But he was talking about advertising and he was talking about what makes great ads. This guy done mostly print advertising and stuff like that.

But the first thing in his four rules of making a great ad was distinctive. And I think that’s true for all content. What is my audience going to expect my video to be and how can I subvert that is probably the best thing to do. So if you’re like, I’m a lawyer and I’m going to start making videos on a YouTube channel, what do you expect those videos to be? And somebody is going to say, well, I expect you to give tips on what to do in certain legal situations with you talking to a camera.

Okay, great. So subvert that expectation. Start it with, I don’t know, maybe you start it with you getting hit in the balls with a tennis racket or something and being like, see, that’s why you always make them sign a waiver or something like that. I don’t know. I don’t know. I just gave those off the top of my head, it’s ridiculous. But if you can subvert their expectations, people will remember that. So that’s probably the best. If you’re going to make a boring YouTube channel, that’s probably the best idea.

John: Spice it up with some of that.

Matt: Yeah. A lot of people are resistant to doing anything outside their comfort zone. But I’m telling you, it goes a long way. If you can get the balls to do something wild in the video. It really does. It really go a long way.

Optimizing Thumbnails to Increase Engagement

John: And what about tactically, how should people be thinking about the ranking factors? You mentioned average view duration and things like that, but what are some other YouTube factors that you think about of watch time?

Matt: Yeah, watch time’s probably the biggest one. The big sexy thing in YouTube, not SEO, but algorithm kind of SEO is the related on the right hand side, suggested videos. So yeah, optimizing your thumbnail to not look like all the other thumbnails in that list is huge. Watch time is probably the biggest thing. The thumbnails are important because click-through rate is a huge signal to Google, YouTube of what people want. So you want to be looking at those stats and making sure that thumbnail works.

If you’re just putting your title on the thumbnail, it’s probably a bad idea. You should look at the thumbnail as a separate piece of art. If your headline is something like, “Stop doing this one thing in your office to be more productive,” you’re not going to put, stop doing this one thing in your office to be more productive on the thumbnail. It should be something, I don’t know. It could be like… Oh gosh, I don’t even know. I don’t even know. It could be a super cluttered desk or something with a big word across that just says, Stop! or something like that. It should comment on-

John: Visually tie it together.

Framing Social Posts to Increase Engagement

Matt: Yeah, I used to say this a lot because I was also running the social media at Business Insider back in the day. And I used to have this concept I talked about called framing, where we would frame, because Facebook was our main driver of traffic. I could put up a Facebook post of an article on Facebook and it would get 300,000 page views within a couple hours or something. So the way that I framed that post in Facebook was very, very important. So it wasn’t just post the link and then take the metadata and put it in like we all do now. I changed the headline a little bit on Facebook and maybe used a different thumbnail image. And the meta description was very important because it showed up in the feed. So I would call that framing. And the way that I taught this to other people, and the way I talked about it and did it myself, was that each of these elements need to be pieces of a puzzle that play together.

And the caption too, all four of these things need to be doing their part in making you click. Doing anything other than that is just lazy, because every single piece of this is making you click. Is the meta description teasing to something? Is the headline teasing to something? Is the image giving the whole thing away and making it so that nobody has to click, right? You won’t believe what this person pulled out of a trashcan today, and it’s this person holding what clearly is AirPods. That’s not something you’re going to click. We need to hide it. Instead, I would have him holding this up and I would put a big X in front of it and I would hide it and show it, and then he can click it and go the other way. It’s really the same principles as YouTube.

John: More tease.

Matt: Always more tease, and it’s fine. Which is why I don’t like the word clickbait. People say clickbait often when they just mean a good headline. No. A good headline gets you to click and then gives you great content on the other side. The real definition of clickbait is like you click an article about bananas and it’s an article about elephants, like that’s clickbait.

Teasing has been done since Citizen Kane days, right? Teasing is fine. Tease more. Get people to click. Anything you can to get people to click. It’s not unethical, it’s just how the internet works. Go do it. That’s just how it works.

Headlines That Tease People Into Wanting More

John: Satisfying click bait. You get teased and then you click and you get rewarded.

Matt: Of course. Listen, if a tree falls in the forest doesn’t make a sound? I believe it doesn’t make a sound because nobody’s around to hear it. If Van Gogh makes a painting and it sits in a closet and nobody ever sees it, does the painting exist? I don’t think it does. Nobody ever saw it. How can it possibly exist? It’s the same thing with your content. If you make amazing content that you’re super proud of and nobody ever sees it, it’s useless. It’s useless.

John: So don’t be wimpy with your headlines.

Matt:   A d obviously, in SEO Land, that’s what we’re in. We’re trying to get people to click. I get it. But this is something that I’ve run up against a lot with contention with people that are really precious about things. Be less precious. Always be less precious, if you want more traffic or more views.

John: Don’t make a super boring keyword driven headline every time. It’s like, oh, it’s all about just a keyword. And then you have boring, stupid headlines that nobody wants to see, and then you don’t get that-

Matt: Yeah, right, right.

John: Best of both worlds. You get both.

Avoiding Bloated Content

Matt: I wish we could eliminate intro paragraphs too, but I know that Google probably likes that stuff. I just hate it. You know, every blog you click has an intro paragraph. It’s a blog about SEO, and what is the intro paragraph? It’s like, SEO is extremely important, but I don’t need to tell you that. Stands for search engine optimization. And what that means is Google’s algorithm, blah, blah, blah, blah, and we all want great SEO, right? Let’s launch into the list. God, I wish we could just get to the list. But Google likes it.

John: Yeah. Google has been rewarding long content for a long time, and ChatGPT is kind of changing that a little bit. So we’ll see.

Matt: Well, the hard thing is when bloat gets into it, you don’t want to use bloat just to get volume in.

John: There’s a lot of bloat out there.

Matt: I would assume in the SEO world, that’s difficult, right? Because you’re just constantly adding bloat to get a 15 whatever, like a Neil Patel size manifesto on one concept or something. Right?

John: The key is if you can make it useful in say a 2,500 word article, that’s amazing. But if you’re bloating it… Yeah, there’s a lot of stuff these days that I start reading something, I’m like, “My God, can you get to the freaking point?” What, did I write this? My SEO company wrote this?

Matt: Right, right.

John: We’re at a turning point.

Matt: It’s also funny when you see blogs that just are written for SEO and they’re just all keywords. For example, it’s like AirPods versus Galaxy Buds, and I’ll read the articles and it’s like, it says AirPods versus Galaxy Buds like every three sentences. I’m like, I get it. You want to rank for this. I get it, I get it. It’s not valuable.

John: The more modern version is to just link in the living crap out of it, and have some of those keywords and mostly related keywords. Super old school is just jam that keyword over and over.

Matt:   eah, yeah, yeah, right. You know more about it than me.

John: Well, what’s been going on for a decade is make it longer, deeper, and not just the keywords, but that’s become the new stupid thing to do. Make a longer, deeper article isn’t always a good thing. But anyway, maybe ChaTGPT changes that. Hopefully, if there’s empathy and it’s useful, then it’s probably okay. Well, what about YouTube tools or other video tools? What are some of your favorite video tools in general?

Best Video Tools

Matt: For YouTube, I actually really vidIQ, I highly recommend grabbing that. It’s especially good at the SEO side and everything. I kind of like it better than TubeBuddy, although they do do kind of different things sometimes. I just think vidIQ is pretty slick in the way that it shows you data about your channel and other people’s channels so you can make more trending content and stuff like that. I still really for an online video cloud editor.

John: I haven’t tried that.

Matt: I think they’re the best cloud editor. And also, it’s kind of under-marketed or appreciated or something, but they have a really good live video studio thing that they have built in.

John: This is coming from what you just said. You directed video at some of the largest sites on the internet.

Matt: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah.

John: And you’re giving a thumbs up for a cloud video editor. That’s interesting.

Matt: Yeah, because it’s like a lot of the stuff that we used to make at NowThis, especially in New York Magazine, we make these text on screen videos because they were optimized to be watched without sound. So it was all about the writing. And something like was optimized to make these short social videos because you can just make these blocks super fast with no video editing prowess, and all the footage you need is baked in the text, animations are all baked in.

So yeah, I’m a big fan. I’m a big fan of that. Obviously, Descript is kind of a necessary one. We use that for all the social video captioning and stuff. If you want the captions that follow your words, you should never put out a video on social media that doesn’t have captions on it, because 80% are listened to without sound. And you should never put a video on social media that is 16×9, unless it’s a long form organic YouTube video.

Everything else should be either square or in vertical. The numbers are there. 80% of people listen to these videos on mute, except for TikTok. You have to put captions on these videos. Obviously, TikTok is different. It’s loud and in your face. And sound is a huge component on TikTok. You have to add the sound hook layer. When you’re talking about hooks on TikTok, you have to add sound to that because you can blow people away and hook people with specific sounds because everything auto plays with sound. So you just have to always be thinking about those. I don’t know if I have any other tools.

John: You use use all the classics though, like Premier or whatever After Effects?

Matt: Yeah. So we added everything in DaVinci Resolve. That’s what we added everything in. I personally still know how to animate in After Effects, so we use that from time to time. But yeah, I would say mostly what my team is using is DaVinci and Descript. They’re just putting it into Descript afterwards. But if I was talking to an inexperienced video person who was just like, “I need to get more video on social media,” and I’ve done this before. You ever heard of the language learning app, Babbel?

John: Yeah, yeah. Sure.

Matt: Yeah. So they brought me on.

John: Babel Fish maybe even back in the day.

Improving Engagement With Value-Based Videos

Matt: So they were called Babbel, and it’s an app that sort of gamifies learning a different language and everything, and they’re great. And so they hired me as a consultant to redo their video team. And we literally increased their Instagram engagement by 1500% in 30 days. And we did it with these text on screen value-based, like blog videos. Just value-based, getting people to just share and engage with that content.

You could easily make three of those a day in Wave, if you wanted to. If you picked up my book to find out the scripting format, because I’m very specific about that in there, you could easily pump out three or four of those a day and it wouldn’t be too bad. See, that’s the problem with TikTok is that there’s a bit of a moat around it because it’s like, “I need this personality to be at the center of a TikTok video. I don’t know what to do about that.” Obviously, people are getting around that with the speech to text crap and all that stuff. I hate TikTok.

John: Is it going to get banned? You probably don’t have a crystal ball.

Matt: Probably not, probably not.

John: There’s 150 million people using it, right?

Matt: I just think it’s bad for society. I don’t want my kids to use it. Be great.

John: I haven’t let mine.

Matt: Mine are too young. They’re five and seven.

John: Mine’s five.

Matt: I worry, I worry, I worry. Because it’s like imposter syndrome central. Instagram too, they’re all bad.

John: YouTube Kids.

Matt: That’s it for tools. Yeah.

Using Your Phone for Small Business Marketing Videos

John: What about cameras? What do you like for you, but then for the average small business?

Matt: You should just use your phone. Yeah, you should just use your phone.

John: Yeah?

Matt: My phone is awesome.

John: What do you have?

Matt: I don’t know. It’s a 14 pro, I think, Max.

John: Yeah, I got the 13 Pro Max.

Matt: This shoots as good a video as you’re going to find.

John: It’s pretty crazy.

Matt: Yeah. The only problem is it doesn’t have depth of field. Right? Because the sensor isn’t big enough. I don’t know all the science. So essentially, there’s this thing, see how the background is blurred. That’s called bokeh. This is fake bokeh here. This is fake bokeh. It’s just from the Apple software system here. It allows you to add fake bokeh. See no bokeh, bokeh.

John: Yeah, yeah.

Matt: But this is the signal for professional video, do you have bokeh.

John: Right. When the iPhone came out with portrait mode, I was so excited. I still am.

Matt: Yeah, it’s awesome. Well, now there’s portrait video and it is pretty good.

John: Yeah.

Matt: Yeah. It’s pretty good.

John: What do they call it again? I forget. There’s a name.

Matt: Cinematic portrait. It’s called Cinematic.

John: Yeah, it’s called cinematic. Thank you.

Matt: Yeah, it’s pretty good. It’s pretty good with the algorithm. This is a version of it, but it’s on the Logitech. But yeah, it’s really good on the phone. It really is good. But it’s just trying to mimic what a regular camera does. It’s the only… Not the only, but it’s the biggest limitation. That and low light are the biggest limitations of these phones.

John: Low light can really kill the iPhone.

Tips for Optimizing Phone Videos

Matt: So small sensor means a small amount of pixels, like small, tiny, tiny pixels. There’s not a lot of way to let a lot of light in. The aperture is limited. So the low light is bad. Apple has to use software to make it all good, to make you be able to shoot in low light conditions. And it’s usually still not amazing on video. It’s better on photo because Apple has devised a way to figure that out on photo. Yeah, you just leave it sitting there for a while and it’s amazing. Video doesn’t work as well because it’s like, obviously, instead of one photo, it’s like 30 frames a second that it would have to process. So it’s not going to do that.

But yeah, big tip is if you do have blurred bokeh, things like that, the biggest tip to make your videos look professional really fast is to create depth of field like this. This doesn’t look amazing because it’s fake, it’s software bokeh. But you see how I have the light back there that’s practical. And I actually have another light that’s actually color changing back there. It’s not an amazing background or anything, but this is by design to show depths of field.

It makes the room look bigger, it brings me forward more, makes me sharper. It’s just generally a composition thing. So this is like filmmaking 101. But if you’re interviewing somebody, don’t interview them in front of a wall, interview them in the middle of a room where there’s a lot of stuff behind them and stuff like that, and put a nice little light back there so that people can get a sense for the depths. These are things that you can easily do on your own by just putting yourself in the right place in your room. So just a little hack.

Best Video Cameras for Pros

John: That’s a good hack. And what about just on the pro level, what cameras do you think are exciting or moving forward?

Matt: God, I don’t keep up with that enough. So we shoot everything at the agency with a Canon R5, which is an amazing camera, but it’s a couple years out of cycle. But it shoots in 8K, it’s fine. I still think that a Sony a7S III is the camera that most filmmakers want if they’re not getting a cinema camera. It’s really good in low light situations. And it shoots 240 frames per second, which is slow motion, like really slow motion. It’s twice the slow motion that my camera does, for example.

And then you’re into cinema cameras and stuff like that. But I would say if you’re serious about it, you’re probably going for an R5, an R5c, or Sony a7S III. All the kids are getting the Sonys these days. I don’t have any, but… Problem is you got to buy lenses for all these cameras. And the lenses obviously are proprietary. You can’t put a Sony lens on a Canon camera. And so if you’ve bought a lot of Canon lenses and the lenses are just as expensive as the cameras, then you’re kind of locked into an ecosystem. That’s how they get you, like my dad would say.

How Video Services Are Changing

John: Lastly, how are video services changing? You’re teaching people and Peak Video Creators, is that right, your course?

Matt: Yeah.

John: You’re teaching people how to get clients.

Matt: Yeah. So I launched the program almost two years ago. So I guess the biggest thing that I always tell people that has changed is that we used to have to convince people more a couple years ago that they should be doing video and now, we don’t have to do that as much.

It’s more everybody kind of knows that they should be doing video. So it’s more about why should they choose us to do video? So the sales process has changed. But obviously the service is, I think it’s really silly for any of my students or filmmakers or videographers to ever offer a package that doesn’t include 15 to 20 social cuts of what they’re doing. But most filmmakers and stuff don’t think that way. So it’s a good thing to think about.

You need to be able to find a way to make them be able to easily put that content on Instagram and stuff, because that’s where they really want to put it, because that’s where it will get seen and people want to get seen. So that’s mostly how it’s changed. Obviously, YouTube is more desired than it was a few years ago. But it’s one of these cyclical things in business where YouTube is more desired, but then everybody starts thinking it’s too competitive because they know everybody desires it.

And then people get apathetic and they don’t go for it because they worry it’s too competitive and they don’t want to do the long road. You’re like, well, just don’t worry. I’m here trying to do SEO against 10 bazillion websites. Come on. You got to play the game, the long game.

John: You have to do it.

Matt: Got to play the long game. Come on.

John: Yeah. It seems like you’re in that world that shorts and reels and all that stuff is so hot.

Matt: Yeah, I think you have to do that. Yeah. It’s funny, a lot of my students aren’t doing that. But I think maybe soon I’ll roll out an offer that is specifically trying to get people to the program to build social video businesses. Because I think there’s actually a huge potential there.

The students I have that are getting the most leads are students that are just out there being like, can I just flood your channel with social video to make you top of mind to everybody. That’s attractive to people right now because of whatever the Gary Vs. He was doing it first, so props to him. Then there’s people, what’s his name that’s everywhere now?

Check Out

John: And how do people get ahold of you and hear about that course and your agency?

Matt: You just go to The agency’s We didn’t even talk about the agency. I like it. That’s great. We don’t need to.

John: Well, what’s the latest on the agency?

Matt: There’s nothing. There’s not much.

John: You’re still excited for that too?

Matt: No, we get a little bit. But we sort of made our mark making ads, video ads. We worked with 17 Shark Tank companies. We were in that innovative e-commerce like for a while, which is cool.

John: Yeah, 17 Shark Tank companies.

Matt: Well, it turns out they all know each other. We got banged around the referral train.

John: Well, they wouldn’t be referring you that many times if there wasn’t some good stuff there.

Matt: I hope so. Yeah.

John: And are were doing ads and that social content that you just mentioned, kind of both of them?

Matt: Mostly ads. Yeah, mostly ads. Yeah, it’s sort of niched into performance. It’s easier to sell.

John: Lots of e-commerce stuff?

Matt: Yeah, it was pretty much-

John: All kinds of things.

Matt: Yeah. We’ve had all kinds of clients, but certainly e-commerce became a niche.

John: All right. Well, good stuff today, Matt. Again, this is John McDougall with Matt Johnston, and you should check out Guide Social Global and Peak Video Creators. Thanks again, Matt.

Matt: Thank you.

John: All right, good. See you next time on Talk Marketing Made Easy.

Leave a Comment