The New York Times ran a story this week on Christopher Buckley, a guy who's making $100k a year off his YouTube videos.
Lots of times people fantasize about making it big on YouTube - but forget that YouTube in its current state isn't about mass marketing. It's about distribution.
I think of YouTube as both a noun and a verb. As a noun, it's America's Funniest Home Videos on steroids. As a verb, it's a free platform for video distribution.
Stars like Buckley are tapping into the YouTube community as broadcasters. For performers, getting a massive audience like this is demonstration of their marketability to big media - and now you're seeing people like this get opportunities in Big Media. I categorize this as basically a very high level audition - and it's a great way for performers to use YouTube. However, for most small businesses, the measure of success will not be x million hits on YouTube, but rather, the amount of monetization of targeted customers. So don't think massive, but strategic. Not as sexy maybe - but more bankable!
As I pointed out at last night's lecture at SBA in SF, Blendtec's Will It Blend campaign on YouTube cost not $50, but probably more like $50,000 to $100,000 (if you include the cost of the origina in-house video staff member and not just the cost of props - which is the $50 figure that George Wright, Blendtec's marketing director, usually mentions.) And if it's brought revenues up 700%, that seems low, as I mentioned. If your company went from a small unknown brand to an Internet sensation, with millions of page views, I would expect to see revenues increase more like 7000%.
Use YouTube as a distribution channel and a social media channel to get your customers to look at your videos. You don't need massive views that don't convert to dollars. You need relationship marketing. You need word of mouth. You need search to find your content. So don't think about how to make the most hilarious video ever and get a million hits on YouTube. Think about how to interest your dream audience - i.e. people who can't wait to hear about and buy your product or service. It might get you moving in a more lucrative direction.
PS If you want to take a trip down memory lane, check out that college kid who made the YouTube hit video (that parody of myspace) in his basement in Michigan in 2005 and was supposed to then take Hollywood by storm. What happened to him? I just see a few more web videos on his site. Had he made a fortune from all that YouTube fame for the myspace parody? He has a new one out on Facebook.