Growing on YouTube: How to Develop a Loyal Following

Want to develop a loyal YouTube following? Wondering how to better connect with an audience on YouTube?

To explore how to grow and develop a loyal fan base on YouTube, I interview Cathrin Manning on the Social Media Marketing Podcast.

Cathrin is a YouTube expert who teaches small YouTubers how to grow using the platform. She’s also the author of The Blow It Up Blueprint.

Cathrin shares actionable tips and tactics for YouTube videos that keep viewers interested and engaged. You’ll also learn how to use YouTube Analytics to inform and guide your video content strategy.

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Back in October 2016, Cathrin was a recent college graduate working as a full-time digital marketing consultant where she evaluated clients’ websites and social media presence. She then created guides on how the client could improve those assets if they were to do the work themselves and presented options that explained what her company could do for them with regard to website design, SEO content creation, Facebook, Instagram, and so on.

She liked the work but didn’t necessarily love it and decided to make a change that would allow her to stay in digital marketing. She wanted to share the knowledge she’d gained in the digital marketing industry while creating her own branded presence. Cathrin created The Content Bug blog to help bloggers understand things they didn’t know about such as SEO. Eventually, she branched out with a presence on Pinterest and Instagram.

When Instagram Stories rolled out, Cathrin realized she could create a deeper connection with her audience by actually talking to them rather than writing blog posts for them to read. That’s when she began to consider creating YouTube content to enhance her blog posts.

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Her YouTube channel launched in 2017 with content related to blogging and Pinterest tips, among other topics. As she zeroed in on the type of content her audience was looking for, she began to see channel growth. She started 2019 with 300 subscribers and ended the year with 15,000.

Cathrin began getting more questions about how she was growing her channel, and by the end of 2019, she’d redirected her content to focusing exclusively on YouTube growth strategy. Today, her channel has more than 220,000 subscribers and her videos average 25,000 views in 30 days.

screenshot of the cathrin manning youtube channel cover photo, profile image, and the option to subscribe

Why Should People Create a YouTube Following?

Regardless of what niche you’re in, it’s easier to grow your audience when you can talk to them in a way that helps them understand your personality. “Your vibe attracts your tribe,” Cathrin says, and she believes YouTube is a great way to get that vibe out there.

The other point in YouTube’s favor is that it’s a search engine that can help you be found on Google via the content you create on your channel. That content doesn’t have to be recent to be found; Cathrin notes that videos she created more than a year ago are still being found.

Creating YouTube Content That Connects With Your Audience

Most everyone is a little camera-shy when they start on YouTube; talking to a camera doesn’t feel normal for everyone. When Cathrin started, she didn’t know how to be herself. She thought her hair and makeup had to be picture-perfect. She eventually realized no one is perfect and that editing out the imperfect shots made it difficult for anyone to relate to her.

She now includes bloopers at the end of every video. This works because her audience is also filming videos and they know exactly what it’s like to make those mistakes.

As she left more of the real-life side of things in her videos, more and more comments came in that indicated her audience was relating to her.

Cathrin also shares the authentic tough moments of her life. If she’s having a rough day and is frustrated, sad, burnt out, or overwhelmed and crying, she turns on the camera.

She acknowledges it’s not easy to pull out the camera during a moment you may not want to remember but she reminds herself that no one can connect with or relate to a picture-perfect life. She documents those moments to help others going through the same thing realize those moments happen to everyone and they can turn it into something positive.

Entertaining Effects for YouTube Content That Keeps Viewers Interested

The longer people are on YouTube, the more ads they watch, and the more money YouTube makes. The question is how to make videos interesting enough that someone watches the whole way through or watches more of your videos.

When Cathrin was a small YouTuber, she watched a lot of videos about creating video and building a channel. While most of those videos were informative, she didn’t actually enjoy watching them.

On the personal side, Cathrin enjoys daily vlogs and lifestyle content from channels like Alisha Marie. She realized that those videos held her attention because they were entertaining. She drew inspiration from her favorite lifestyle and vlogging channels to make her own videos more entertaining. She noted things such as transitions, scene changes, and sound effects she appreciated, and she began to incorporate those within her own channel.

She learned a few things that can help anyone improve their next video.

First, videos that show you sitting in one spot while delivering information can be a bit boring. So don’t sit in one spot. Cathrin recommends changing up the scene and camera angles at least once every 3 minutes.

If you’re vlogging, sometimes the camera can look at you and sometimes it can show what you’re looking at or what you see.

If you’re doing sit-down, in-studio video, you can simply move the tripod around as you film each shot. To visualize this, if the first shot is of you sitting on your couch and the next shot will be you sitting at your desk, you can show yourself walking out of the first scene shot and then into the second scene shot so the transition makes sense.

Second, if you’re bored by the content you’re editing, your audience is likely to be bored too. To provide some visual interest, create B-roll scenes that relate to what you’re talking about and incorporate that footage into the video as you’re speaking.

To illustrate, imagine Cathrin talking about how she uses Instagram Stories to connect with her audience. She’ll film a fake scene of herself using her phone to talk to people via Instagram Stories. She then edits that B-roll footage to play during the video while she’s talking about how she uses Stories.

You can also add visual emphasis to important points by editing the footage to zoom in on your face while you’re speaking.

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Finally, remember that some people will listen to your videos instead of watching them. You can use sound effects as a cue to draw their eyes back to the video.

For example, when Cathrin transitions to a screen share during her videos, she edits in a clicking sound effect to let her audience know there’s something they should actually watch rather than listen to.

YouTube Audio Library offers copyright-free sound effects to its creators, and Cathrin uses Epidemic Sound.

example of the youtube audio library and songs available for creator use

Tips for YouTube Content That Attracts and Engages Viewers

The entertaining aspect of your videos will keep people engaged but how do you improve the chances people show up and watch your video and then engage with it through likes and comments?

Attracting Viewers: Thumbnails

First, your thumbnail is by far the most important asset. It’s what people are going to see, and what will convince them to click on it.

To design thumbnails that attract viewers, begin by doing some keyword research to find videos similar to the one you’re producing. What’s working on the thumbnails for videos that are getting views, compared to videos that aren’t getting views? Pay special attention to facial expressions. Social Media Examiner and Cathrin have both found that close-ups of faces that show extreme emotion do well.

Test to see what works best for your videos, and when you find the right approach, you can change the thumbnail for any video you have on your channel.

Encouraging Engagement: Likes and Comments

YouTube’s algorithm tracks how many people watch a video and how long people watch but it also tracks the engagement rate on a video.

It’s easier and quicker for a viewer to like a video than to leave a comment. To get that quick engagement, Cathrin explicitly tells her viewers to like the video they’re watching.

Getting people to comment requires more time investment so Cathrin created an incentive. Whenever a video goes live on her channel, Cathrin is there for the first half-hour to respond to comments. Typically, her videos get about 300 comments in the first 30 minutes. Some comments she’ll heart.

example of a viewer comment hearted by cathrin manning on her video within the first thirty minutes after publication

And other comments she’ll respond to with a comment of her own.

example of a reply by cathrin manning to a comment on her video within the first thirty minutes after publication

Since she’s been using this tactic, she’s noticed that she has 10–15 regulars who show up for every one of her videos.

You can easily use this tactic in your own videos. At the end of your video, tell your audience when your next video will be going live and that you’ll be in the comments for the first half-hour. A content calendar and consistent uploading schedule will help this tactic take hold.

Do Comments Matter Beyond the YouTube Algorithm?

While comments are important to the YouTube algorithm, they’re also an important part of the relationship and connection you’re trying to build with your audience. Cathrin likens her approach with comments to providing customer service. Without her viewers, she wouldn’t be where she is today with her brand on YouTube so she wants them to feel appreciated. Responding to their comments in real time helps her communicate that appreciation.

Comments also help Cathrin understand the struggles her audience is facing and what questions they want answered, which fuels her content creation.

Using YouTube Analytics to Inform Video Content Strategy

As noted above, the algorithm pays attention to your engagement rate and YouTube Analytics will show you the engagement metrics for your videos. These simple metrics can tell you what your audience is interested in—whether they want more videos on a certain topic or they liked something you tried with your filming or editing style, for instance.

Beyond those basics, YouTube Analytics provides other helpful data sets.

Cathrin noted a spike in channel growth when she started to pay attention to which videos YouTube was recommending via YouTube search, Suggested videos, and Browse features. When she noted a video was getting a high percentage of views from these traffic sources, she created more content similar to that video.

screenshot of YouTube analytics that shows traffic source types

Cathrin uses YouTube Analytics Impressions click-through rates (CTRs) to identify videos that are lower than the channel’s average. She compares several videos at once, and when a low-performer is revealed, she makes a note of anything in the thumbnail or title that might have caused the low performance. Those notes help her improve the next video and thumbnail she creates.

To reveal opportunities for additional content, Cathrin looks at the Traffic source—the YouTube search section of the Reach data—to see what keywords are driving traffic to certain videos. If the keyword/phrase isn’t 100% covered in the video, she creates a specific video with content that’s aligned closer with that keyword.

screenshot of YouTube analytics that shows proportion of YouTube search to total traffic

In the beginning, Cathrin focused on getting traffic from YouTube search because she knew it was the only way to get the views and engagement her channel and content needed for YouTube to start recommending her via the Suggested videos on people’s home pages.

Key Takeaways From This Episode:

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