Sunday, November 24, 2019

Four Steps to Become Popular on the Internet (It's Not Easy)

It's been almost a year since the last episode of one of my favourite YouTube series aired, and in the meantime, the team the producing it has done a fair number of experimental formats, trying to figure out what comes next.

I am, of course, talking about someone most of my audience has probably never heard of. I'm referring to Citation Needed (use this playlist, not the official one), from Tom Scott and the Technical Difficulties.

And in that time, I have fielded numerous complaints online from people who weren't ready to see the series go, with the simple response of "then do it yourself."

It's not that easy, is always the reply.

Except actually, it is, if you stop to think about it.

So this week, I bring you my instruction manual for starting your own Citation Needed-esk series, though you'll have to contact Tom if you want to know how much copyright or trademark trouble you'll get in if you use any of his names or formats.

Step 1: Start a podcast
Get a small group of your friends together and talk about something. Current events, sports, Tech Diff trivia, whatever. Cycle through your friends until you find a small group of people who meet the following criteria:
  1. they're funny
  2. they don't have a thick regional accent
  3. they can riff off each other ad naseum for any subject
  4. they have a "voice for radio"
Once you've got those met for 3-5 people, move on to the next step.

Step 2: Get used to it
Not everybody takes to being recorded while talking like a fish to water. Get comfortable.

Run a series for a few months to a few years. Release content on a regular basis, weekly or bi-monthly is probably best, but a consistent schedule is more important than frequency (I've covered this before in my advice for blogging).

And just as important, build up an audience. By the time you have settled on the cast, the format, and the schedule, you should have thoughts on a name for both your group and for your show (one for each, don't call them the same thing). When the name is decided, get the domain name and the handle on any platform you're hosting on; get all the big names, even if you don't think you're going to use the platform, YouTube, Vimeo, Soundcloud, Reddit, Twitter, MySpace (yes, it's still around).

On your website, make your archived content easily accessible, introduce your cast, make them human.

And then wait. Step 1 might have been the most difficult, but Step 2 is probably the longest.

Step 3: Change the format
When you have an audience that can't get enough of your content and want more, faster than you can produce it, try introducing cameras. You may suffer the same problem as above, getting people who aren't used to talking in front of a camera to be comfortable doing it. It's going to take a lot of patience and trial and error.

Try the Citation Needed format (if Tom doesn't object), but be open to failure if it doesn't work for you. Try other things. Find something that works for you and your people.

Step 4: Kill it if you have to
They say, "Leave them wanting more."

There will come a day when your existing format starts to feel old and tired. Even if your audience is still eating it up, be ready to turn away and try something new. And if these instructions helped, pass them along to your audience, along with any advice you might have, because remember: you started doing it because you couldn't let go, couldn't move on. Your audience feels the same way; let them use your example as inspiration to create something of their own.


I can't follow these instructions. I don't have the population necessary to complete Step 1. But if you do, and you try this, and start gaining some traction, by all means, let me know. I'd be happy to follow along on your journey.

I might even be able to update this advice for future generations of content creators.