Audience Engagement Recipes: Million-View Formulas from 3 Top YouTubers

It’s a weeknight and I’m driving home late. Cold air blasting through the windows helps me stay awake. As I walk in, my daughter, who’s supposed to be asleep, greets me and asks, “Do you want to watch a little Rhett and Link? They posted a new video.” I agree. I’m happy to spend a few minutes laughing with her, willing my eyes open, before finally calling it a night.

What makes these posts so compelling goes beyond humor. Rhett and Link – and others like them – have fine-tuned formulas for content creation to please their target audience. Learning from their success and their formulas can help us to get high marks from our audience too.
Audience Engagement Examples

Rhett and Link are an Internet entertainment phenomenon, and successful business partners. Their main YouTube channel, RhettandLink, was ranked #35 on New Media Rockstars Top 100 Channels in 2014. They make funny videos for a living, with annual advertising income estimated over $100,000, and commercial sponsorships likely in the 5-figure range per deal.

Audience engagement is their real specialty. They have over 6 million subscribers on their most popular channel alone. Their sense humor seems irresistible to people of all ages. Sometimes, when my daughter and I play a selection, other family members stop what they are doing and join us, even when they have other things they want to do.

Many other YouTube content creators (or YouTubers) have videos with millions of views. But content creators like Rhett and Link have developed a process that generates repeat visits, growing subscriber numbers, and a dedicated following.

And they’re not alone. If it’s not Good Mythical Morning, my daughter has other posts worth sacrificing a bit of sleep. She may tempt me with the latest crazy Parkourse obstacle challenge on Ryan Higa’s nigahiga channel, or a hilarious dance game played in chub suits on Tiffany Quake’s iHasCupquake. Whatever the choice, her favorites rack up an impressive numbers.

3 Top YouTube Personalities, and their most-viewed videos as of 20 March 2015

Channel Top 3 titles #views Title Age
Rhett and Link (Main channel) Epic Rap Battle: Nerd vs Geek 21,649,454 1yr 5.5mo
Facebook Song 15,083,143 8yrs 8d
T-Shirt War (stop motion) 13,464,000 5yrs 1.5mo
Rhett and Link (Good Mythical Morning) The Most Amazing Optical Illusions on the Internet 18,455,275 2 yrs 2d
6 Unbelievable Body Modifications 13,745,786 1yr 4.25mo
Eating a Scorpion – Bug War Challenge 2,092,295 < 1yr
nigahiga Nice Guys 58,054,704 3yrs 9.75mo
How to be Gangster 41,654,337 6yrs 4.5mo
How to be Ninja 39,458,877 7yrs 7.75mo
iHasCupquake “Five Nights at Freddy’s” (animated short) 28,524,707 4mo 4d
“Dino Killer” (Minecraft animated short) 8,467,684 >6mo
“Terrible Mom” (Minecraft animated short) 6,472,903  7.5mo

* Source, VidStatsX and YouTube

What Rhett and Link, Ryan Higa and Tiffany Quake have in common is that they have created undeniable attention machines. On the surface, it’s all just fun and games. But let’s take a closer look at the channels they’ve built, and see what lessons might apply to help the rest of us who want loyal customers outside of the entertainment world.

Common Traits of 3 Popular YouTubers Who Have >2 Million Subscribers

The most obvious things these people have in common are youth and humor. It’s tempting to stop there and attribute their success to these two factors alone. But that would be a mistake. The reasons for their consistent success as businesses go beyond their cute charm and wacky sense of humor.

Each of these YouTube sensations have these less-obvious but important things in common. Each is:

  • Prolific – posting at least weekly
  • Original – sharing reactions in uniquely contrived events
  • Influenced by Viewers – using input for ideas and content itself

Let’s observe each of these a bit more.

Besides being young and funny, what enables these individuals to keep people watching and sharing their posts, time and again? And what can we non-entertainers learn to gain loyal fans of our own?

Prolific Output

These YouTubers are not shy about sharing their view of the world. While they have not always posted regularly or at the same rate, they have kept creating fresh content from the day they were founded.

Content Production Comparison Chart: as of March 20, 2015

Channel name Year established Total # videos # subscribers Uploads Prior 6 months
nigahiga 2006 394 13,985,577 25
Rhett and Link 2006 323 3,194,516 0
Good Mythical Morning 2008 905 6,200,009 ~160
iHasCupquake 2010 2,936 2,619,392 ~302

* source: YouTube, and math


Ryan Higa impersonating armpit hair

Ryan Higa as a talking armpit hair

Ryan Higa has uploaded 394 videos since signing onto YouTube in 2006, where he has seven channels. Higa is a 25-year old entertainment video blogger, who began posting homemade videos he created with friends. His most popular channel, nigahiga, has over 3.9 million subscribers, and 2.1 billion views.

Over six recent months (between August 15, 2014 March 15, 2015), Higa and team posted 25 videos. That’s one video per week on average for this channel alone.

The level of output wasn’t always so high: there are only seven videos posted from his first year YouTube. To maintain his current level of production, Higa formed the Ryan Higa Production Company in 2012.

Rhett & Link

Are you going to eat that by Rhett and LInk

Rhett and Link in “Are You Going to Eat That” music video

The first of two channels by this comedy duo grew to 323 videos over 7 years, an average of almost one per week. Rhett McLaughlin and Charles Lincoln (Link) Neal launched Rhett & Link in 2006, and are self-proclaimed “Internetainers”. Their second channel for the Good Mythical Morning comedy show is even more popular. GMM has over 900 videos and 6,200,262 subscribers. The latter channel is updated daily, and often features popular YouTubers as guests, A production team, which sometimes emerges from behind the camera, is instrumental in maintaining this level of productivity.


chub suit challenge ihascupquake

iHasCupquake and husband Mario competing chub suits

Video game fans are highly engaged on YouTube, and publishers who can match this devotion with amusing content can build a big following. Video bloggers who record themselves joking and commenting their way through game play produce the most-subscribed channels on this social network. The #1 most-followed YouTuber is a game-video-blogger PewDiePie, with over 35 million subscribers.

iHasCupquake, run by Tiffany Quake, ranks among the top 200 most popular channels. Her game-themed videos include live-recorded gameplay, re-animated excerpts, and arts and crafts based on popular images from the games. Some feature zany “Husband vs Wife” challenges, in which she and husband Red compete, sometimes wearing inflated chub suits.

Recording 0n-screen activity is an easy way to createa a lot of content fast. To entertain a non-gaming audience, hiring a cartoon animator to re-create certain clips widens the appeal. Tiffany Quake’s recent posting rate is about 12 videos per week.

The common trait, in short, is a steady stream of fresh content, made with enjoyment, sometimes produced with help from a team.

Recipes for Originality

Viewers flock in to watch these videos because the content is funny and unique. Often the subject is mundane or inconsequential to most people; it’s the artificial situation that’s ridiculous. Topics include video game play, celebrities and popular music, personal challenges, or idle questions that most people would barely give a passing thought. The unique treatment makes them engaging. Each video blogger creates his or her own structured outlets for feelings, thoughts, and responses as they experience contrived events. Viewers get fresh, surprising, one-of-a-kind content every time.

What these video bloggers bring to life is their own clearly unique take on the world their viewers know. Self-effacing jokes, modern forms of slapstick and spoofs of popular culture flow in abundance.

A Recipe from Rhett and Link: Make Familiar Things Weird

For example, the humor behind many Good Mythical Morning episodes comes from a taste-test structure adapted to create wacky new versions of everyday things, and often stomach-turning attempts to eat or interact with them.

One recurring theme asks, “Will it [fill in the blank]”, such as “Will it Pizza?”, “Will it Popsicle?”, or “Will it Shoe?“. Answers follow as weird unlikely recipes and preposterous home made objects, which Rhett and link eat or use on-camera.

Imagine what a grown man’s face looks like when challenged to consume pureed frozen liver on a stick, or walk in meatloaf shoes.

Meatlovers, on a recent episode of Rhett and Link's Good Mythical Morning

Meatloafers, on a recent episode of Rhett and Link’s Good Mythical Morning

Chopped liver popsicle

Link vs chopped liver popsicle

A Recipe from Ryan Higa: Take Popular Trends to Extremes

Among Ryan Higa’s hugely popular videos, the most wildly popular are those that make fun of social conformity, stereotypes, and pop culture. He and friends began doing “lip synching videos, then skits with a plot. He did a lot of rants… things you think about but are afraid to speak… he said it, yet always trying to be funny and not offensive” ( Even Higa’s humble home movies continue to attract subscribers. It’s not finesse, but his original perspective and humor that viewers want.

Higa’s most-viewed music video, “Nice Guys Finish Last,” makes fun of modern life on so many levels: It’s a music video spoof, a satire on male attempts to look cool and ‘hit on girls’, and it pokes fun at mindless compliance with social trends.

school of bad ideas

Bad ideas abound in the Ryan Higa’s classroom spoof

Beneath the upbeat tune is a genuine message about giving more credit to your authentic self.

A Recipe from Tiffany Quake: Record Your Reactions to Your On-Screen Experience

What is funny about watching Tiffany Quake play video games, solo or with her husband Red, is her lively approach to flubbing things up. Dramatic failures along the slow march to triumph are the stock and trade of gameplay. In “Dino Killer“, Red’s baby triceratops gets too close to Tiffany’s avatar, who is wielding a sword. An errant swipe executes the dino, and sends Red off in a huff, to Tiffany’s gushing apologies. “Dino Killer” is itself a cartoon animation based on a clip from screen-recorded gameplay.

dino killer accident

Dismay over a dino-accident

The ups and downs of a husband-wife dynamic get a zany new twist in a game context and again as a cartoon. Momentous fallout from a tiny errant click is funny, and so is the drama that people create over missteps in a made-up world.

Seek the Influence of Viewers

Because these channel owners made YouTube their publishing platform, they gained easy access to tools for seeing and measuring viewer engagement. Audience response, especially the number of views, has been an important factor to each video blogger from day one.  How many views? What are the comments? Which upload triggered the most subscribers? All this feedback helped each content creator find direction from their original ideas.


YouTube makes it easy to see how many views and subscriptions result from each video

Where did these leading YouTubers first get their ideas? Their early inspiration came from curiosity and a wish to entertain themselves, vent their energy, explore technology, and give their goofy side an outlet. By opening their work to feedback through YouTube, Twitter, and other social media, they learned what viewers liked, and what they didn’t respond to, and could receive from suggestions and encouragement in the comments.

Higa and friends posted their first videos on YouTube for the convenience of sharing with friends. Ryan Higa was surprised when these attracted thousands of views from the wild. He and his cohorts went on to make more music videos and rants, developing and refining several recurring frameworks. Higa sometimes asks viewers what they want to see him do next, and a recurring theme is “Dear Ryan” in which Higa answers viewer requests with ridiculous replies. In later Parkourse (obstacle course challenges in local parks) and other HigaTV shorts, the YouTube description invites users to leave suggestions for new challenges in the comments.

Rhett and Link overtly ask for and build on viewer input and feedback. Viewers send in postal mail with suggestions for skits. They incorporate viewer submissions systematically.  Good Mythical Morning features viewer-submitted videos to lead off the closing segment of each show. They sometimes quote viewer messages (some from Twitter) during an episode, and give credit to individual viewers when using their ideas. Viewers leave hundreds of comments below each post.

Tiffany Quake makes a point of publicly listening for audience interest. Not only does she ask for animation requests, she makes videos about viewer interest itself. In skits entitled “I Google Myself”, she and husband Red actually capture what they find online about themselves. They use Google’s keyword-autocomplete feature to reveal popular search questions about them that people have been typing into search engines, and then proceed to answer in the video.

“I Google Myself” is a popular trope, with other YouTubers such as PewDiePie getting millions of views for his audience-listening post.

Viewers are part of the creative process, not forgotten onlookers. Each blogger frequently addresses the camera as if talking to the viewer, and makes videos that depend on the influence of feedback from the audience.

Takeaways: Success Secrets of Top YouTubers to Adopt for Business

These million-plus-subscriber YouTubers have built big followings by crafting a content creation process that pleases their crowd.  We can adapt these principles to create content that connects for our business:

  1. Find re-usable formulas or tropes to structure content you like making.
  2. Know the response, experience or benefit your audience wants; make that the goal of your piece.
  3. Post your content where it is easy to observe viewer response.
  4. Set up ways to produce and publish content at least weekly most of the time.
  5. Use audience feedback when deciding and developing what to create next.

Should we also adopt similar goals – to entertain themselves and make others laugh? Should we also stage ridiculous situations, and post as often as possible?

No, not necessarily.

Creating a spectacle for millions of fans is not an appropriate goal for most of us outside the entertainment world. However, like these bloggers, we want to help others in the way we do best.

It turns out, some non-entertaining firms have risen to prominence using similar principles. Does their success inform us in important ways?

Yes, to both.

Business (non-entertainers) That Engage Audiences With Their Own Unique Media

Bluewire Media: Downloadable Templates

This Australian marketing strategy firm discovered it could get its market’s attention with its home-grown downloadable marketing templates. They found early success with a template that compiled the ideal image sizes used by top social media sits – Twitter backgrounds, Facebook header images and the like.  In a later effort, they distilled their research and experience into a Web Marketing template.

One of the influential authors they asked to review it – David Meerman Scott – offered to co-brand the final product with them. Making free downloadable marketing templates is now a cornerstone for attention-getting content at BlueWire Media.

Since then, Bluewire Media has been a prolific template producer.  Their mailing list signup bonus is a package of 33 downloadable marketing templates, each consolidating something important the firm has learned in over 9 years of experience.

CSS-Tricks: Code Snippets and Lists for Developers

Chris Coyier on CSS-Tricks has created a hub of activity and information for web designers and developers. He delves deep into the tools and techniques for styling web interfaces, exploring CSS, PHP and browser compatibility from the most granular and detailed perspective possible.

Here are several examples of content formulas Coyier uses to create a valuable destination. He maintains a CSS Almanac of selectors and properties – a comprehensive index of hundreds of control tips, organized the way developers see them.  He periodically features a blog roundup to show how other colleagues have solved perplexing problems, like how to make data-tables responsive and meaningful on smartphones.  He also collected and systematically organized a rich repository of code snippets. He’s sorted them for different applications, such as HTML, javascript, or WordPress.  There’s even a forum for visitor interaction. Participants help each other solve development questions or diagnose problems.

Marie Forleo: Q&A Tuesday

Entrepreneur coach Marie Forleo has created what feels like an online television show.  She maintains a YouTube channel, but publishes and promotes them on her website. MarieTV is her name for her video series on topics related to creating a meaningful entrepreneurial life. Weekly uploads include “Q&A” Tuesday, where she reads a selected question sent in from a viewer, and gives an extended answer, reflecting her personal values and reflections, in a 5-or-so minute video. All her productions are done with a light heart, generous gobs of glam, and some self-effacing bloopers at the end.  It’s empowering, entertaining, and easy to engage with.  She calls attention to a ‘tweetable’ link in each post, and closes by urging viewers to comment on her video blog.

Ingredients for Your Own Audience Engagement Recipe

What if we took time to look at the problems we care about solving, and sought new ways to share this? How would expressing desired goals for our visitors change what we create? What phrase would you explore with Google’s auto-complete feature – and could you speak to that for your audience?  What if we decided to give clients and prospects more ways to interact with us, and we made things from the input? What would you create, given your answers?

Borrowing from the winning results of these magnetic super YouTubers, we might consider:

  • Taking time to identify and express our responses to trends and events that impact our world
  • Recognizing the value of our own unique point of view, even on the most commonplace topics
  • Brainstorm easily recurring ways to express our thoughts, responses and creative side openly
  • Having the courage to give our message more public forms
  • Find ways to make people laugh, even if in a tiny segment at the end of your post.
  • Following through on commitments to post generously and frequently
  • Building a team and an infrastructure to create content infused with our ideas
  • Speaking to our audience as real people
  • Selecting and using audience feedback, to ensure attention to their interests
  • Looking for and studying the most successful posts to build on them

Certainly, youth and humor are their main attractions. But are more reasons that these channels engage so many viewers – factors that anyone can control no matter their age or genre.


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