The problem that most online video creators face, according to Spencer Richardson, CEO and co-founder of FanBridge, is this: It’s relatively easy to get people to come watch your content, getting them to stay or return is the hard part. “When we talk about sustainability and you look at the average video creator today, what’s their biggest challenge? In reality, it’s getting your audience to come back,” says Richardson.
YouTube, for its part, has made significant strides in the past few years to combat this problem. Back in March, YouTube rolled out “One Channel,” a new interface that favored longer, “lean back” viewing sessions. The updated layout also introduced channel trailers, which were specifically built to attract new viewers with easily consumed video clips. While all of this was to further push marathon YouTube viewing, when faced with billions of hours of video and thousands of channels launching everyday, your average creator will naturally struggle to retain audiences and build, as Richardson explains, a “sustainable model.”
With this in mind, digital customer relationship management (CRM) companies were conceived. The idea is simple: You are a business (or creator) who wants to reach more consumers while providing your current audience with an interesting, interactive digital relationship. In the case of FanBridge, a leading CRM firm in its own right, this relationship is built on two platforms. “We started with tools that fit into two categories: One is audience growth, which could be anything from signup forms that are tied to different incentives or Facebook and social media management tools,” says Richardson. These are the pretty standard tools you or I have interacted with on a daily basis, sometimes without knowing it. According to Richardson, these tools include “everything that you can put into your website, or Facebook, or YouTube account to collect fan emails and data.”
The second category was built after the FanBridge team met with the product team at YouTube. “We were showing them what we were doing with people off of YouTube and they were like, ‘You guys are thinking about YouTube as a medium, but it’s also a vertical’,” explains Richardson. “And that’s when our eyes got opened — about a year and a half ago — to this concept of one million-plus monetized YouTube partners and these channels.”
The YouTube product team asked FanBridge if they would be able to bring their CRM tools to, what they called, the YouTube vertical. From there, FanBridge began developing tools and widgets specifically tailored towards YouTube creators. “It was better video integration into email campaigns, it was better analytics through their [YouTube] API, it was measuring how marketing efforts would drive watch time,” Richardson explains. “As we were doing this, we realized there was enormous opportunity around bringing channels together in some way — we didn’t know at the time — but in some way to cross-pollinate their audience.”
Cross-pollination, better known as collaboration videos are one of the driving forces in the engine that is YouTube. Right now, type “how to become a YouTube star” into your browser and you’ll find that almost every tutorial — meritless or otherwise — has “collaborate with a popular YouTuber” listed. NY Mag’s “9 (Serious) Tips for Becoming a YouTube Beauty Star” contains the following piece of collaboration-minded advice: “The quickest way to get a lot of followers? Appear in the video of someone who’s already a big-shot YouTube star.”
It may seem like simple advice, but collaborating is much easier said than done, which is why FanBridge began thinking about streamlining the process. “As we were sitting in front of a whiteboard, saying, ‘What can we build that will be the number one way to help channels grow?’ This concept of a collaboration engine bubbled to the top,” says Richardson, speaking about the roots of FanBridge’s recently released platform Channel Pages. The FanBridge-built platform is stunningly simple: Using Channel Pages, creators can list themselves on a consensual directory where information about them is made public to those also using the platform. With this information, Creator A can contact Creator B about a potential collaboration while avoiding public social media venues like Twitter and Facebook. Each listed creators’ channel information is confirmed by YouTube’s API prior to creating a landing page to guarantee total accuracy.
With major brands’ increasing interest in branded content from YouTube creators, Channel Pages also meets a need on an advertiser-partner basis. Using Channel Pages, brands can reach out to listed creators and arrange potential business partnerships. Channel Pages lets advertisers connect directly to talent who align with their overall vision.
Since launching Channel Pages in September, 50% of AdAge’s 2013 “A-List” agencies have started using the platform. The self-described “collaboration engine,” according to FanBridge, has also scaled past 300 million monthly views and 30 million subscribers in less than four months.
Of course the FanBridge team is thrilled, but the engine’s rapid growth has skewed Channel Page’s audience in an interesting way. “Typically when you build an audience marketplace, the supply side is a little easier to build up. It’s the demand side in terms of the brands and agencies that most people have trouble with,” Richardson says. “Because we built an open search engine that’s easy to use and because it is exactly the tool the agencies have been asking for, they actually started adopting it at a faster rate than channels collaborate with other channels.” As Richardson explains, Channel Pages has become such an important tool for agencies that the company now has a surplus of demand from brands looking to find talent. “We are trying to put a call to arms for channels,” says Richardson. “There is more demand for this technology from the advertiser agency system than we could have anticipated.”
Richardson explains that the key to growing Channel Pages is bringing in more and more creators. Brands, as online audiences become more focused, are looking for specific creators to align with. While YouTubers like PewDiePie have the numbers, a brand like L’oReal wouldn’t necessarily have any luck with his younger, male demographic. With a broader swath of creators listed on Channel Pages, Richardson claims that this will allow agencies to not only build content on a deeper level but also buy out multiple creators at once.
With technology that is highly sought after by brands and a surplus of interested advertisers, FanBridge and Channel Pages are rapidly becoming leading platforms for both agencies and the relatively fledgling creator community. “We are in a unique position to understand and build technology that helps channels grow their audience,” said Richardson. “We think collaborations are one of the most significant ways channels can grow and support each other.”