In a wide-ranging interview with Hunter Walk, Director of Product Management at YouTube, we discussed the true size and scope of the video platform, his new role in thinking about how YouTube can expand as a powerful force for social causes, education and change, key insights and lessons for all non-profits on how to best utilize video, unexpected facts and figures about YouTube intersecting with the social sector, why YouTube for Good is good business and not simply philanthropy, and much more.
Hunter Walk focuses on YouTube as a platform for social good, activism and free expression. He previously led consumer product management at YouTube, delivering billions of playbacks a day to the world’s largest video community. Since joining Google in 2003, he has also managed product and sales efforts for Google’s contextual advertising business. Prior to this, Walk was a founding member of the product and marketing team at Linden Lab. Earlier, he was a management consultant and also spent a year at Late Night with Conan O’Brien, broadcasting to an audience of insomniacs, truckers and college students. Hunter has a BA in History from Vassar and an MBA from Stanford University.
Rahim Kanani: To start, give us a little bit of context with respect to just how big the YouTube platform really is, and then how your particular position came about.
Hunter Walk: 72 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute. In 2011, YouTube had more than 1 trillion video views, which is 140 views for every person on the planet. Among all the hours of uploads and billions of views, nonprofits, educators, and activists have a strong presence on YouTube. “Nonprofits and activism” and “Education” are among the fastest growing categories on YouTube.
The YouTube for Good team really started more with our community than with me or any YouTube employee. From our earliest days, the community shared important and inspiring videos via YouTube. As the reach and accessibility of YouTube increased, so did the opportunity for our platform to become a global townsquare and classroom, in addition to a global living room. Whether notifying the world of government abuses, teaching math to millions or creating a movement against gay bullying, YouTube became a place of inspiration in addition to entertainment.
So why form YouTube for Good? Because the values of our team and our community are expressed in the work we do, and being intentful, saying that using YouTube to improve the human condition is just as important as using YouTube to entertain, those are values we want to support beyond rhetoric.
For me personally it was because after nearly five years of leading our product efforts here (and more than eight years at Google), I saw how YouTube could not just be “the next TV” but a more social, fulfilling and open platform. After visiting Baghdad in 2009 and learning from students there how YouTube connected them with the world, I resolved to commit more of my time to this.
Rahim Kanani: When you think about how more and more nonprofit organizations are trying to use YouTube to raise awareness, garner donations, and drive visibility to their efforts, what are some things they should keep in mind before venturing into the world of video?
Hunter Walk: Previously when an NGO wanted to air a public service announcement they had to spend a chunk of their budget for ad space on television or hope that a broadcast station would air the video as an in-kind donation. Now the world’s largest audience is assembled on YouTube with 800 million visitors a month. Organizations should keep in mind that YouTube is different from TV, it is highly social.
Nonprofits trying to use YouTube should remember three c’s: content, community, and call-to-action.
First, it all starts with the content, the message. There’s no one right answer here as to what’s best. Organizations should examine their content by asking key questions about it: does the content match the distribution medium, is it authentic to me, what is the emotional hook, which community segments does it connect with, will it work internationally, is it timely? If you don’t feel good about the content or it’s not resonating with your target audience, don’t push it out.
To succeed on YouTube your content does not need to be expensive, exclusive, highly-produced, or celebrity-driven. Also, nonprofits sometimes have more knowledge than they do budget – I don’t want them to be limited by only the video they can produce. That’s why we’ve made it easier for nonprofits and individuals to curate great video content into playlists. For example, an environmental organization on YouTube can have a series that features interviews with board members and an educational series about climate change all on one destination. Mix these into a playlist with some of the videos they’ve curated from educational institutions or other nonprofits and all of a sudden their channel has become a tremendous resource for environmentalists and those looking to learn more about climate change.
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