Case Studies

YouTube Case Study: How we 6x Growth

By Jon Elordi

Before I joined the Intercollegiate Studies Institute(ISI), there had never been a dedicated marketing director. Marketing was usually a portion of someone’s job. Because of this, digital growth was put on the back burner.

The platform I wanted to focus on the most was YouTube.

ISI is an educational nonprofit. And YouTube, out of all the different platforms, is most suited for learning. It was a natural fit, so we began the work of building the YouTube channel.

YouTube Growth Results

Looking at the graph above, you can see that while the YouTube channel existed, it was passively collecting followers. The follower count was slowly trickling up over the thirteen previous years.

When I started, ISI had 5,331 YouTube subscribers. Today, it has over 30,000. Most of that growth happened in 2023. That’s a sixfold increase in subscribers in a little over a year. In one year, we got five times more followers than the previous five years combined.

It was a great achievement, and this is how we did it.

Getting on the Algorithm’s Good Side

Before I joined ISI, posting on YouTube was sporadic. The previous regimes would post videos as soon as they got them. Posting 4-5 videos all at once, and then not posting again for two months. Furthermore, the videos that were posted were “low-effort posts.” They’d post the video. Give it a bland title. Use the default thumbnail. And maybe give it a description. This signaled to YouTube that ISI wasn’t serious about its YouTube channel. And the YouTube algorithm was not serious about the ISI channel.

So, one of the first things we looked to do was get on the good side of the algorithm.

To this end, we started “effort posting.” We built out a posting schedule so that the ISI YouTube channel would post new content several times a week. Two to three times a week, we’d post either a new podcast episode or a five—to ten-minute clip from a video in our archive.

Getting on the good side of the algorithm is import for two reasons. The first, is so the algorithm will naturally start to boost your videos. If you make YouTube happy, they seem to increase the floor of your video views. The second is virality. When you have potentially viral content, you want the YouTube algorithm to promote it like crazy.

High Quality Content

There’s only so much a marketer can do to improve the content they’re given. I’ll be the first to admit that ISI’s content is not the most riveting in the world. Are you not interested in a 90-minute panel on Leo Strauss?

But just because your content is academic doesn’t mean you shouldn’t present it as best as you can. We completely overhauled all previously posted videos. We gave them all custom and improved thumbnails. We improved their titles to entice more clicks. And we gave them all longer descriptions, usually several paragraphs.

The goal of all of this was to show YouTube we were trying. YouTube appreciates the effort. But we also wanted to improve the SEO of all our videos. Our videos are less likely to go viral. But people are searching for the content we are producing. We aimed to make it as easy as possible for those searches to find what they were looking for.

This, over time, should lead to a higher amount of views.

YouTube Shorts

Part of getting on YouTube’s good side was posting at least one YouTube short daily. YouTube Shorts was a new feature to YouTube that they set up as a competitor to Instagram Reels and TikTok.

The rule of thumb is if a platform rolls out a new feature, utilize it!

New features on an existing platform are risky for tech companies, so they do everything they can to promote adoption of the new feature, which means artificially boosting views. We knew YouTube wanted to promote Shorts, so we gave them shorts to promote. Shorts turned out to be the key to us getting our first million-view video.

Going Viral

ISI went “Viral” a few times. In contrast, steady posting slowly increases the subscriber number. It’s the viral videos that give you chunk subscribers. When you see the line in the graph get steep, that’s when we had a video go “viral.”

There is no sure fire way to go viral. Especially in the educational nonprofit space. Our strategy for virality was to cut the best clips we could, and hope to get a little lucky. This is why getting on the good side of the Google algorithm is important. It makes you luckier.

We got lucky a few times, but that’s only because we set ourselves up to get lucky.

Conclusion

I’m so proud of the work my team and I did to increase the views and subscribers on the YouTube channel. One of my prouder achievements is having eight of the top ten videos on the channel from my time here at ISI.

Implementing best practices and building systems proved to be a winning strategy for ISI, and I’m excited to see how we can grow this platform even further.