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YouTube Star Combines Great Stories, Quirky Personality, and DIY Ethos


Matthew Patrick – aka MatPat, his sixth-grade nickname that stuck – is a massive YouTube celebrity, particularly among teens and 20-something young men. (If you have not heard of him, you’re likely well over 30.) His YouTube channel, The Game Theorists, has nearly 5 million subscribers and almost a half-billion video views.

Patrick’s path to YouTube notoriety isn’t an obvious one. He graduated from Duke University with a neuroscience degree and a passion for musical theater. But after three years touring with theater groups, Patrick realized it wasn’t going to be a lifelong profession. Making online videos, he says, was a way to transition to a new career.

“To hiring companies, I was the weird theater kid. It didn’t matter that I had experience directing shows, putting together schedules and budgets, and project managing up to 30 people over months of travel … No one trusted me enough to give me a chance,” he explains.

Producing YouTube videos was a way to show how his theater background translated to new media. Over time, however, as his videos gained a bigger audience and he refined his skills, Patrick began to see The Game Theorists less as a transition experiment and more as an end game. He was a natural at telling interesting stories and his degree in neuroscience kindled an interest in (and sophistication with) analytics.

“I started to become invested in the numbers, figuring out how I could tweak the system and tweak my videos to drive 10, 15, 20 percent more views,” Patrick says. “I learned how to get content shared in more suggested feeds and how to get my audiences to watch 10% longer … Over time I was able to get a sense not only of how users engage on the platform, but how YouTube’s algorithms work.”

Today, Patrick not only manages his YouTube channel – publishing about two videos per week, each requiring about 100 hours of work from Patrick and his team – he also runs a consulting practice that helps big brands use YouTube more effectively.

How not to mess up

Patrick has worked with dozens of large companies trying to make a connection on YouTube, and he says most problems stem from a simple lack of appreciation about what makes YouTube unique.

TV viewers are more likely to sit back and tune in to a single show for an hour, while YouTube viewers have an impatient trigger finger. Unlike television, which has a limited set of choices, YouTube allows someone with a passion for weightlifting, for example, to go down a rabbit hole of related videos.

“TV is a passive medium while YouTube is an active-viewing experience. The viewer has to click on and watch a video … and if they’re not enjoying it there are hundreds of other videos to click to instantaneously,” Patrick says.

He says it’s critical to create videos that appeal in a short time. Videos on YouTube have seconds to make a connection with a fickle audience, meaning creators must focus on the first 15 seconds of a video, ensuring the introduction or lead is compelling enough to pull in viewers.

Another big part of keeping audiences engaged on YouTube, says Patrick, is authenticity. Yes, it’s a buzzword … but Patrick says it’s a huge challenge for brands trying to make inroads on the platform.

“The most successful channels are those that foster a sincere and honest passion with their audience,” says Patrick. Brands too often want to play it safe. He explains, “Any channel with a personality in front of the camera will grow faster than those without. Audiences want someone they can attach to and get to know and trust.

“A lot of corporations fear that. They want to be broadly appealing and are afraid to define a clear voice. Neutral corporate creativity doesn’t fly well on YouTube.”

And what about those elaborate editorial calendars? Scripts planned months in advance? It won’t work, says Patrick. If you’re paying attention to the data, you’re going to have to test and change course quickly – not quarterly, but weekly:

“What is most exciting about YouTube is also the most challenging for large companies with elaborate hierarchies, workflows, and approval pipelines. On YouTube, you get immediate feedback. You can look at things like retention time (available through YouTube analytics) or even user comments and pivot quickly by addressing the issue or tweaking something in the next video.”

That said, don’t mistake the prevailing aesthetic on YouTube – videos from stars like PewDiePie or DisneyCollectorBR that look thrown together and even amateurish – as haphazard. “Things that look too polished come across as disingenuous,” Patrick says. “I’ve seen lots of channels lose viewership as their production budgets went up. Even though they were basically producing the same thing, the audience lost a sense of the all-important authenticity in the more polished visuals.”

The best place for brands to start is to collaborate with independent YouTubers who already have an audience and are serving it well. YouTube stars are more and more thinking as entrepreneurs and open to relationships with brands – whether short-term sponsorships or long-term co-creation agreements. Patrick shares that collaborations can take many forms:

  • Hire a star. Existing stars can create a custom video or series of videos for a brand, which can be hosted on the brand’s channel.

Patrick created a series for Purina called Pet-U-Cation – fun educational videos that answer common questions about pets. Before the collaboration, Purina’s videos were garnering views in the 1,000 to 3,000 range; Patrick’s videos drew hundreds of thousands of views, plus a significant long tail (i.e., continued interest, albeit at lower levels, over a longer time), which jump-started Purina’s subscriber base.

  • Rent space. In this version, brands work closely with a YouTube star to create a custom piece to run on that YouTuber’s channel. For example, a video game company might ask YouTube celebrity PewDiePie to talk about a new game release on his channel.

  • Sponsor videos. In some cases, a brand sponsors a series or “season” of a popular YouTube channel’s videos. The agreement may allow the brand to run a front card or logo on each video, or work in some other kind of integration strategy.
  • Respond directly. In this relationship, the last two minutes of a video is dedicated to a particular brand – whether it be endorsing the brand, pushing audience members to take a particular action related to that brand, or even giving out coupons.
  • Embrace brand ambassadors. Much like a brand may align itself with any well-known personality or influencer, brands can forge longer-term relationships with YouTubers in a hybrid relationship that may include sponsorship as well as customized video creation.

What’s happening today

These days Patrick is himself thinking like an entrepreneur by rolling out a brand extension, a new channel called The Film Theorists, which explores film with the same quirky quest for answers that Patrick applies to video games. “We’re covering everything from the quantum physics of Harry Potter and its implications on the lore of the series, to whether a person can die from licking the glue on too many envelopes, like Susan from Seinfeld. It’s tongue-in-cheek humor mixed with thoughtful research to educate viewers while still entertaining them.”

The channel launched in June and in the first 48 hours gained 400,000 subscribers. What accounts for that degree of loyalty? Patrick says it’s the nature of the platform: “YouTube functions the way it does because of an authentic connection between the creator and the audience in a bond of trust. Once you have that trust – and you’re extremely careful to preserve it – new avenues of monetization open to you.

The true value of digital media is the audience,” Patrick says. “Once you have access to that audience, you can launch a book, a make-up line, a video game … you have an organic audience that believes in your value proposition. You can take them in a different direction and they’ll be loyal to you because they’ve grown with you and are ready to follow you.”

Meet and learn from Matthew Patrick in person at Content Marketing World this September. Use code CMI100 to save $100 on registration.

This article originally appeared in the August issue of Chief Content Officer. Sign up to receive your free subscription to our bi-monthly print magazine.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute