Mastering the Algorithm on the Front Lines

To most of the audience out there, I’m Marcus Sheridan, speaker and author. You’ve heard me talk about marketing, sales, communication, and leadership — maybe on LinkedIn, in a blog like this one, or on stage.

Here’s me at INBOUND last year:

But fewer people know me as Marcus Sheridan the fisherman. You see, for the past few years I’ve been running a saltwater fishing charter business off the coast of North Carolina.

So, I’ve been hard at work in the background building a new brand, and I’ve learned a lot about what that looks like in 2023 and beyond. 

My focus today will be all about YouTube — and mostly about YouTube Shorts

Think of this as a dispatch from the front lines. Here’s what I’ve learned building a brand from scratch in the modern media landscape. Here goes.

Speechless Sportfishing

First, a quick backstory. I’ve been into fishing all my life. It was something I did with friends and with my family. As I got older and my kids grew up, I connected with Ron Edwards, an old friend from high school. You see, I was hoping to bring my son out into the offshore waters when he turned 18. 

Eventually, Ron and I started talking about running charters together. Soon after, we bought a 40-foot boot and Speechless Sportfishing was born.

Today, we run fishing charters in the Chesapeake Bay and offshore, and we document as much as we can on our YouTube Channel: Saltwater Fishing University.

For those of you who know me, you won’t be surprised to hear that we quickly hired a videographer to help us run our marketing. We needed beautiful shots of our adventures so we could spread the word and build our audience. 

We published our first video to YouTube in October of 2021. Our goal was to grow our channel to 15K subscribers in two years. 

Now, two years later, we’ve got 55K subscribers and tens of millions of views. 

Here’s how we did it.

The power of video

I went into this whole experience knowing full well that video is key to modern marketing. I knew that YouTube was THE place for us to get discovered. What I didn’t know was how crucial short-form video would be to that process. 

Early on, we posted full-length videos that covered a variety of topics. 

How-to videos like this one: How to choose the right sportfishing boat.

Detailed, slice-of-life type videos like this one showing a blue marlin catch:

​​And a bunch of others. Some about price, some about tips to solve common problems, some about gear comparisons

In general, these videos did pretty well. We’d get a few thousand views on most of them. And each time we posted, we’d bring in more subscribers. 

But this was nothing compared to what short-form video did for us. 

Short-form video has incredible reach

Short-form videos are the bite-sized, vertical videos that you’ve seen all over social media, from TikTok to LinkedIn. They may be as long as a minute, or even 90 seconds, but are usually 30 seconds or less. Some are as short as 10 seconds.

These videos are vertically-oriented (meaning they’re usually shot on a phone) and often play on a loop. And, most importantly, they’re heavily pushed by YouTube’s algorithm. Considering that more than 70% of all YouTube traffic is mobile, it makes sense that the platform would put so much stock in content suited to mobile devices. 

These videos are typically less polished and, therefore, quick to make. In the course of a single day’s trip, I try to get six or seven shorts filmed — but I probably won’t publish all of them.

But now that we’ve made a lot of these, I’ve learned a few lessons about what makes a great short-form video. Here’s what I’ve taken away.

Lesson #1: ‘Make ‘em click, make ‘em stick, make ‘em sick’

This is the core of what I’ve learned about shorts. This is the formula that runs through my head whenever I’m planning on shooting a new one. Let me explain:

Make ‘em click: This is pretty straightforward. Something in the title or the thumbnail should make people want to see what’s going to happen. You want them to click on your short as opposed to all the others in their feed. 

In shorts land you’ll see a lot of titles like “You won’t believe what happened next!” or “She was so surprised!” 

To me, these kinds of titles can feel a little clickbaity and manipulative — so remember two things: First, always fulfill your promises. If you say that there’s something funny at the end of the video, there better be something funny! Second, don’t go overboard with titles. You can only say “This is the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen!” before people start getting boy-who-cried-wolf vibes. Trying too hard never looks great. 

So, think clickable, not clickbaity. 

But here’s a good example of a very clickable title and thumbnail.

Sounds really interesting, so you’re likely to click it.

Make ‘em stick: Second, we want to make the viewer stick around. This usually isn’t all that difficult because the videos are so short, but be sure not to let the video feel boring. Honestly, a good short will get people to watch it more than once (remember, they loop), so your retention rates can be super high.

A lot of shorts are full of quick shots (say, each one lasts just 3-5 seconds) so that the effect is visually stimulating for the audience. 

Again, as I said above, make sure you’re living up to the promises you made in the title.

Make ‘em sick: Okay, this one isn’t perfectly named, but I wanted it to rhyme. What I mean by this is that you want to make people feel something. Joy, surprise, excitement, satisfaction, you name it. 

My number one rule in marketing is always to provide value. If you waste people’s time, they won’t have a favorable impression of your brand.

So, make your content worthwhile. Make your visitors have an emotional response. Make it memorable. 

Lesson #2: What’s common (or boring) to you is interesting to your audience 

I know that sport fishing is exciting. It’s a high-energy adventure out on the open water. But it’s also a lot of early mornings. A lot of choppy seas. A lot of cruising to our fishing ground. 

The key that I’ve found, though, is that what’s commonplace to you, whatever you do, could be very interesting to your audience. So, while we certainly focus on the thrill of the catch, we also show those everyday moments that we do over and over again. Baiting hooks, fixing our boat, and selling the fish we catch. 

This everyday type video, for example, has 19K views:

The lesson here is this. Show what you do. Teach to the masses.

It doesn’t have to be as exciting as deep-sea fishing. If you’re a manufacturer, show your production floor. If you’re a landscaper, show how you plant shrubs. Heck, if you’re a patent attorney, show how you file your paperwork.

People want to see. And this is the beauty of shorts. We’re talking about a 30-second video. 

Lesson #3: The viral effect

One of our shorts went viral, bringing in more than 24 million views. The effect of this was massive. That one video boosted all of our other videos. It brought in a ton of subscribers, and it gave us great momentum.

Now, did we cash in with YouTube for going viral? No. We probably made about 400 bucks off that video, but the cascading effects make it very valuable for us. 

Virality is a tricky thing. It seems like the harder you chase it, the less likely you are to get it. For us, this video was not much different than our other ones. There were no celebrities or UFO sightings. But this one took off, and it brought the channel along with it. 

And after it did, we kept plugging away, doing the same work we’d been doing all along.

Short-form video and your audience

No matter what your niche is, your audience is online somewhere consuming short-form video content. It may be Instagram or Facebook. It may be LinkedIn. It may just be YouTube Shorts. 

But short-form content is everywhere, so it’s no surprise to me that This year, 90% of global advertisers increased their investment in short-form video content

My experience from the front lines of the algorithm prove that this is a essential tool for connecting with your audience. You don’t need to be selling something as exciting as deep-sea fishing. Just show what makes you unique — and use the lessons I shared above to keep focused on the right things.

And if you need help with your video marketing, talk to an expert from IMPACT. We can help you make sense of it all.

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