The Science Behind SciShow’s YouTube Success
If you’ve got science-related questions, SciShow likely has the answers. With 2M total subscribers and 3.1M minutes of watchtime per month, SciShow has become one of YouTube’s premier education channels. But what is the science behind its success? In the case study below, we examine the channel’s key strategies, including engaging audiences with host Hank Green’s unique vlog-style format, creating content around trending topics and inviting guest stars and experts to cohost.
After three years and countless flasks, beakers and graduated cylinders, SciShow has emerged as one of the premier education channels on YouTube. Its unique brand of edutainment has attracted over 2M subscribers, many of whom affectionately refer to themselves as Nerdfighters. But how did SciShow do it? What can we learn from a channel that has testing, innovation and learning in its very DNA? We’ll examine five strategies we think were responsible for its early and ongoing success. Starting off with a (big) bang! Having already built a thriving online community on the Vlogbrothers channel and across the social web, Hank Green was keenly aware of the power of true fans to support new initiatives.
Before SciShow uploaded a single episode to the new channel, Green announced its upcoming launch to fans across the web—and Nerdfighters flocked to the new channel. Within two weeks, the channel had attracted more than 40K subscribers eagerly awaiting its first upload. Within the first day of upload, the channel attracted over 100K views, crossing 1M views in less than a month. Today the channel has more than 200M views and viewership is still growing fast. Channels just starting out can build excitement by posting teasers, collaborating with other YouTube channels to get the word out and actively recruiting potential fans on social media. Infusing entertainment into educational topics There is no one single way to engage viewers, but Green’s unique vlog-style format and audience retention tactics have undoubtedly played a role in SciShow’s sky-high view-through rates. The combination of Hank’s direct address style and unwavering eye contact makes viewers feel as though they are having a conversation with a close friend. His relentless flow of brain food—presented at a rapid 260 words per minute (WPM)—doesn’t give viewers an opportunity to disengage. For comparison, the average American speaks 110–150 WPM, while notoriously fast-talking auctioneers speak at 250–440 WPM. The result of these engagement tactics is a channel-wide audience retention rate of 70%, with many videos driving more than 90% retention rates (including several longer-form videos). Celebrating audience participation At one time or another, most of us have had a teacher who would stand in front of the classroom and drone on and on until the bell rang—how boring was that? SciShow takes a different approach, infusing a healthy dose of audience interaction in all of its lessons.
Some of the fun ways that audiences can get involved in SciShow include asking questions on social media that are then answered as standalone episodes on the channel. Fans can also interact with annotations to uncover answers and in-depth explanations in separate videos. By encouraging and celebrating audience participation, SciShow has been able to achieve higher Comment and Like rates than other top educational channels (3x and 2x, respectively).
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