How I Got 9K YouTube Views in 24 Hours

On December 1, 2020, an uncrewed vehicle of the Chinese Chang'e 5 sample return mission was about to land on the Moon.

There was a lot of excitement. As an astronomy and space enthusiast, I shared the interest and anticipation. These fields are a major part of my creative endeavours.


An opportunity

Space experts, scientists, enthusiasts, and reporters were sharing online a lot of information on the mission and the vehicles. But they were hardly talking about Mons Rümker (Latin for mount Rümker), the spacecraft's landing area.

The Mons Rümker area is of great scientific interest. However, it's a subtle lunar feature that may be difficult to locate even if you know where to look for.

So I played with Google Maps a bit to explore this area of the Moon and get a refresher ahead of the landing. Mons Rümker looked great in Google Maps. Therefore, the night before the landing I made a video to share and contribute to the online mission coverage and conversation.

It's a simple 2-minute video that navigates to and zooms in on Mons Rümker. I made it by opening the Google Maps website, switching to the Moon view, and recording a screencast with the Screencastify Chrome extension.

I uploaded the video to YouTube and added a music track from YouTube's Music Library. I also drafted a short blog post on the Chang’e 5 landing zone that embedded the video and provided some context and step-by-step instructions to locate the area on lunar maps.


An experiment

Then I decided to hold on to the content for a little longer to do an experiment on YouTube virality.

Although the video and the post were ready the night before the landing, I resolved to publish them a few hours ahead of the event. I knew that was when the attention of the space community on Twitter would peak. The timing turned out to be right.

On landing day, I published two tweets linking to the blog post and shared the video with several friends and on some online venues.

As hoped, the video went viral.

Key YouTube analytics of Mons Rümker video
Key YouTube analytics of my Mons Rümker video.


Within 24 hours, the video received almost 9K views and three months later was at 14K. The first tweet got almost 1100 views and about 30 interactions, the second tweet almost 13K views and around 400 interactions. For context, at the time I had 2.8K Twitter followers. Traffic on my blog peaked at over 700 views, about twice the average.

As highly expected, this was drive-by traffic that didn't stick or convert.

I gained a couple more Twitter followers and half a dozen new subscribers to my YouTube channel. Nobody subscribed to my newsletter, and I didn't sell a single copy of my ebook, both linked from my blog and Twitter profile. That's it.


Takeaways

Although viral spread is hardly reproducible, I can draw a few tentative takeaways.

The first is I was confident my specific content would go viral. I did zero research, not even a few YouTube searches. I just monitored my Twitter feed that's well stuffed with space news and outreach sources. This made it clear nobody was talking about or showing what Mons Rümker looked like. It pays to know a niche well.

Another takeaway is I put together the video quickly and with minimal resources. It's a single-cut screencast of a Google Maps session with no spoken commentary or editing. Making the video and writing the blog post took me an hour. Keeping production costs low and quality acceptable isn’t an issue if the content is in high demand.

Finally, YouTube is a greater source of traffic than I thought, also for a small fish like me. When I published the video, my channel had around 260 subscribers. About 28% of the early views came from YouTube recommendations, over 16% from YouTube search. Slightly over half of the views came from external sources.

It was a fun experiment. I'm not sure anything about it is reproducible. Even by me. But the experience motivates me to pay closer attention to my niches and play a bit more with YouTube.

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