Best of Digital Summit 2020: Duke University’s Sonja Likness on How to be a COOL Brand YouTuber


We’re celebrating and spotlighting some of our favorite, highest rated sessions from our Digital Summit at Home events from 2020. To close us out for the year, we give you Duke University’s head of social media, Sonja Likness (@SonjaLikness). Sonja has been a fixture in our programs in 2020, bringing her popular session How to Go from a Regular Brand YouTuber to a COOL Brand YouTuber to DS at Home in August and again in November and December. Enjoy this session packed with tips to level up your YouTube and video content game.

YouTube offers a great deal of opportunity to brand marketers looking to build buzz through video, yet creating a COOL brand on the platform is no simple task. There is a big difference between YouTube brands and “YouTubers,” the latter of which often garner a large following based on the type of content they produce. So how can brands create a strategy that delivers results in line with what successful YouTubers accomplish?

In this session from Digital Summit at Home in August 2020, Sonja provides insight into what successful COOL brands and personalities are doing on YouTube and how aspirational brands can take the plunge into creating fun, noteworthy video content that performs well.

Brands vs. YouTubers (5:45)

There are a number of ways that brands fall short of YouTubers when it comes to the basics of creating their channels, including not taking advantage of many of the basic features offered, incorrect formatting, and lack of customization. In many cases, brand channels are nothing more than a place to house commercials.

On the other hand, YouTubers are much more successful with creating series model content, leveraging interactive YouTube features, and branding their channel through customization.

YouTube Content (8:15)

Content is at the core of any YouTube channel. Successful brands develop “series model content” to develop a large following. This means that there is consistent, engaging video content making up the channel rather than a collection of one-off videos with no common theme. 

There are many different types of series model content that brands can and should consider before they develop their content, including:

  • Listicles
  • Explainer Videos
  • Commentary
  • Interviews
  • Music Videos
  • Challenges
  • Reactions
  • Narrative

PRO TIP: Define your series model content strategy BEFORE launching or refreshing your YouTube channel, keeping the value you deliver to your target audience in mind.

Channel Optimization (18:25)

YouTube is now considered the second largest search engine behind Google, which means that there a number of similar SEO tactics that are key to video discovery. The main features that brands should take advantage of to fully optimize their channels are:

  • Video Titles
  • Video Descriptions
  • Keywords
  • Thumbnails

PRO TIP: Keep traditional SEO best practices top of mind when creating the tags, titles, and descriptions of your YouTube content.

End Screens (16:35)

End screens offer tremendous value to content creators and marketing, providing the ability to deliver an interactive call to action (i.e. Subscribe).

PRO TIP: Have a clear CTA at the end of your YouTube content to engage with your audience beyond the individual piece of content.

Promoting YouTube Content (27:05)

Marketing content is only as effective as the strategy behind promoting it. YouTube videos are no different, and marketers must find the best ways to extend the reach of their content beyond the YouTube platform. Simple tactics include embedding videos on websites and pushing to videos from other social platforms.

As video content continues to rule the marketing content world, the recommendations from this session can help brands of all sizes increase their “cool factor” and the effectiveness of video content.

To hear from experts like Colleen and hundreds of others that teach at Digital Summit, check out our 2021 calendar of virtual and in-person events. Sonja will be bringing a fresh talk for 2021 to our Content, Social, and Creativity-themed DS at Home event happening Feb 24-26, 2021.

If you can’t wait until February for more Digital Summit in your life, join us on January 27 for Digital Summit Go!, a FREE 1-day online event featuring 12 of our best speakers. Hear 12 rapid fire talks on Content, Social, Email, and SEO with tons of actionable takeaways to help your marketing soar in the new year. Did we mention that it’s FREE? 🙂