5 lessons from YouTube’s most-hated video ever

The video platform’s annual roundup has drawn 9.7 million ‘dislikes.’ YouTube shrugs that it’s fine with that. What are the lessons for communicators who aren’t trying to irk their audiences?

YouTube rewind 2018 is most-hated video ever

The Independent’s headline on 2018’s biggest YouTube story says it all: “SITE’S OWN RECAP VIDEO BECOMES THE LEAST POPULAR EVER.”

In under a week, the video goliath’s “YouTube Rewind 2018” has overtaken a Justin Bieber video to earn the distinction of the most unpopular video ever uploaded, with just over 9 million thumbs down.

You know your effort has gone awry when the U.K.’s Telegraph headlines a story, “How YouTube’s 2018 PR stunt became even more hated than Justin Bieber.”

At this rate, Rewind 2018’s “dislikes” will soon overtake the falsetto phenom’s “Baby,” about which the Telegraph reported, “Bieber’s exasperated warbling has racked up 9.7 million dislikes in eight years.”

Subtract “Baby’s” millions of “likes,” and the 2018 YouTube roundup becomes the least popular. (And in fairness, Bieber was just a teen at the time.)

“It completely smacks of ‘How do you do, fellow kids!’” says Dave DiVerniero, freelance producer and editor. “It plays like it was made by people who spent 15 minutes researching what trends are popular, but have a complete disconnect with the culture and viewers.”

For those who want to avoid producing a video that irks multitudes, here are some lessons:

1. Remember your stars.

Many organizations are learning that their image all about its employees, not the faceless brand, the CEO or celebrity endorsers. By the same token, YouTube has left out some of its biggest stars.

As Mashable notes: “The deep unpopularity of YouTube’s Rewind video, which becomes clear through the video’s comments and social media chatter, is due to YouTube omitting some of the platform’s biggest stars.

“The likes of Shane Dawson, Logan Paul, and PewDiePie don’t make an appearance, and that weird, but ultimately very popular boxing match between KSI and Paul didn’t rate a mention either.”

Despite what Mashable calls “PewDiePie’s rather odious behavior in the past,” fans were irked at the absence of the platform’s biggest names.

The Independent reports adds that “large parts of [Rewind 2018] are made up of people who are not famous through their YouTube posts, but through traditional media—such as John Oliver and Trevor Noah, who both appear in the video doing dances from Fortnite,” a video game.

For its part, YouTube is declaring the video a victory.

“Every year when we release our Rewind video, our number one goal is getting the community to engage with it,” a YouTube spokesperson told us. “This includes liking and disliking the video. With millions of comments, millions of likes and dislikes, and more than 100 million views, we’re pleased with the results.”

Well, if raw engagement is what you’re after, consider this a win.

2. Remember your audience.

When a platform becomes as humongous as YouTube, perhaps one can lose sight of the millions it’s serving.

“I think YouTube has ignored who their audience is and what its strengths are,” says Scott Levely, digital communications lead for Hamilton Health Sciences, which is known for its successful videos.

“Authentic, user-generated content is at the heart of the second-largest search engine online, and they’ve missed the mark by creating an homage to the complete opposite of that—a highly produced, big budget video that doesn’t resonate with those same users.”

In response to a tweet of mine, Red Panda Public Relations offered this:

3. Authenticity beats slickness.

YouTube evidently thought it would draw fans with a heavily produced video complete with a flying bus, outlandish parachuting scenes and an appearance by actor Will Smith.

“Instead of putting story, authenticity and audience first, it seems as though YouTube made the mistake of thinking that if you throw enough money at something, people will like it,” Levely says.

By contrast, GoDaddy supports a nonprofit called Kiva, which makes microloans around the globe to alleviate poverty. The company could have promoted that effort in a slick video.

Instead, when it announced that every employee was getting a $25 credit to direct to a Kiva project, GoDaddy used snapshots and video of its chief executive walking past a line of international food trucks while explaining the program. Employees discussed the person they were supporting abroad—telling a story about whom they had chosen and why.

YouTube has “learned the lesson that communications execs constantly love to forget: a soulless, ham-handed video cannot be salvaged by production value and shoehorning in cameos,” DiVerniero says.

4. Not everybody can pull off humor.

We at Ragan recently mentioned a video by Outpost.com, in which ravenous wolves are released on a football field to devour members of a high school marching band. Surely somebody at Outpost thought the gag was hilarious, but—go figure—not everyone smiled.

On the other hand, the French channel Canal+ cranked out a funny (and expensively produced) video involving a bearskin rug as a movie director.

Some jokes might seem funny when you and your team pull that all-nighter to produce it, less so when a customer or employee clicks on your link at their desktops the next morning. When in doubt, play it straight.

5. Viral isn’t always good.

It’s great to get attention. Still, unless you’re of the school of communication that holds that all mentions are good mentions, you don’t want to become famous for something cheesy, annoying or offensive to your audience. (See wolves devouring juveniles, above.)

YouTube may shrug that it’s all about engagement, but the backlash against the Rewind video comes at an inopportune time, amid increasing unrest about how the platform is run, the Independent reports.

“YouTubers including PewDiePie have argued that the site is leaving behind the creators that helped grow it,” the paper states, “while others argue that it is inadvertently fueling extremist rhetoric by showing controversial videos. It has also been plagued by conspiracy theories about what channels it shows, which were exacerbated after a fatal shooting at its headquarters.”

There’s always next year.

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