Video Websites Catering to Social Good Groups

BY Cat Wise  June 21, 2012 at 12:45 PM EDT

Video has long been a powerful medium for organizations that want to create awareness and spur action on behalf of various causes around the world — but how people can watch those videos is changing.

The television ads, telethons and 30-second public service announcements so popular in the past — and still in some use today — are making way for YouTube, Vimeo and other web-based video services that users hope will spread their message to an ever-growing online audience.

Earlier this year, the world, especially the nonprofit world, watched in amazement as the controversial Kony 2012 online video quickly “went viral” and was viewed more than a 100 million times. Millions of dollars of donations poured into the San Diego-based nonprofit Invisible Children, which released the 30 minute video. (Read more about it and watch the video here.)

From the biggest nongovernmental organizations to the smallest one-person crusades, many in the social good community are jumping on the video bandwagon with the hopes that they can replicate the Kony video’s success.

The video services themselves are recognizing this growing use, including YouTube, which has organized resources under the title “YouTube for Good” to help people who want to use its website for promoting social good.

“For social entrepreneurs, video is where the web was 10 years ago. It’s where your audience is and where your future will be,” said Hunter Walk, director of product management at YouTube.

Last year, Walk spearheaded the YouTube for Good effort, which assists nonprofits with free services such as a “donate” button, extended-length video posts, live streaming, and email customer support. More than 17,000 certified nonprofits in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia and Canada are now enrolled in the program.

YouTube, in turn, gets the increased audience and video views that the nonprofit groups provide.

“Of the 17,000 nonprofits, we have hundreds with more than a million views of their combined videos,” said Walk. “And we have dozens that have more than 10 million-plus cumulative views. But my goal is to increase those numbers by an order of magnitude.”

When asked about the Kony 2012 video, Walk said he was surprised, but not by how many times it was viewed. “When people look at the 100 million views of the Kony video, what’s actually more interesting and incredible to me, was that we saw 40,000 videos uploaded in response,” he said. “I think what people often forget is that YouTube is not a one way mechanism. It’s a conversation. It’s a comprehension tool, as much as it is a broadcast tool.”

According to Walk, nonprofits are increasingly coming up with creative ways to pull in viewers. He says the following videos demonstrate different trends in nonprofit use.

In an effort to connect with their funders, the employees of charity:water, a nonprofit dedicated to providing clean, safe drinking water to people in developing countries, posted 250 thank you videos to individual donors last September, and posted the video (above).

Paull Young, charity:water’s digital director, said video has been an important tool for the organization to get out its message. “For us, inspiration is the most important part of our digital strategy,” he said. “Video is the best medium to inspire people and help them see their impact.”

YouTube’s Walk said nonprofits don’t have to spend money on high-end productions to garner a lot of attention. “On YouTube, quality is important, yes. Can people hear it, can they see it. But I think what matters just as much is the story and the authenticity.” He pointed to InvisiblePeople.tv, which profiles the homeless in America. Founder Mark Horvath was on the verge of being homeless himself when he started the project:

The YouTube page of the It Gets Better Project, which has more than 3.5 million views, is oriented not only toward showing support of young lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people who are struggling with bullies, but toward hearing from viewers as well.

“People who think of video and YouTube as just talking, but not asking questions or asking people to respond or get involved aren’t making use of the communication aspect of the medium,” said Walk. He said the It Gets Better Project works because people, from Hollywood stars to regular individuals, had the opportunity to say what it meant to them:

And a good story can bring in viewers. The video of a 9-year-old boy in East Los Angeles who set up a cardboard arcade was watched about 3 million times:

According to Walk, “This video goes to show that you start with a story, you tell it in a way that captures people’s attention, you make it shareable, and that’s your virtuous cycle. I would debate anyone who wants to say that millions of people engaging with a three-minute video doesn’t produce any change. I don’t see that. I see awareness leading to action leading to activism. And I see it all the time.”

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