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6Feb/113

The importance of Ray William Johnson

For me, Ray William Johnson is the most interesting person on YouTube. This is a daring statement, not least because, aside from the odd comedy song video, the man spends his time pumping out two extremely light videos a week which to all intents and purposes follow a very strict and very childish format. He's almost always in a corner of his house, with his Watchmen wallpaper behind him; he greets his followers, gives a lively commentary on between three and five popular videos, introduces the "comment question of the day" from one of his followers, then displays the answers from the week before. The video then finishes with an advert for t-shirts and a very quick clip of either out-takes or a highlight from one of the videos he's featured.

There are several key points to Ray, though, which everyone seeking to become immensely popular on YouTube could learn from.

1. Format. People watching one of Ray's videos know exactly what to expect. Ray has picked an achievable format, and then expanded on it over a considerable period of time. To showcase this I have embedded a video from July 2010 above - at the end of this article I'll embed another, more recent example. Having a format like this means that his users know what to expect from him: it also no doubt means that he gets maximum effect with minimum effort. His tools have been developed over a period of time - if he's having an off week, he can just use the graphics, sounds and general formula he already has set in place, but if he's having a good week he can try adding something new into the mix.

2. Regularity and topicality. By having a set format, Ray is able to keep on trend: he can react quickly to new memes and because he summarises them fairly and accurately his audience feels like he helps them effortlessly stay on top of the internet. He does his research, too: he tells his viewers how popular something is, how quickly it's taking off and tries to give an assessment of what the source of its popularity might be. He does the work so they don't have to. What's more, he's now so popular that he himself is a meme-maker - he can feature videos which really aren't that popular, but because he provides links in the video description he can help videos go viral. At the time he made the video above, the "Double Rainbow" video was new on the market - now it's massive, and there are t-shirts. Ray might not have been the driving force behind this phenomenon, but at around five million views per video he must have helped.

3. User engagement. By cleverly featuring his followers at the end of each video and giving them an opportunity to essentially ride off his fame by doing something relatively easy - video a few seconds of them asking an unusual question, or showing their answer (given via YouTube's comment section, or more recently, Facebook or Twitter) Ray is offering to share his popularity at a price he can easily afford. Choosing what to feature can't be a difficult or time-consuming thing to do, and users have nothing to lose by sending in comments and responses via systems they already necessarily have access to.

4. Personality. Whether or not Ray's YouTube persona is the same as his offline one is irrelevant: it's believable. To his core audience he comes across as likeable and yet cynical, and someone that users can identify with. He champions them over anyone else: and notably, he acknowledges trolling but doesn't pass judgement on it. This shows great audience awareness: he knows who his audience is, what they like, and how they might be reacting to the videos he's showing them. He keeps the tone light and interesting, and best of all succinct - and although his videos are well-planned, I very much doubt that they are scripted.

I salute you, Ray William Johnson. Controversial as you might be, you know how to be successful: and in that, we can all learn from you.

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  1. Hands down, Apple’s app store wins by a mile. It’s a huge selection of all sorts of apps vs a rather sad selection of a handful for Zune. Microsoft has plans, especially in the realm of games, but I’m not sure I’d want to bet on the future if this aspect is important to you. The iPod is a much better choice in that case.

  2. Sorry for the huge review, but I’m really loving the new Zune, and hope this, as well as the excellent reviews some other people have written, will help you decide if it’s the right choice for you.

  3. If you’re still on the fence: grab your favorite earphones, head down to a Best Buy and ask to plug them into a Zune then an iPod and see which one sounds better to you, and which interface makes you smile more. Then you’ll know which is right for you.


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