When it comes to online video, you’ll hear a lot of different formulas for success. Make ‘em laugh! Feel something! React! Involve kittens somehow! And the Harlem Shake! Sigh. It’s mostly a lot of heat, with a distinct deficiency of light.

Having said that, those paying close attention to the YouTube channels of UK universities will have noticed something resembling a pattern emerging in recent months.

A handful of institutions have been scoring mondo-sized views with videos which, while being unconnected in terms of content, are equally all identifiable as being very much cut from the same cloth.

As to the nature of that cloth – well, we’ll come on to that in a minute. First let’s whip out our measuring stick and see just how big those YouTube views have been.

• The University of Southampton (445,000 since October last year)
• Middlesex University (194,000 since January)
• King’s College London (29,000 since February)
• The University of Leeds (24,000 since February)

To put those figures in some kind of context, the Southampton video is the most popular piece of content by far on the University’s YouTube channel. The Middlesex video, meanwhile, is also top of its own particular pops, a massive 180,000 views ahead of its nearest rival.

The King’s video is the second most-watched piece of content on the KCL channel, and the Leeds video is the second most-watched on its.

All very impressive. But what’s REALLY interesting from our point of view is that these videos stick pretty rigidly to that which we were, in paragraph one of this article, despairing of ever truly settling upon: a winning formula.

Y’see, aside from the impressive view-counts, what all four of these identified online films have in common is that they each provide a snapshot of a single quirky, unique and (here’s the killer part) genuinely interesting central topic.

So, the Southampton video is all about building a supercomputer out of Lego…

The Middlesex video profiles graduate Kelvin Okafor, who’s able to create photorealistic artwork with just a pencil…

The King’s video explains a new injection-free vaccine technique…

…and the Leeds video dunks an iPhone in water – only for it still function thanks to the miracle of ‘wet computing’.

By posting these videos, the universities concerned have all accomplished what the major commercial brands of the world are currently looking for their online content to do.

And what’s that, you might ask?

Simply this – that by delivering original, distinctive stories which kick any active sales aspect to the kerb, you have a much better chance of hooking in a large general audience that’s short of attention and overloaded with potential viewing options.

Given the talent housed within their walls, and the cutting edge research projects on their books, every university across the UK should be a potential hotbed of these kinds of fantastic stories.

But the question is: having seen how successful this approach can be when the corporate messaging is relaxed, will we start to see more of them appearing online?

Take a look at our own student recruitment work here.

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