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Using Video to Build an Organization's

Identity and Brand: A Content Analysis of
Nonprofit Organizations' YouTube Videos
a b
Richard D. Waters & Paul M. Jones
School of Management , University of San Francisco , San
Francisco, California, USA
North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services ,
Raleigh, North Carolina, USA
Published online: 23 Aug 2011.

To cite this article: Richard D. Waters & Paul M. Jones (2011) Using Video to Build an Organization's
Identity and Brand: A Content Analysis of Nonprofit Organizations' YouTube Videos, Journal of
Nonprofit & Public Sector Marketing, 23:3, 248-268, DOI: 10.1080/10495142.2011.594779

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DOI: 10.1080/10495142.2011.594779

Using Video to Build an Organizations Identity

and Brand: A Content Analysis of Nonprofit
Organizations YouTube Videos

School of Management, University of San Francisco, San Francisco, California, USA

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North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services,

Raleigh, North Carolina, USA

Organizational scholarship has increasingly focused its attention

to how nonprofit, for-profit, and government agencies develop
their unique organizational identity through their strategic com-
munication efforts. As social media continues to become more
prominent in communication campaigns due to the high levels of
public usage and public involvement with organizations on social
media sites, it is important to examine these social media messages
as they relate to organizational identity. YouTube videos increas-
ingly are being used by organizations to educate and inform just
as much as they are to entertain. Through a content analysis of
the most viewed videos on the top 100 official nonprofit YouTube
channels, this study found that nonprofit organizations primar-
ily use their YouTube videos to inform and educate viewers about
their missions, programs, and services. While the videos also occa-
sionally discuss the organizations advocacy, volunteering, and
fundraising efforts, nonprofit organizations were not living up
to their potential in terms of engagement through direct appeals
for involvement. Additionally, the organizations were more likely
to use outsiders words and stories to build the videos narratives
rather than using internal stakeholders. The benchmark num-
bers provided by this study reiterate key rules that are stressed in
practitioner-oriented work on video production for branding and
identity-building efforts.

Address correspondence to Richard D. Waters, School of Management, University of

San Francisco, 208 Mallory Hall, 2130 Fulton Street, San Francisco, CA 94117-1080. E-mail:

Enhancing Organizational Identity With YouTube 249

KEYWORDS organizational identity, branding, social media,

YouTube, organizational communications, public relations


Creating strong organizational brands has become a dominant theme in

marketing and organizational communication literature. An organizations
brand is the mental image that an individual has when he or she hears the
organizations name. On the most basic level, the brand may include the
organizations logo, color combination, or slogan. However, research indi-
cates that an organizations brand is much more than a visual or auditory
message; it represents the entire identity based on an individuals experi-
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ences with the organization, the mission and activities of the organization,
and its success stories (Cliffe & Motion, 2005).
Success stories have been a key component of strategic communica-
tion efforts for years. Ranging from public addresses to civic groups and
casual conversations to one-way communication outlets like annual reports,
brochures, and websites, these stories demonstrate the impact of the orga-
nization and enhance the publics feelings of trust toward the organizations
leaders (Courtright & Smudde, 2009). These traditional forms of organiza-
tional communication have helped shape how people perceive organizations
for years; however, as marketing and public relations move toward a philos-
ophy of relationship development with their stakeholders, the public expects
more information from the organization.
While pictures help reinforce the words and content of identity-oriented
messages, Brown (2005) suggests that the creation of organization videos
may be the most powerful methods of creating a strong mental impres-
sion of the organization in the publics mind. Videos enhance the publics
impression of the organizations products or services, put a human face
on the organization, and ultimately build the brand. The three Vs of
communicationverbal, vocal, and visualare brought together in the
video form so that an audience is impacted on multiple communication
fronts. These three characteristics of communication were found to have
the strongest effect on recipients of the message in terms of remembering
the key messages (Mehrabian & Reed, 1968; Mehrabian & de Wetter, 1987;
Hall & Schmid Mast, 2007). Studies have found that sound video productions
cannot ignore any of the three Vs of communication without risking losing
the audiences interest (Holbrook & Batra, 1987). Hamilton (2011) reiter-
ates the importance of holistic communication with video but notes that the
three Vs are not the only characteristics that impact an audiences recollec-
tion of the videos message. Additionally, the words, the tone of the speaker,
and the imagery work together to form lasting images in the viewers mind
(Lunsford, 2006).
250 R. D. Waters and P. M. Jones

While organizations have the ability to embed their videos on their

own websites, organizational websites rarely get the visitor traffic of social
media outlets (Solis & Breakenridge, 2009). Ferguson (2008) found that all
types of organizationsnonprofit, for-profit, and government agenciesare
increasingly turning toward social media, such as YouTube and Facebook,
to spread organizational news, including videos. Using YouTube is a wise
marketing and public relations strategy for nonprofits as it is the fourth
most visited website in the United States. Seven in 10 adult Internet users,
or roughly half of all adults in the United States, have watched streaming
videos on the web (Purcell, 2010).
Recent research reveals that comedy and entertainment videos are not
the sole reason Internet users visit YouTube. Since 2007, the viewership of
educational videos has risen from 22% to 38% of adult Internet users (Purcell,
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2010). The spread of broadband, the increased use of social networking and
status update sites like Facebook and Twitter, and the ability to embed and
link to YouTube videos by untold numbers of websites have all contributed
to the surge in online video watching.
Nonprofit organizations are capitalizing on the YouTube phenomenon
by creating videos to reinforce awareness of their programs and services,
promote their fundraising efforts, and shape their organizational brand and
identity. Videos have even been used by nonprofit organizations to recruit
volunteers for online and offline activities and to broadcast special events
and recorded board of directors meetings.
While the scholarly community has examined nonprofit organizations
use of public service announcements, advertisements, and documentaries
to promote their efforts, little is known about how nonprofit organizations
are using YouTube and other online video-sharing sites beyond anecdotal
evidence. The purpose of this article is to help fill that void by examining
how content and style are used by nonprofit organizations in their YouTube
videos to shape their organizational identity. Through a content analysis
of the top 100 nonprofit YouTube videos of 2009, the research provides
benchmark numbers for understanding how organizations are using video
as well as makes recommendations for nonprofits on how to maximize their
videos potential.

Organizational Identity
Scholars have defined organizational identity as the central, distinct, and
enduring aspects of an organization (Albert & Whetten, 1985), and marketing
and public relations have come to embrace the concept as a key driver of an
organizations brand (Balmer, 2002; Whetten & Mackey, 2002). Rosson and
Brooks (2004) defined the concept rather simply as the way an organization
Enhancing Organizational Identity With YouTube 251

views itself and how it would like others to view it. While research has
acknowledged that an organizations identity is partially negotiated by the
interactions and experiences inside the organization (Sha, 2009), it is largely
shaped by the strategic communication and interactions with an organiza-
tions stakeholders (Rowden, 2004; Hatch & Schultz, 1997). With nonprofits,
this includes clients, volunteers, donors, and the community at large. The
identity that is presented helps shape the perceptions of the organization
and create a brand that helps cement the organization in the publics mind
(Alessandri, 2001; Diamond, 1998).
For the nonprofit sector, organizational identity should largely be driven
by the guiding mission and vision of the organization (Alessandri, 2001).
However, Aust (2004) noted that there are elements of organizations that
serve as distinctive characteristics that help separate them from their com-
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petitors and that these characteristics, which may range from program and
service delivery to something as simple as color schemes and logos, also
help shape the brand and identity of an organization. These characteristics
may be observed through the work being completed in the organizations
name and how it engages with its stakeholders, both inside and outside of
the organizations workplace (Rowden, 2004).
An identity generally is not created solely using mediated messages, but
organizational communication and mass media certainly influence how orga-
nizations are perceived. Nonprofits have complete control over the content
of their printed collateral, such as annual reports, brochures, and newslet-
ters, as well as their websites; this control allows them to influence how
outsiders view the organization and deflect any existing or potential criticism
directed toward their programs and services, governance and management,
and connected individuals (Bostdorff & Vibbert, 1994).
Given the comfort of being in control of shaping the organizations
brand and identity, research has shown that strategic communicators are
often uncomfortable when facing the reality that the media play a more sig-
nificant role in shaping how organizations are perceived (Morsing, 1999).
When under media speculation either as a result of an investigation or a
crisis, the aspects highlighted by the media quickly overshadow the iden-
tity that the organization has worked to create (Meijs, 2002). However,
organizations that work with the media and convey feelings of trans-
parency, accountability, and social responsibility are likely to bounce back
and have their identity largely withstand the media scrutiny (Howard &
Mathews, 2006).
Flanagin and Metzger (2001) has proposed that the Internet has shifted
the power slightly away from the media in creating short term damage to
an organizations identity because it has the ability to create its own mes-
sages and send them directly to their stakeholders rather than going through
the media to convey its messages. Aust (2000) suggested that the organi-
zation recognize how it is already perceived and then shape that identity
252 R. D. Waters and P. M. Jones

(p. 530) using the Internet to connect directly to their audiences. Given the
increasing dominance of Internet usage in the daily lives of the American
public, nonprofit organizations need to understand how to use it to maxi-
mize the impact of their branding and identity-development efforts (Hogg &
Terry, 2001).
Although a newer concept than traditional webpages, social media
sites, such as Twitter, Facebook, and blogs, are playing an even more sub-
stantial role in organizational identity development (Rindell & Standvik,
2010). However, images of the brand and organizational identity in the
social media realm are largely shaped through conversations and interac-
tions with individuals outside the organization through shared information
and word-of-mouth efforts.
An organization, however, should not fear the loss of control in
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regard to its brand and identity because of social media; instead, Brickson
(2005) encourages organizations to fully embrace social media and tap into
its power. Through frequent updates to the organizational website and
maintaining an open blog, organizations are able to engage directly with
stakeholders. The ongoing conversations created by social media enable the
nonprofit to highlight particular aspects of the organization and still work to
persuade and shape how it is perceived (Coupland & Brown, 2004). While
text-based conversations are a significant way to develop an organizations
reputation and build its brand, combining words with a visual element sig-
nificantly enhances the identity (Young, 2001). While Boyle and Parry (2007)
encourage organizations to use videos to build the image, sharing that video
on social networking sites and then having conversations with those who
view and comment increase the reputational yield.

Videography and Nonprofit Organizations

Nonprofit organizations have been using video for documentary purposes
for years (Shiau, 2011). However, the fine art of crafting a short, produced
video for web distribution is still in its infancy comparatively speaking even
though scholars have advocated for its usage as part of the overall orga-
nizational communication plans (Henley, 2001). Ettema (2009) said that
nonprofits often produce documentary-style videos for the web because
it enhances their identity and helps demonstrate accountability. Nonprofit
organizations have a variety of types of videos at their disposal to use,
including the streaming of live organizational events, staff-produced videos
using webcams to tell the behind-the-scenes stories of the organization, and
personalizable videos designed to take advantage of social networking and
peer-to-peer sharing. Nonprofits also have the ability to produce successful
public service announcements for the web that have longer staying power
than those broadcast over television (Berkowitz, 2008; Bernthal, Rose, &
Kaufman, 2006).
Enhancing Organizational Identity With YouTube 253

Using these different types of videos in organized communication cam-

paigns provides nonprofits with an opportunity to tell their story in a
powerfully, emotionally connecting way that enables them to build on
their identity and strengthen their relationship with external stakeholders
(Alexander & Levine, 2008). However, the story shared can take on many
different purposes. On the most basic level, organizational videos can be
used as a core component of their mission awareness and education cam-
paigns on the web (Vance, Howe, & Dellavalle, 2009) as well as through
traditional public service announcements and advertising (Cirillo, Cowart,
Kaegi, Taylor, & McPherson, 2008). Beyond awareness, videos have been
used to relay programmatic success stories (Hirsch & Nisbet, 2007) and stress
the need for fundraising (Pratt, Yakabov, Glinski, & Hauser, 2009; Waters &
Tindall, 2011).
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Video usage in the aforementioned manners primarily relies on one-way

communication from an organization to its stakeholders. Social media offers
individuals the ability to embed an organizations videos on blogs and social
networking sites, and it facilitates the sharing of the videos web address.
Social media introduces numerous opportunities for an organization to track
where the video is being seen and who is commenting on the video; thereby,
bringing many potential conversations to the organizations communication
staff that enable them to shape the organizations key messages and iden-
tity. University extension agents have been experimenting with social media
conversations on YouTube by delivering one-way informational videos and
then actively engaging with viewers who comment on and ask questions
about the videos content (Greene et al., 2009). Associations have even been
experimenting with delivering preproduced webcasts in this manner and
then following up the webcast with questions using the comment feature of
YouTube and blogs (Kinsman, 2009).
Whether organizations use web videos to engage in conversations
with stakeholders or to relay one-way messages, reviews of nonprofit cam-
paigns indicate that using YouTube videos in communication campaigns
is exponentially increasing as the viral marketing trend continues to be a
hot trend in organizational communication (Abroms, Schiavo, & Lefebvr,
2008). Practitioners have long been encouraging nonprofits to learn how
to use technology to increase their organizations visibility and encourage
greater engagement with their stakeholders (Garver, Divine, & Spralls, 2009;
Kenneway, 2007). As large numbers of adults from every age category watch
educational videos online, it is imperative that nonprofits learn to reach
out to their donors, vocal advocates, and volunteers using this medium.
Although the videos are broadcast at the audience, the comment and reply
feature of YouTube enables the device to be used as a legitimate two-way
communication channel (Carlson, Heeschen, & Fatzinger-McShane, 2008;
Budden, Anthony, Budden, & Jones, 2007).
Practitioners have recognized that web videos serve multiple pur-
poses. Durham (2009) suggested that nonprofit communicators develop
254 R. D. Waters and P. M. Jones

their videos with multiple goals in mind; while the primary purpose of
the video may be to raise the organizations visibility and create a lasting
image with the audience, it should also help serve practical everyday pur-
poses, such as raising funds or increasing volunteer support. Kardas (1993)
felt that nonprofit videos primarily served four main purposes: educate and
inform the public about the mission and programsservices of the nonprofit,
entertain the audience, increase the viewers level of personal involvement
with the organization, and inspire the audience to change the world. With
these purposes in mind, the researchers created the first studys first research

RQ1: What is the primary purpose of nonprofit videos?

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The content of these videos can vary significantly based on the style of
the video and its intended purpose. Practitioner handbooks offer a variety of
suggestions on particular types of content that have proven to be successful
for identity building efforts. These suggestions include, but are not limited
to, inclusion of client success stories, endorsement from well-known indi-
viduals, the use of humor and emotion, reiterating the nonprofits pressing
issues, and newsworthy content that taps into the issues of the organizations
community (Landen, 2005). To better understand how nonprofit organiza-
tions are illustrating their brand and identity, the studys second research
question was created:

RQ2: What content are nonprofit organizations using to represent their

brand and develop their identity in their YouTube videos?

Finally, because of the growing importance of relationship building

in marketing and public relations (e.g., Hon & Grunig, 1999; Finne &
Grnroos, 2009), it is important to assess how well nonprofit organizations
are using YouTube to continue the engagement with the stakeholders once
they have seen the video. While YouTube offers the ability to converse
through the comments feature, Jarboe (2009) encourages organizations to
envision engagement beyond the video. By including contact information
and making specific calls to action with the video content, the organization
can help facilitate stakeholder involvement offline in fundraising, advocacy,
and volunteering contexts. The level of participation and engagement is only
restricted by the organizations concerted efforts. The notion of relationship
building and engagement through the use of YouTube videos resulted in the
studys final research question:

RQ3: How are nonprofit organizations using YouTube and their organi-
zational videos to engage their stakeholders?
Enhancing Organizational Identity With YouTube 255


Because this research project is largely exploratory in nature, a content

analysis research design was deemed to be the most beneficial first step
in understanding how nonprofit organizations use YouTube videos for
identity purposes. To capture these preliminary benchmark numbers, the
researchers coded the most viewed nonprofit video from the 100 most
viewed official nonprofit organization YouTube channels. It should be noted
that this method was chosen to pick the videos rather than choosing the
100 most viewed videos in the general nonprofit and activism category
on YouTube because the 100 most viewed videos in the generic category
include many videos from individual activists and not certified nonprofit
organizations. However, when the top 100 nonprofit organization channels
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is chosen, it ensures that the nonprofit organization is a legally certified

nonprofit as part of the requirements for creating a channel. By choosing
the most viewed video from each of these 100 channels, the researchers
were able to review the most viewed nonprofit videos from 100 different
The 100 videos were coded in the final quarter of 2009, and they were
analyzed for items that emerged from the literature review on video mar-
keting and branding as well as basic characteristics of each video, such
as rating, views, comments, and nonprofit type (e.g., arts and humani-
ties, religion). The researchers coded the videos for overall purpose using
the categories created by Kardas (1993), style of the video (professionally
made vs. handheld video camera), and presentation characteristics (e.g.,
title screen, captions, credits). Several items were measured for their pres-
ence in the videos to determine what content was used to shape the
nonprofits identity. These items included the appearance of the organi-
zations logo and web address, various organizational representatives (e.g.,
board members, staff, celebrity spokespeople, volunteers, and clients), ref-
erences to nonprofit topics (e.g., fundraising, volunteerism, programs and
services), and specific calls to action for the viewers (donation, volunteer,
advocacy efforts). Finally, because of the interactive nature of social media
and YouTube, the videos were coded for how well they incorporated var-
ious relationship building aspects (e.g., asking for feedback, responding to
comments from viewers, and linking to other organizational social media
After reviewing the different categories and discussing various ways
that the photographs could be interpreted, the researchers coded 15 videos
from the top 100 nonprofit YouTube channels that were not the most
viewed videos, thus ineligible to be included in the sample to determine
intercoder reliability. Using the Scotts p formula, the intercoder reliabil-
ity scores were deemed acceptable as they ranged from 89.6% to 93.2%
(Neuendorf, 2002).
256 R. D. Waters and P. M. Jones


The 100 most viewed YouTube nonprofit channels represented a healthy

mix of the sector. While more than half of the organizations represented
were either from the public servicessocietal benefit (n = 32) or arts, cul-
ture, and humanities (n = 20) subsectors, the human services (n = 19),
health (n = 14), and public policy (n = 8) were also represented. Notably,
education (n = 4) and religion (n = 3) was largely underrepresented given
their stature in the nonprofit sector.
On these most popular nonprofit channels, the researchers chose the
most viewed video to code for the organizational identity and branding
characteristics. Videos were viewed an average of 872,556 times, though
it should be noted that the range varied considerably from a low of 40
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views to a maximum of 5,025,845 views. These videos lasted approximately

5 minutes, 13 seconds, and they ranged from 26 seconds to 93 minutes,
55 seconds. The videos received high ratings from the viewers (M = 4.52,
SD = 0.51) and were based on an average of 1,807 ratings (SD = 2,999.4).
To enhance the organizations branding efforts, the organizations logo was
shown in 54 videos. During interview segments, only 17 videos used a back-
drop that featured the organizations name to remind the viewers who the
speaker was representing.
To determine the purpose of the most viewed videos on YouTubes
most viewed nonprofit channels, the first research question evaluated the
overall purpose of the video using Kardas (1993) classification schema.
While it was possible that a video served dual purposes, especially given the
length of some videos, the researchers were asked to choose one primary
function of the video. Overwhelmingly, the videos were used to educate
and inform viewers about the mission of the organization and its programs
and services (n = 56). Because of the strong presence of arts and culture
organizations, entertainment was the next most common purpose of the
organizations YouTube videos (n = 31). Eleven videos had the primary
purpose of increasing stakeholder involvement with the organization, and
only two videos had an inspirational purpose. A chi-square cross-tabulation
revealed significant differences in the overall purpose of the videos by the
types of nonprofit organizations. Publicsociety benefit, human services, and
health organizations were more likely to have informational videos while
arts and culture organizations were more likely to use videos to enter-
tain; religions organizations were the only ones to use inspirational videos
( 2 = 93.63, df = 18, p < .001).
The second research question sought to determine what content was
used to convey organizational identity and build the nonprofits brand. Three
video characteristics that were referenced by the literature to enhance the
professional appearance of the organization were used in varying amounts
by the sampled organizations. Nonprofits were more likely to produce
Enhancing Organizational Identity With YouTube 257

a professionally-made video using still cameras (n = 77) compared to hand-

held videos (n = 23). More than half (n = 57) of the nonprofits incorporated
closing credits into their videos to acknowledge individuals who starred in
the video and those who helped with the writing, directing, and produc-
ing. Nonprofits were more likely to immediately dive into the content of the
video rather than providing a opening title sequence (n = 39).
Moving beyond the design features of the videos, which help provide
initial professional impressions of the organizations, organizational litera-
ture frequently referred to demonstrations of and references to the mission
statement and future work of the nonprofits. Out of the 100 videos, only
53 referred to the nonprofits mission statement either by displaying it in por-
tions or in its entirety. A cross-tabulation revealed that publicsociety benefit
organizations were much more likely to include their mission statement in
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their videos, and three types of organizationsartscultural, educational,

and religiousrarely referenced the mission statement ( 2 = 27.70, df = 6,
p < .001). In regards to their future work, the researchers also determined
whether the videos referred to their vision for their future. This aspect
was loosely defined as either specifically referring to or quoting a vision
statement, but it also included references to what the organization had
planned programmatically for the future as far as goals and hopes. Only
35 organizations included this information in the video, and a crosstabu-
lation revealed that no subsector used this strategy more than any other
( 2 = 7.02, df = 6, p = .319). One final element that helped to shape
an organizations identity involved references to its values. Nearly one
half (n = 46) of the organizations referenced their organizations guid-
ing values and principles. Health and human service organizations were
more likely to do this than any other subsector ( 2 = 13.23, df = 6,
p < .05).
Transitioning from their guiding ideas to the specific nonprofit-oriented
content in the videos, the most common topic discussed involved the non-
profits programs and services (n = 54). Nonprofit advocacy in the form
of lobbying for specific action by legislators and the public was the sec-
ond most common use of YouTube videos (n = 10). Highlighting volunteer
accomplishments and recruiting new volunteers was featured in 11 videos
while promoting fundraising efforts was featured in 10 videos. Of the
remaining eight videos, three videos highlighted nonprofits response to
crisis situations, three were recorded speeches from celebrities or visiting
dignitaries, and two were videotaped interviews with the executive director
of the organization.
Regardless of the videos dominant topic, only 43 videos focused pri-
marily on conveying information about accomplishments and organizational
successes. When organizational successes were featured, it was done pri-
marily through anecdotal evidence and in interviews (n = 32) compared to
the presentation of statistics and figures (n = 11).
258 R. D. Waters and P. M. Jones

Nearly 90% of the videos incorporated people into the videos (n = 87).
The 13 videos that did not have humans consisted of presentations of art-
work from cultural organizations and images of animals and environmental
scenes from conservation organizations. In terms of people highlighted in
the videos, the clients or users of the nonprofits programs and services
were highlighted most (n = 52). Celebrities were the second most com-
monly highlighted group of individuals (n = 48). Internal members of the
nonprofit organization were less likely to be featured in the videos; however,
when they were, staff members (n = 21) were featured more than volun-
teers (n = 9) and members of the board of directors (n = 6). Interestingly,
celebrities were more often shown providing testimony and praise for the
nonprofits (n = 27) than being highlighted quietly in the video (n = 21).
Staff members were shown speaking in two thirds of the videos that fea-
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tured them whereas volunteers and clients spoke in YouTube videos, 44.4%
and 23.1% of the time, respectively. Members of the board of directors
were featured in only six videos and largely were shown in background
shots as only one video featured a board member actually speaking in
the video.
The final research question looked at how nonprofit organizations
were using their YouTube videos to engage with their audiences. As dis-
cussed earlier, the videos had an average viewership of 872,556 times
(SD = 1,051,017.3). The built-in comment feature is an important ele-
ment of engagement because it provides an opportunity for viewers to
comment and ask questions about the videos content immediately after
watching it. Only three of the 100 nonprofit organizations had this fea-
ture disabled. The remaining 97 organizations welcomed viewer comments,
and their most viewed videos had an average of 2,219 comments, which
ranged from a minimum of two views to a maximum of 61,507 comments.
Despite allowing viewers to comment, the nonprofits did not perform well in
responding to their comments and questions. Upon searching the comments
of the 97 videos, only 25 organizations responded to viewer comments or
answered their questions.
Although only one quarter of the sample engaged in conversation
through the comment stream on their YouTube channel, it was significantly
higher than the number of organizations that provided the organizations
phone number in the video (5%) or asked the viewers to connect to the
organizations on social media accounts (4%). The videos were more likely
to refer to the organizations website (56%) though research has shown that
organization websites are largely virtual brochures rather than sources of
virtual interaction.
The final measure of engagement centered on Jarobes (2009) sug-
gestion that videos include either an online or offline call to action for
specific behaviors. Of all forms of engagement, nonprofits were most likely
to encourage viewers to share the video with others by sharing the link
Enhancing Organizational Identity With YouTube 259

(n = 37). Fifteen videos specifically asked for feedback on the videos and
the organizations. The next most common calls to action was in the form of
providing information on volunteerism and encouraging people to contact
the organization about volunteering opportunities (n = 11) and donating
to the organization (n = 9). Other calls for action included contacting leg-
islators on behalf of the organization (n = 5) and signing online petitions
(n = 4).
A summary table has been provided to recap the studys findings based
on the videos ratings. SPSS was used to break the videos into three roughly
equal groups based on their collective YouTube rating. The low rating group
represents all videos with ratings that averaged 4.49 and below. The middle
tier represents videos with an average rating of 4.5 to 4.99, and the top
tier represents those videos that maintained a perfect 5.0 rating by YouTube
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viewers. Table 1 demonstrates how these videos incorporated the various

strategies represented by the previous research questions.


The results of this content analysis project indicate that nonprofit organi-
zations are primarily using their YouTube videos to inform and educate
viewers about their missions, programs, and services. While the videos also
occasionally discuss the organizations advocacy, volunteering, and fundrais-
ing efforts, nonprofits relied on the strength of their programs and services
to help build their identity. Nonprofits were more likely to use outsiders
words and stories to help build their image rather than using the individuals
who help deliver the programs and services. Despite having large numbers
of views and comments for the videos, nonprofit organizations were not
living up to their potential in terms of engagement. Nonprofit organizations
must take Jarboes (2009) advice and move their online audience to offline
action by asking them to participate in specific activities especially since
there is evidence that younger generations in particular respond positively
to behavioral requests made through well-made, meaningful digital videos
(Leppniemi, Karjaluoto, Lehto, & Goman, 2010).
Young (2001) introduced organizational identity in nonprofit manage-
ment scholarship and encouraged others to explore the complex concept.
In explicating the concept, Rosson and Brooks (2004) felt that organizational
identity is defined by two key components: who are the nonprofit organi-
zations stakeholders and what can the nonprofit do for those stakeholders.
The topics presented in the most viewed nonprofit YouTube videos indicate
that a nonprofits identity touches many different stakeholders. Although the
videos most often discussed the impact of programs and services on clients,
nonprofit videos also touched upon donors impact on fundraising cam-
paigns, volunteers efforts to help deliver programs, and advocates work
260 R. D. Waters and P. M. Jones

TABLE 1 Summary of the Studys Main Video Characteristic Variables Broken Down by the
Average Rating of the Top 100 YouTube Videos

Videos with lowest Videos with midrange Videos with highest

average YouTube average YouTube average YouTube
The video features: rating (n = 18) rating (n = 48) rating (n = 34)

Professional appearance 12 40 25
A title screen 9 20 11
Closing credits 11 33 12
Discussion about 1 7 3
nonprofits successes
Nonspeaking celebrities 2 12 6
Speaking celebrities 2 15 10
Nonspeaking board 0 1 0
Speaking board 0 3 2
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Nonspeaking staff 1 2 4
Speaking staff members 3 7 5
Nonspeaking volunteers 2 1 2
Speaking volunteers 2 2 0
Nonspeaking clients 2 18 18
Speaking clients 1 8 3
Organizations logo 10 30 14
Organizations phone 0 4 1
Organizations website 9 31 15
Organizations social 1 3 0
media presence
Video footage of 3 10 15
programs and services
Solicitation for a 1 7 1
Discussion about 3 10 3
Emotional scenes 9 34 25
Statistical reports 6 23 7
Requests for feedback 3 10 1
from the audience

on lobbying public policy. All of these different elements come together to

create a nonprofit organizations identity.
To help complement these different core nonprofit practices, nearly half
of the organizations referenced their mission statement and organizational
values in their videos. Roughly one third of the organizations used their
guiding values to describe who the organization is. It is somewhat surprising
to see these items referenced with such low proportion given that they are
often one of the most discussed and carefully crafted items at nonprofit
board of directors retreats (Allison & Kaye, 2005).
Enhancing Organizational Identity With YouTube 261

Instead of using the text of these organization-produced documents,

nonprofits were more likely to use a variety of individuals to help tell their
stories. Rarely did the organizations use statistics and figures to highlight
their successes; instead, they followed the suggestions of organizational
identity scholars, who have said that strong, success-oriented stories have
a bigger impact on developing an organizations reputation (Courtright &
Smudde, 2009; Hirsch & Nisbet, 2007). Clients and community citizens came
forward to talk about their involvement with programs and services most
often. Celebrities praised the organizations work, and staff members, board
members, and volunteers came forward to tell the inside perspective of how
the nonprofits function.
The findings of this article are not meant to imply that organizations are
not using a variety of methods to build their organizational identities; instead,
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the analysis of the most viewed video from each of the top 100 nonprofit
channels provides insights into what types of information audiences are
seeing most often. In that regard, the nonprofit organizations do appear
to have the right focus by highlighting the good that they are doing for
the community and their clients. However, nonprofits should not neglect
telling the success stories that they have in other nonprofit management
realms. Highlighting volunteers, corporate and foundation funding partners,
and even presenting information about advocacy efforts in the form of video
help provide a more well-rounded view of the organization that enhances
the overall impact of its identity. While no one should fault the organizations
for highlighting their programs and services, organizations must think how
this medium will fit in with its entire communications package.
Creating a YouTube channel provides a significant outlet for nonprofit
organizations. If they were to create a video that was shared virally through
its external stakeholders, the videos audience has the opportunity to browse
other videos after watching the initial video to learn more about the organi-
zation. This appears to be an idea that the most-viewed nonprofit YouTube
channels follow as they have an average of 31.2 videos (SD = 17.8). Using
multiple videos to help build the organizations identity can be a valuable
strategy for nonprofits to consider. Just as no single piece of printed collateral
or single face-to-face conversation will make an organizations identity, nei-
ther will a single video; but, as the role of online video continues to increase
in educating the general public, YouTube videos cannot be ignored.
To create powerful videos that help strengthen the publics opinion of
the organization, nonprofits need to follow some basic rules to help create
effective videos that strengthen their organizational identity. The first rule is
one that the sampled videos do well; they must tell a story. Hamilton (2011)
stresses that this does not mean that organizations have to create fictional
anecdotes, but they should develop videos that have a clear beginning that
introduces a problem or situation, a middle that builds up to a climactic
scene, and a conclusion that wraps everything up for the situation discussed
262 R. D. Waters and P. M. Jones

as well as any individuals or characters featured in the video. The three

scenes, however, should be kept relatively short. The second rule, being
brief, is vital for online communication. Long videos can take a significant
amount of time to download, and audiences could grow tiresome waiting for
it to load on their computers. Indeed, Liedtka (2001) found that audiences
grew tiresome when asked to watch informational videos that were deemed
lengthy and preferred shorter, concise videos. An unseen video certainly
cannot enhance an organizations identity. Additionally, research indicates
that most social media users multitask when using these sites, so an organi-
zation is also competing with other applications for the viewers attention.
Short, strong videos are more likely to be viewed completely rather than
closed midway through the viewing.
The third rule is often overlooked by organizations that try to convey
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as much information in their videos as possible. Organizations must remem-

ber that it is imperative to keep their videos simple and narrowly focused
(Goodman, 2003). Keeping the focus on one situation, one success story, or
one individual or group helps keep the viewers attention. Introducing com-
plex situations or multiple story lines makes online videos far too confusing.
While many YouTube videos have high production costs and directing and
acting that can rival many Hollywood movies, the attention span given to a
YouTube video will not parallel that given to a cinematic movie. Keeping
the number of people appearing in the video as low as possible will help
simplify the video and keep it focused on one core message that will help
build the organizations identity.
Whatever or whoever is featured in the videoa situation, a story, an
individual or groupmust be relevant to the audience. Nonprofits have
to remember that they have multiple stakeholder groups. It is important
to keep the interests and needs of these different groups in mind when
scripting the video (Pink, 2001). By tapping into the aspects of the non-
profit that are most important to them, the video is more likely to move
peoples attitudes toward the organization and hopefully result in a desired
behavioral result (e.g., volunteering, donating, or advocating for the orga-
nization). Telling the viewer what you want from them at the end of the
video is the fifth rule (Hamilton, 2011). Videos that go viral often have
tremendous numbers of viewers, but the views are worthless if an organi-
zation fails to engage the audience beyond watching it. This studys results
indicated that there are few conversations being conducted on YouTube,
and the videos are not asking for feedback or directing audiences to other
social media applications where conversations occur. Primarily, nonprofits
are requesting that viewers share the video with others, and only 37 orga-
nizations are doing that. Nonprofits must recognize that they are missing
out on an opportunity to involve audiences with their organization by fail-
ing to discuss contacting the organization for more information at a bare
Enhancing Organizational Identity With YouTube 263

The sixth and final rule of making good YouTube videos from an orga-
nizational perspective is to simply be genuine (Goodman, 2003; Hamilton,
2011). References to the mission statement, programmatic success stories
from clients, and praise from celebrities certainly helps enhance how an
organization is viewed. But one of the most important ways that YouTube
videos help build an organizations identity is that the video brings the
organization to life in a way that printed collateral and other marketing
communications cannot. The success stories and interviews with clients and
staff create a personality for the organization. Audiences can tell when an
individual is truly happy and satisfied with their involvement with an organi-
zation when theyre interviewed in a video. Warm, smiling faces and genuine
satisfaction that stems from being involved with the organization provide the
finishing touch on solidifying a strong organizational identity.
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A recent survey conducted by KRC Research and Weber Shandwick looked

at the nonprofit sectors involvement with social media. Two hundred exec-
utive directors and senior communications officers from national nonprofits
and foundations were surveyed in the research.
The study showed 88% of nonprofits are experimenting with social
media, but only half were active users. Leaders in the nonprofit sector
acknowledge the importance of social media; but based on the results of
this study, it would appear nonprofit leaders are still unsure of how to effec-
tively use the video-sharing aspect of social media to engage with their
communities (KRC Research, 2009).
Although YouTube is just one of many social media tools a nonprofit
can use to expand its audience, it is an important one for any organization
to consider given its popularity and its ability to strengthen an organizations
identity and brand. Nonprofit organizations performed moderately well in
relaying awareness information about their programs and services. These
items were featured more than any other, and the videos were more likely
to show people using the programs and services than anyone else; however,
nonprofit organizations were not performing well in discussing fundraising,
volunteering, and advocacy efforts.

Limitations of the Research

Although the purposive sampling procedure was carried out properly and
the research team had reliable coding, it is necessary to point out cer-
tain limitations of the study. First, the videos chosen for this study came
exclusively from YouTube. Although this is the largest video-sharing site
on the Internet and has an official section for legally certified nonprofits,
264 R. D. Waters and P. M. Jones

organizations certainly use other venues to present their videos, including

other video-sharing sites and their own website. Many nonprofit organiza-
tions websites have videos on their homepage or in their online newsroom,
and the information shared there may be directed more toward specific
audiences, such as donors and volunteers, rather than on the more general
Additionally, because this was exploratory research, there were very
few solid measures on what should be looked for in the organizations
videos. The research used Kardas (1993) categories of purpose to describe
the videos, but this categorization was not based in organizational iden-
tity and branding literature; therefore, the categories may not capture the
true essence of the nonprofit videos. The remaining descriptive charac-
teristics that were measured in this study were largely drawn from the
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suggestions of scholarly research and practitioner handbooks. As shown

in the literature review, research on videography was reviewed, but little
was found to guide and conduct a proper social scientific analysis on the
YouTube videos. Hopefully, future scholars will continue to explore the style
and tone of nonprofit organizations videos to provide a more rich under-
standing of how these organizations use video to shape their identity and

Future Research
Because this is a new line of research for foundations and for nonprofit
organizations in general, future studies have a plethora of possibilities to
explore the sectors publicity efforts. Because photographs are most often
used in conjunction with other information subsidies, it would be interest-
ing to examine publicity photos in context with their accompanying press
releases and media kits. It would also be fruitful to examine how often these
information subsidies were actually used by media outlets; this could further
demonstrate whether sending publicity photographs over wire services is
worth the investment of time and money.
This study has introduced a variety of new research ideas on non-
profit organization communication patterns and video incorporation. While
the analysis provided initial benchmarking numbers for the current use of
the purpose and content of nonprofit videos, future analysis could deter-
mine if these trends remain stable over time and could be further examined
to determine if there are variations among the subsectors. A deeper level
of research, perhaps through qualitative inquiry, is needed to understand
strategic communicators attitudes toward YouTube videos and viral market-
ing; this analysis could provide insights into why nonprofit organizations are
using videos the way that they are. Finally, because YouTube is just one of a
handful of social media applications, it would be helpful to determine how
videos fit in with the nonprofit organizations social media repertoire as well
Enhancing Organizational Identity With YouTube 265

as their entire communications program. A more comprehensive analysis

of the entire organizational picture would truly reveal insights into how a
nonprofit organization creates its brand.


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