If you haven’t heard of social media by now, then we can only assume that you’ve probably been living on another planet. We all know it exists in varying forms, and Shooting Sports Retailer has discussed some of its manifestations in the recent past. (See “The New Face(Book) of Retailing,” SSR November/December 2012; and “SSR’s Retailer’s Digest: Don’t Be Anti-Social,” SSR November/December 2013.)

One that has made an enormous impact on today’s world, in virtually every sphere of human endeavor, is of course YouTube. If you haven’t yet given YouTube its due, now’s a good time to consider its influence on your business. According to a report on thewire.com, YouTube combines with entertainment mammoth Netflix to account for just shy of half of all Internet data downloading in North America. Another report says YouTube grabs about 20 percent of all global Internet traffic.

That’s a lot of video watching.

The firearms industry hasn’t been shy about jumping in on the YouTube game to reach a huge audience, and even mainstream media is beginning to comment on how some personalities in the gun world are gaining widespread notoriety. ABC News published a story in January on this phenomenon, “One of These YouTube Gun Stars Could Spawn the Next ‘Duck Dynasty.’”

“While the issue of guns can be polarizing,” writes Paul H.B. Shin in the ABC News report, “there’s a growing batch of charismatic YouTube stars who offer a window onto what many consider a more mainstream type of gun culture — safety-conscious but at the same time enjoying firearms and shooting in the same way that gearheads love cars and driving. Some are more vocal than others about Second Amendment rights, but what their videos have in common is that they are entertaining and educational, even for non-aficionados.”

As a retailer, you are undoubtedly interested in anything that has the potential to improve your business. Is a foray into YouTube video production the right move for you? Maybe yes and maybe no, but at the very least you owe it to yourself and your business to seriously consider the possibility. SSR recently spoke with some of these “charismatic YouTube stars” to get some more insight on this.

Based in Raleigh, N.C., Cameron Martz is the host of YouTube channel “TWANGnBANG” (www.youtube.com/user/TWANGnBANG). Martz, who started as a business analyst, describes himself as an enthusiast but not an expert, and his engaging style has earned him around 37,530 subscribers and more than 3 million collected views. (Note: between this article’s first draft and its second writing session — a period of one day — Martz’s subscriber base increased by more than 100. The others whom we interviewed showed similar changes).

“Some viewers call me the ‘Mister Rogers’ of gun guys,” he chuckled.

Martz’s videos cover a fair range of topics, but focus primarily — as his channel name suggests — on firearms and archery. He posted his first video in July 2012, and he says he produces and posts a new one approximately each week, bringing the collection to more than 100.

Kevin Vick of Crucible Arms in Lakeville, Minn., takes a slightly different approach (www.youtube.com/user/CrucibleArms).

Vick, with various firearms certifications from the NRA and his state (for CCW training), runs what he describes as a business that engages in “very personalized private sales.” Vick began his YouTube career in late 2011, posting new videos anywhere from one to three times a month since. His no-nonsense style and knowledgeable delivery have earned him more than 11,000 subscribers for more than 1.1 million views.

One of the best-known personalities in this emerging club is Eric Blandford, star of “Iraqveteran8888” in close association with Moss Pawn and Guns of Jonesboro, Ga. (www.youtube.com/user/Iraqveteran8888).

Of all the YouTube hosts SSR spoke with, Blandofrd’s been at it the longest, having started in 2008. Blandford tells us that one day he was out shooting with a buddy who wanted to take a video of the outing. They decided to post it, and after a few of these he found that he was getting new subscribers at the impressive rate of between 100 and 150 new viewers every day. As the subscription base grew, he decided to put more effort into the production quality, and his channel today has attracted more than 360,000 subscribers and garnered more than 85 million views.

Contrary to the ABC News story’s characterization of gun-related YouTube channels as potentially “polarizing,” these guys report that overall the feedback they’ve been getting is very positive. That stands to reason; it seems safe to assume that the bulk of viewers are those who are already supportive of private gun ownership. But some interesting responses from the other camp have come in as well.

“We got one call from an anti-gun person,” Blandford recalls. “He identified himself as such but went on to say that he liked our channel. He described it as refreshing, that it portrayed gun owners as very human; not all of (gun owners) are crazy as is often portrayed in the media.”

Any retailer who wants to start a YouTube channel to help boost sales has a few things to consider. First is to think of the style of content to post.

“The content must be compelling,” suggests Martz. He advises us that most viewers who are viewing a video for the first time — particularly if it’s on a channel or posted by someone they’re unfamiliar with — will give up within two minutes if the content doesn’t grab them.

“If a viewer gives up after those first couple of minutes, chances are he or she will be annoyed that they wasted their time,” Martz says. “If instead you can get them to a mindset of something like ‘yes, that two minutes was definitely worth my time,’ that’s what you want.”

He also recommends avoiding, as much as possible, any video that may seem like a commercial, even if that’s ultimately one of the reasons that you are engaged in the enterprise. Instead, each video has to have a specific reason for being made, and he points to MidwayUSA (www.youtube.com/user/MidwayUSA) as being especially good at this.

Even though we might assume that the company has a profit motive at least partially behind their postings, each of the more than 500 videos there is intended to have a solid message that is of real benefit to many in the viewing audience.

Crucible Arms’ Vick concurs with this approach, suggesting that casual viewers won’t make it past five minutes in most cases — again unless the content really hooks them. As to content, he suggests that any retailer who wants to embark on this decide on the type of brand they wish to establish, and stick with that.

Equipment investment can be substantial, but doesn’t have to be. A good professional-level digital video recorder runs into thousands of dollars, but our sources agree that this simply isn’t necessary. Blandford suggests using what he calls “pro-sumer” grade equipment — something that’s made to address applications in between professional and consumer needs — and adds that there are some excellent ones for substantially less than $2,000.

Martz agrees, pointing out that there are a variety of good high-definition video recorders readily available.

One key piece of gear that all of our sources agreed was crucial is a tripod. Although hand-held video footage can have its place (when following a demonstration of some tactical training drill, for example), in a great many applications or circumstances the viewer will certainly appreciate watching without that distracting camera motion.

Another item that can make a difference (again depending on the style of videos, the quality of the camera used, and the desired quality level of the finished product) is a light kit. Vick recommends looking into those that are designed to enhance digital video production, which can be as economical as $100 to $200.

It’s important, however, not to get too caught up in all the cool new camera gear and spend a ton of money, particularly if you’re not yet sure that you wish to dedicate long-term effort to this enterprise. But even a modest investment can result in videos that will stand head-to-head with many of the videos out there.

“The standards for production are kind of low on YouTube,” adds Martz, and new posters need not be afraid that their videos won’t stack up.

Another item you’ll need to consider is editing software to polish any videos you produce. It’s possible to spend hundreds of dollars on top-of-the line packages like Final Cut Pro or Adobe Premier Pro, but chances are excellent that many of the free applications out there can work for you. Martz says he uses iMovie, which came with his Mac computer, and Windows users probably already have Movie Maker on their PC.

Although it might seem a bit daunting to initiate a YouTube adventure, our sources say there’s little to be lost by just jumping in and getting started.

“Don’t worry about getting it perfect the first couple of times,” adds Martz. “To be honest, hardly anyone will see the first couple you do anyway; you can use them as kind of pilot or learning experiences.”

And you can even screen your videos without having to reveal them to the entire world.

“If a retailer is interested in doing this as a means to promote his or her retail operation, get involved and give it a try,” says Vick. “If it doesn’t work, there’s no harm. And anybody who wants to start slow can also post a video privately (by not making it available for general viewing) and share it with friends to get some initial feedback.”

But Blandford adds that once you catch the YouTube bug — and start to attract a following — it can become overwhelming to do it solo.

“My best advice for a retailer,” says Blandford, “is to realize that producing YouTube videos on a regular basis can be time-consuming, and that it will take some effort and knowledge. I would urge anybody who wants to do this to find a person who can implement it, and understand all that that person has to offer. It can be a good idea to find somebody who already works for you who is skilled and motivated. Finding somebody internal is good, especially if the person has a good personality, is energetic, and can look good on camera.”

Once the program is underway, it’s also good to stay on top of it and keep multiple people in the loop.

“Have meetings,” suggests Blandford. “Establish what it is you’re trying to accomplish, and have different people involved by having an active part in providing ideas. Viewers will see the efforts that you made.”

There is a large number of firearms-related YouTube channels out there, some of them produced and posted by retailers, and the quality of them varies tremendously. And not all of the good ones are necessarily picking up momentum like TWANGnBANG, Crucible Arms or Iraqveteran8888. Why is that?

“I know of some channels with good content, but they’re still not making it,” Blandford points out. He suggests that those may have given insufficient attention to some of the details that might be needed to put them over the edge — things like details during production or post-production.

And then there’s the whole enterprise of promotion. In order to really get the maximum number of people coming to your channel, users should become familiar with SEO (search engine optimization) and keyword optimization. In other words, establish your channel so that it will come up on as many Internet searches (Google, Yahoo, Bing and innumerable others) as possible.

Even without getting into Internet usage expertise — and there is no shortage of people out there who make their living by doing this — the retailer new to YouTube can take some steps himself to help promote his or her channel.

“You can invite users to leave comments,” suggests Vick. “You can also encourage them to ‘Like’ the channel and to share the videos with their friends and family. YouTube allows a lot of the social media things like FaceBook and Twitter to meld together.”

Is a YouTube channel right for your retail operation? Could be, but not necessarily.

“You shouldn’t make YouTube videos ‘just because,’ ” says Martz. “Just because YouTube exists out there doesn’t mean it’s a solution to every problem. Just because certain features are available doesn’t mean you need to use them all. For some retailers, this might not be best for them… and if it doesn’t work for them, they should look to other marketing approaches. That doesn’t mean that they missed the boat.”