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Political and Business Leaders Embrace 'YouTube Chats'

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"YouTube chats," the younger brother of FDR's "Fireside chats," have transformed the way politicians and business leaders connect with young voters and consumers. A YouTube chat is an informal video of a leader addressing the camera from a desk or chair. The video is then posted online as a way of directly communicating with constituents, clients, or employees. In the past year, such clips have increasingly influenced company morale, volunteer support, and campaign messages. The videos are often causal in tone, capturing the personality of the leader in addition to conveying important messages.

Obama emerged as the early champion of the YouTube chat during his 2008 campaign. His campaign uploaded almost 2,000 videos, which were viewed more than 140 million times on YouTube. He posted five times as many videos as McCain, and it may have made a huge difference in allowing Obama to better resonate with young voters. Not only did he announce his decision to form an exploratory committee on his personal YouTube Channel, he continues to utilize the form as president by filming a "Weekly Address" lasting 3 to 10 minutes and then posting the video on YouTube.com/whitehouse. These video chats have an advantage over live statements to television networks because the president can better control their production and message. His staffers edit or reshoot the video if necessary for appropriate tone and more effective delivery. Obama is as comfortable with YouTube chats as John Kennedy was with televised debates.

In addition to Obama, over 100 other politicians now have YouTube Channels. Republican Senator-elect Scott Brown uploaded 59 videos that garnered over one million views during the brief course of his campaign. His chats included "Merry Christmas" and "Happy New Year" messages featuring his daughters made exclusively for YouTube. Significantly, Brown's channel attracted four times as many subscribers as Coakley's, and one of the first videos listed in a YouTube search of "Coakley" is an opposition ad posted by his campaign.

Unlike television advertisements that must conform to tight 30-second time constraints and often cost a fortune to air, online videos can be of any length and have no uploading costs.

YouTube encourages politicians, once elected, to continue to address their constituents by giving each member of the House and Senate a channel on YouTube.com/HouseHub and YouTube.com/SenateHub. These online channels are viable alternatives to C-SPAN. Elected officials from around the country post clips from floor speeches and news interviews to communicate important issues and decisions. Yet not all videos are informative; one of the most popular videos on HouseHub simply captures two cats prancing around Nancy Pelosi's Congressional office.

While political leaders have made significant steps toward mastering online videos, business leaders are just beginning to recognize their potential. Xerox Corporation has uploaded 98 videos to YouTube in the past few years, ranging from clips of average employees singing "green" Christmas carols to managers discussing the latest products. Xerox recently posted video highlights from a company party to boost morale among employees. Other companies that have partnered with YouTube include Porche, Doritos, Guitar Center, Sony Electronics, Starbucks Coffee, and Prada. Instead of merely uploading commercials, these companies expand their online clips to feature more extensive coverage of their work and products. Various CEOs now step in front of the camera like auto dealers to describe their latest initiatives and services.

As the new media landscape continues to evolve, politicians and CEOs should embrace YouTube chats as one of the most effective ways to communicate with a new generation of voters and volunteers, consumers and clients. Perhaps it will not be long before weekly YouTube chats replace dreadful, weekly company newsletters.