Online video consumption continues to explode in popularity, with over 181 million users having viewed nearly 37 billion clips in April 2012, according to comScore. Alone, the top five distribution channels, such as YouTube, Facebook, and Yahoo!'s and Microsoft's respective networks can provide a powerful platform for branding your business.
However, it bears remembering that the numbers can tell a confusing tale. While several clients we consult with boast online channels featuring seven-figure play counts, many still struggle to crack the six-figure subscriber mark, and still more to define actual ROI from these efforts. Having personally created video programs that have clocked from 5,000 to 1 million-plus views, here's the dirty secret content creators won't always tell you. Just because you can attract a significant online audience doesn't mean it's simple to mobilize or monetize.
Still, for entrepreneurs looking to successfully brand ventures, or message products and services, short-form film content can be a tremendously cost-effective way to connect with viewers. Here's what you need to know to craft an effective online video strategy:
Focus on Content, Not Special Effects: While lighting and audio quality must be professional, authenticity and value matter more on the Web than Hollywood-grade production budgets. Affordable pocket digital cameras by Panasonic, Samsung and more can help you capture high-definition product shots, testimonials and events at minimal expense. Some smartphones such as the iPhone 4S are likewise suitable for filming social media-friendly pieces or even televised clips, while Sony's Bloggie 3D lets you capture three-dimensional footage for just $249.99. Note that brand-name businesses' natural inclination is to focus on premium, professionally-produced material. On the Internet, where viewers expect rawer, more organic dialogue, realize that the value of clips is derived more from actual video content, and information contained within, than surrounding gloss.
Define Your Objectives: It's impossible to conduct a successful video marketing campaign without first defining success metrics. Whether your aim is increasing page views, boosting subscriber counts or increasing sales conversions, before plotting promotional activities, identify key performance indicators. Granted, without including measurable calls to action (e.g. providing promotional codes for purchase savings you can track) or inviting direct customer feedback (submit designs for our new logo!), it may be difficult to map viewership to actual consumer response. However, by generating audience empathy, establishing employees' subject matter expertise, or prompting heightened chatter around a brand right as you begin taking product preorders, results can still be marked. To succeed here, understand where you wish to affect change then monitor results religiously to gauge whether clips move the needle.
Plan Ahead: Before filming, pick one to three key message points you wish to convey, and choose a unique structural angle and concept (news brief, behind-the-scenes look, comedic skit, etc.) through which to present them. When taping, begin videos by summarizing sound bites in a catchy, but simple elevator pitch that immediately differentiates both your personality and approach -- you've got 10 seconds or less to make an impression. Revisit core talking points throughout the video, using supporting b-roll and animations to reinforce commentary or expand on key discussion topics, which should max out at two to three minutes in length. Then close by reiterating your desired takeaway coupled with an immediate call to action, i.e. visiting your website or liking your Facebook page to enter a contest. Prior to posting, solicit feedback from objective observers to determine how well your message resonates, if learning transfers, and whether your efforts prompt the desired outcome.
Market and Promote Each Clip: No matter how well-crafted videos are, audiences won't always come. With thousands of new clips competing for attention daily, discovery is paramount. To improve chances of connecting, build videos in the form of branded series, one-off specials, or unique programs that can be promoted as unique and remarkable content pieces. (New show "Take This Job and Love It!" sounds more compelling than a homemade video on "Conducting an Online Job Search," even if the difference is simply a five-second intro bumper.) Incorporate taped appearances by notable personalities, companies and brands where possible too; most are happy to participate for exposure, and can drive awareness by sharing with their own followings. Then support efforts with blog posts, press releases, social media mentions and outreach to influential critics, websites and community members.
Don't Employ a Shotgun Strategy: It's tempting to shotgun content to YouTube and other mass distributors -- but it's also easy for it to be lost in the shuffle. While videos should eventually migrate to aggregators, start by premiering the best content, at least for a limited time, on your own website. This trains viewers where and how often to visit your desired destination, creates a running stream of traffic (and reason to regularly visit), and lets you place external calls to action (click here to purchase!) nearby. All creations should be made embeddable for easy sharing via blogs and social media. But it's ill-advised to ignore the value of promoting your own vehicles, thereby sacrificing SEO benefits, introducing more hurdles between viewers and desired actions, and ultimately creating excuses for them to avoid your site.