7 Tips for Making Compelling Web Videos

Let’s face it.  Most online video is unwatchable.  It’s unfunny, uninteresting and a complete waste of time.  However, for every hundred duds, there is that one gem that makes you realize the true power of the medium.  

So the question at hand is:  What makes the difference between the very, very good and the horrid?  Aside from inherent creativity (you can’t discount ability), it often comes down to a few basic principles and disciplines that when followed should ensure success. 

To assist my clients in getting started, I always ask the following seven questions at the outset of any video production: 

  1. What is your message?
    Most messages inform, entertain or encourage engagement.  Messages can sell stock, project an image or market a product.  Make your message count.
  2. Who is your target audience?
    Business to consumer, business to business, women ages 35-50, singles vacationing to Costa Rica.  Know who you want to target.
  3. What conversations do you want? 
    Online video provides the opportunity to interact with audiences directly and allows audiences to provide feedback.  Tagging a video as a “favorite” on a Facebook page, calling an 800 number or participating in surveys/ ratings/contests, are all types of engagement.  Start the conversation.
  4. What are your in-house capabilities?
    Can you produce your video in-house or do you need a film crew to help with audio, lighting, producing and editing?  Know your limitations.
  5. What is your budget?
    These days video production can be very affordable, however it all depends what type of quality you would like.  Know how much you want to spend.
  6. How are you going to measure your ROI?
    It’s all about getting eyeballs to your video. Technology has made it very easy to get reports on how many users have viewed a video, how much time they spent watching it, where they came to the site from, etc.  Measure, measure, measure.
  7. Where do you want to be seen?
    Company websites, video sharing sites like YouTube, Grouper, AOL, and Veoh, or social media sites like Facebook, Technorati, Digg, Del.icio.us, etc.  Be seen.

Additional Tips for Creating Quality Web Videos

When creating Web video, always keep in mind that it is not for television—start thinking in terms of computer screens and mobile screens.

  • Follow the KISS principle. Originally an acronym for "Keep it Short and Simple", it is now more commonly referred to as "Keep it Simple, Stupid".   Try to make the video easy to understand and avoid complexity. 
  • Be original, credible, and transparent. Write a script or an outline before you record your video so that you do not waste valuable production time trying to figure out a storyline.  Be short and to the point. 
  • Know who your audience is and how best to speak to them.  Testimonials often make great pieces of video whether it’s from a celebrity or “Joe” the plumber. 
  • Engage your audience with a call to action and provide a viewer feedback mechanism, such as a comments section or direct contact information. 
  • Think about making your video “evergreen” to give it a long shelf life.   You can do this by not including dates or tying it in to a certain time of year.
  • Take a little risk, experiment and be creative.  Humor is a great way to gain traction, just be careful not to push it too far.  The Internet does not have the same standards as television and allows much more leeway in content.  A few years ago, Anheuser Bush posted a commercial which was deemed inappropriate for prime time television to its bud.tv online site. The “Swear Jar” video was then posted to YouTube, where it has received millions of views.  
  • The general rule of thumb with regards to timing is to be brief in duration. Generally, short form content ranging from 30 seconds to 3 minutes is the way to go.   However, it does depend on the audience.  There are some audiences for which longer video are appropriate. For example, most visitors to www.or-live.com will spend well over 30 minutes watching a surgical procedure.  If you are creating a long-format video, such as a webcast, you can always index and break apart your video and even have teasers. 
  • If you have a budget for production, hire a professional.  Professional producers can still make your video look cool, viral and eye catching.  They will know which close ups will work best, will ensure that the video has proper lighting, and will likely use a tripod, which will keep your audience from getting nauseated by a bouncy camera. 
  • Additionally, professional producers will be able to advise on the aesthetics of the shoot, such as the dress and appearance of the people on camera (solid colored clothing works best on film) and on post-production techniques, such as  inserting text boxes in the lower area of the screen to indicate who is speaking. 
  • If you do not have the budget for professional editing, there are many off-the-shelf editing software packages that enable you to do it yourself.   The most popular are Avid, Premiere, Media 100 and Final Cut Pro.  These tools can help you enhance your video with photos and graphics.  For images, it is best to use jpegs (720X420) and images that are at least 300 dpi.  Also, incorporate upbeat background music. You need to get permission if it is copyrighted, otherwise you can get royalty free music from sites like www.gettyimages.com or www.royaltyfreemusic.com.  Make sure you have enough bandwidth and test your video on different devices and media players. 

When I think of a great web video, I think of a video that Mary Kay, Inc.  produced.  Mary Kay partnered with Amanda Bynes to help end teen dating violence. The video that they produced touched on a very serious subject and featured many good production components including lower thirds, great b-roll, and an optimum length – 1 minute and 21 seconds.  In addition to the celebrity spokeswoman, representatives from Mary Kay and its non-profit partner, Break the Cycle, spoke about their initiative to raise awareness about domestic violence in schools and end teen dating violence.  Though the video was scripted, it came across as sincere and included calls to action such as directing audiences to sign a petition and directing them to a website to learn more.   Mary Kay created a Multimedia News Release  (MNR) with the help of MultiVu, PR Newswire’s multimedia and broadcast PR division, which included the embeddable video, information on the initiative, statistics on domestic violence, downloadable images and links  to additional information:   http://www.prnewswire.com/mnr/marykay/36188/     As a result, the video appeared on more than 40 web video sharing sites including YouTube and has been played more than 42,000 times, with 89% of viewers watching the entire length of the video. 

We all know that internet video has reached critical mass and will continue to grow.   Have fun, experiment and be creative when making your videos.  Most importantly, make your video accessible, easy to view, easy to use and most importantly, make sure it works!  

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