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Thinking Critically About Web Video

Posted on Jun 21st, 2010
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    web videoWeb video is hot. Some say your chance to be a pioneer.

    How hot, and how much of an opportunity? Recent reports from comScore, consistently say more than 80% of the total U.S. Internet audience views online video in a given month. YouTube’s fact sheet states every minute, 24 hours of video is uploaded to the network and 2 billion videos are being watched per day.

    All this popularity has of course been driving a trend with marketers: the desire to create video as part of their digital marketing mix. Except sadly, it’s almost never approached strategically.

    Agency-side marketing/PR/digital pros: how many times have you had a client approach you after creating a web video and said “hey, we made this video, now make it go viral!”

    Client-side marketing professionals: how many of you have had a CMO suddenly discover web video, only to enthusiastically push the team to concept something “because our competitors are doing it.”

    Due to these mistakes (and many others) most companies get web video dead wrong. Their content is too advertorial, there is a lack of genuine reason anyone would want to watch it, let alone pass it on. It doesn’t pass the all important “so what” test of web content and feels contrived or lacks creativity. And these are actually just surface level problems, it goes deeper than that.

    The real question you need to ask yourself is why am I making web video? What marketing problem does it answer, and how does it answer it? How does it feed digital marketing KPI/objective metrics? Am I doing it because I read an article about it in AdAge or because it’s an elegant way to express my brand’s story to the world?

    “Let’s make something viral” vs. let’s create an ongoing dialogue

    By now, most companies understand blogging. And everyone knows you’d never create just one (even great) blog post and be done with it. No matter how popular that post was, just one blog post is not likely to provide long term value for your brand. You need to continue creating posts over time until you have a large opt-in audience that’s consistently spreading your content organically. Consider the fact that a web video is not too different than a blog post. Successful text and video are both content formats that can be passed on socially, and successful archetypes of each share similar qualities.

    Yet, the business world seems to place web video up on a pedestal as if it’s some magic animal that plays by different rules merely because it’s video. The rules are not all that different, and apply for both formats of content for it to spread socially. Creating one video that catches on may be nice, but this does not take advantage of the larger opportunity the web affords: to build up an audience of true fans who genuinely want to follow your every word carefully.

    Poorly conceptualized content has no chance

    Short of advertising and interrupting users, there’s not much you can do to create awareness for a poorly conceptualized video lacking the proper hooks. On the web, advertising is content – there is no captive audience and viewers can and will ignore your promotions if your videos aren’t worthwhile. It has to be interesting, relevant and sticky if it has any chance of getting passed on. And with a firehose of content being uploaded to to the web, most web video is likely to be lost in perpetual obscurity, perhaps given some life from search engines.

    Unless you’re a massive brand with deep pockets that can work with a high-paid creative team to concept some remarkable content, you’re likely better off using video as you would any other social content. In other words: use it to connect with your audiences in a genuine, meaningful way that follows your larger content strategy.

    The best part about treating video as you would any other digital content, is just like text: if you produce lots of it and experiment, you can begin to discover video content archetypes that work for you. Then, and only then, can you start to get agile with your video content production and iteratively get better until you can consistently create stuff that catches on.

    With that said…you still need a community

    Web video by itself is tactical. If you’re serious about influencing the social web you still need a community that’s interested in receiving all types of your content being published in a channel agnostic fashion. Simply put, you need to build up a group who has affinity for your brand, its team members and ideas. Without this you’re not feeding something larger. Even if you have a popular video with hundreds of thousands or millions of views, what’s the point if you’re not continuing the dialogue over time and nurturing those relationships?


    Ignoring the “viral video” bug many have been bitten by, web video is an opportunity for your brand and should likely be a part of your content marketing mix. But think critically about how it plays into your larger content strategy, and understand your reason for being with creating digital content in the first place.

    Placing web video on a pedestal, as if it’s so different from any other digital content, is the wrong approach. It has to be just as sharp, creative and relevant as your text-based content. Perhaps more so since we can’t just scan a video and get the gist of it. And just like your written content you will need to build an audience before you can have consistent success.

    For long term results, experiment and play around with presentation, formatting and ideas. Work to discover what it is your audiences react to and ensure that video is created in a way that benefits your larger social and SEO programs.