Producing your own videos

How businesses can reap the value of low-cost video for social media.

From the pages of In Business magazine.

The power of video and other visual mediums first became clear more than 50 years ago during, of all things, a presidential debate. In 1960, when John Kennedy squared off against Richard Nixon in the very first televised presidential debate, few people knew it would be a watershed moment in both politics and television. Forget about the debate’s substance because even in black and white, Kennedy looked like a million bucks and Nixon, well, not so much. Thanks to that visual contrast, people watching the debate on television thought Kennedy won, while people listening on the radio thought Nixon won.

After more than half a century, we’re still learning things about the power of visual mediums, especially social video, or video uploaded to social media platforms. That’s especially true of businesses, which increasingly are tapping into the allure of video to tell their story, issue a call to action, educate and entertain consumers, or even pluck at our heartstrings.

According to Hunter Connors Herm, a Madison-based video producer and director, the click-through statistics all point in the same direction: “Video is king, that’s all there is to it,” Herm says. “I shouldn’t have to explain why. Use your life as an example. When you are scrolling down your Facebook page and see a headline that says ‘Homeless Woman Uses Pet Raccoon to Fend off the Advances of Local Politician,’ are you going to read the article or are you going to watch the video?”

Of course you’re going to watch the video, but no business should produce a video for video’s sake. Herm notes that video is a double-edged sword. A well-produced video can make even a startup business look experienced, mature, and trustworthy — especially if it hits the mark with a target audience. However, a poorly produced video will make the most established of businesses look cheap and amateurish.

However engaging or inept video can be, it’s still but one of several tactics used to execute a social media marketing strategy. “I always like to start with the strategy behind doing anything,” says Brian Lee, president of Revelation PR, Advertising, and Social Media. “You might be looking to humanize your brand, establish expertise or credibility, educate or inform your audiences, or even promote a call to action. If you want to do one of those things, then video can be a good choice to accomplish those strategies.”

What’s trending?

With these cautions against video for video’s sake, six key trends have emerged regarding the business use of video on social media platforms — trends that no enterprise can ignore.

1. Short and sweet, just like a tweet

With video, social media practitioners advise companies to get to the point or run the risk of losing viewers. This advice is synergistic with the trend toward shorter but not always more affordable videos. When properly produced, Herm contends video is the most efficient and engaging form of communication. “Why do you think I haven’t had a day off in over three years?” he asks. “Everybody wants video. Nowadays my clients want videos that are short and sweet, informative and entertaining, beautiful, and inexpensive.”

Chalk it up to shorter attention spans, but Lee has long been a proponent of keeping most videos to no more than 30 seconds in length, but now it’s common to see videos that are less than 10 seconds long, especially because of platforms such as Snapchat and Instagram. In some cases, videographers take a larger piece of content and break it up into bite-sized pieces, so two-minute videos are being repackaged into four 30-second segments. “I think viewers are becoming conditioned to see shorter and shorter videos,” he notes, “and that is part of the larger trend that is creating snack-able content.”

Dana Arnold, a partner and director of social media and public relations for Hiebing, a Madison marketing and advertising agency, says that when it comes to social media, shorter doesn’t necessarily translate to cheaper, but there are creative ways to hold down the cost. “Video at its core is simply motion, so animated graphics are an option,” she states. “When you have things like animated graphics and motion text, that’s certainly a less expensive way to go.”

Paul Rañola, co-owner and project manager for Requisite Video Productions in Madison, suggests starting with something short and providing more details in subsequent videos. “I have seen cases where somebody wants to make a video and they want to include this, this, and this, and I say, ‘Whoa, slow down! Let’s first get them interested and make sure they’re going to watch,’” he says. “I don’t want it to be a five-minute video because they’re never going to get to minute three.”

Shorter videos can pack an emotional wallop, and that might indeed be the most effective way to present those bite-sized video samples. Adrianne Machina, chief velocity officer for Tornado Marketing in Middleton, cites the post 9-11 Budweiser ads in which the Clydesdales bowed in front of the Twin Towers site. “You can create an emotional impact with video that you can’t create with 10,000 words,” she notes. “Telling your story is hugely important, and a lot can be done even on a small budget.”

Another example is a grounds-keeping client that produced a video that served as an ode to fathers who gave up their Saturdays and made the local Little League park a clean, safe place for kids. “That’s one of the videos that every time it goes on social, it goes [virally] crazy with thousands of hits for a little, tiny business,” she notes.

2. You’ve got to pay to really play

To get more bang for the buck from video, you actually have to shell out a few bucks. Arnold refers to it as “amplifying your video” and notes that if you pay to promote a video on Facebook, for example, you would be able to see much richer metrics behind that. “You’re able to see how many completed views there were as opposed to a view that was really nebulous from an organic content perspective,” she notes

“As with anything from within Facebook from a paid perspective, if you are amplifying your video content and paying for it within that space, you are able to guarantee the video gets reached and you’re also able to see the level of engagement that consumer or customer has.”

Paying also helps you get noticed amid a torrent of content on platforms such as YouTube. “I think with the volume of content that is out there today, if there is any brand that wants to get in front of an audience, there has to be a layer of amplification that’s put behind it,” Arnold states. “That’s my fancy way of saying you can pay.”

3. Video comes to life

With new services such as Facebook Live, brands have an experiential alternative to creating something in the shop. Capturing any live event brings the risk of things going awry, but well-done live events are pre-planned and scripted. There are no “dump” buttons or do-overs with live videos, so pre-planning and even contingency plans are the order of the day. “They are not just flying by the seat of their pants,” Arnold notes.

That’s a good thing, too, because many believe viewers deserve the opportunity to watch an event unfold as it happens, such as when Apple introduces the latest version of the iPhone, and it’s not only because of the buzz created by such happenings. “Some things are better watched live because people want to be part of the event as it happens,” Lee states. “Sometimes it’s just better to be part of that as it happens.”

4. Big platforms favor video

Citing a 2014 Forrester research report that shows that videos are 53 times more likely to receive an organic search ranking than traditional text pages, assuming they were both optimized for the search engines, Machina says live events can enhance that even more. “It’s not just the search engines, but your entire stream gets notified if you’re on Facebook Live, for example. Everything is pushing video to the top. You can also see live video on YouTube, you can do it through Google Hangouts, and you can do it through Facebook. It’s free, it’s cheap, and it’s easy.”

Adds Arnold: “When each of these platforms starts to favor video, you want as many eyeballs as you can get on your social content, so finding ways to weave that type of content into a program makes sense.”



5. YouTube is still the boss

Some don’t like the aesthetics of YouTube because it’s too crowded with ads and links to other videos, but our experts aren’t among the video-sharing website’s critics. YouTube, which has more than 1 million users, still is considered the library of video content, although some believe it’s on a downward spiral because it’s hard to get noticed amid the clutter.

Perhaps the most underappreciated reason to use YouTube is that it has the second largest search engine, after only Google, which happens to own YouTube. When people search Google, Herm notes that YouTube videos will pop up at the top of the search results. “Google, as a search engine, is not going anywhere anytime soon, so uploading to YouTube is very important. It would be stupid to swim against this trend and ignore YouTube,” he states.

Lee acknowledges the issues with YouTube, but he adds that for businesses with the budgetary capacity for only one platform, he recommends YouTube. He notes that it’s the number two search engine and adds that once you publish your videos on YouTube, that’s where you go to distribute those videos on other channels such as your website, Facebook page, or Twitter account.

“And yes you can do those bite-size pieces and yes you can do live streaming,” he adds, “so YouTube does have all those capabilities. In handicapping YouTube, I do think it’s a good place to make it your headquarters.”

However, it has pluses and minuses. For example, on the right-hand column on a YouTube page, it shows you recommended videos as you’re watching a video, which Lee believes can both help and hurt. “It can help your videos to be found, but conversely if you’re watching another video similar to yours, it’s also causes users to jump from video to video without finishing them,” Lee notes. “That’s a major problem.”

Rañola also disagrees that YouTube is getting stale, citing the ability to host and measure results, the high audio quality, and the opportunity for great calls to actions. He cites one manufacturing company that made assembly videos for various products, and because it was seeing a high volume of returns of a certain product, it produced a video that quickly showed people how to correctly assemble it. The video ultimately affected the company’s bottom line because it increased sales and resulted in fewer returns.

According to Arnold, one of the best things about most social media platforms is the targeting that can be done within them. “You are getting in front of what you want to be in front of, such as people in the U.S. between ages 44 and 50,” she notes. “We’re narrowing so specifically on interests and activities and all that, you can really hit that dead-center target.”

Here is how our experts feel about other channels and their utility for social video:

Facebook: Herm jokes that Facebook will probably run the world at some point, and Arnold notes how the social media and networking service has begun to favor video. Facebook now has 4 billion daily video streams and that’s only going to grow. “A really big trend that we took note of a month or so ago is that, for those of us who are kind of geeked up over the metrics and are watching those metrics in real time, it was very easy early on to see that video was being favored by Facebook algorithms,” Arnold says. “We would immediately notice that posted video content had much more organic reach than any other type of content.”

One note of caution is that Facebook recently admitted it had been misreporting those metrics, but it remains outstanding from a content perspective. From a paid perspective, Facebook has a paid ad unit for video for organizations that really want to reach a target audience. “You don’t need to have a content presence on Facebook to be able to push video out from a paid perspective,” Arnold states. “It’s still right behind YouTube. Facebook is still the largest social platform out there, so depending on who your target audience is, if you’re talking about a target audience that’s over the age of 30, you still have people who are checking your Facebook feed eight times a day. That’s pretty attractive when trying to get in front of those people.”

Facebook also caters to a certain, nonprofessional type of organic video, whereas videos posted on LinkedIn are more buttoned-down business. “They’re typically the videos where people are trying to share branded videos with their friends,” Lee explains. “For example, ‘Hey, here I am at the Badgers game’ or ‘I saw this on’ Most of the videos that are being housed on Facebook, I’m not housing that video on YouTube. What I’m trying to say is that you’re not seeing many videos on Facebook pages that are suddenly super viral.”

In addition, Lee says Facebook is making it harder for businesses to get their content in those newsfeeds organically because it is pushing them to advertise. “I do see that video can be a good tool for businesses when they’re advertising on Facebook because it does such a good job of really honing in on your target audience,” he added.

Instagram: Part and parcel to Facebook is Instagram, a social networking service that was acquired by Facebook in 2012. “The same amplification things that apply to Facebook also apply to Instagram,” Arnold notes. “You actually use the Facebook ad platform for Instagram, and video in that space is also pretty dynamic.”

Twitter: The latest example of how the social media landscape has evolved is Twitter’s decision to kill off Vine, the short-form video app that Twitter purchased in late 2012 to complement its text-based service. While the posting of looping, six-second “Vines” helped Twitter become more visually rich, it was hard for businesses to monetize Vine. There is a great deal of speculation about what comes next, but for the time being Lee finds value in the posting of animated GIFs, photos, and information graphics on Twitter.

Facebook’s ownership of Instagram is “partially why Twitter had to shut down Vine because Instagram already had the base of users through both Instagram and Facebook,” Lee states, “and then when they added the video component on Instagram [in 2013], that really hurt Vine.”

Snapchat: Posting video on the private messaging and image-sharing app, where content is short-lived and self-deleting, depends largely on your target audience. “Certainly the younger end of that millennial audience is very active there,” Arnold says, “so if that’s where your audience is, Snapchat is great. But since that content dissolves, finding ways to make that cost efficient is going to be a challenge for brands.”

At an organic level, “Snapchat is really good for timely but not timeless videos,” Lee argues. “It’s for something that’s fun to watch at the moment but it’s not something you’re going to care about or want to watch again later. It could be a quick interview when you’re at some event, so it’s worth it to watch that moment, but beyond that it’s got no shelf life.”

Where Snapchat is gaining strength is in the advertising room. In Snapchat, posters have filters where they can add random elements to photos or videos that are sent to people. Businesses can actually make a filter limited by both time and geography. That Snapchat filter can be shared, so it’s good for building brand awareness.

Vimeo: Herm advises companies to upload video content on YouTube, Facebook, and Vimeo, another video-sharing website where videos can be uploaded, viewed, and shared. Herm has always recommended Vimeo to businesses because in his view it’s ideal when sharing videos in a business-to-business environment. You can customize your video page layout and keep things simple and clean for your audience. “When it’s time to send a business video directly to your consumers or another business, you’ll probably want to send the link through Vimeo because it’s a bit more classy and aesthetically pleasing,” he says. “It’s the equivalent of holding a board meeting in a quiet conference room instead of the crowded cafeteria.”

6. Actions speak louder than views

What’s the best metric to evaluate your video? Views and average length of time spent watching are commonly cited, but with specific calls to action, sheer sales based on those calls also factor in.

The whole point of a video is to ensure you are getting an actual reach, and when you benchmark that video reach against the other content, “you should absolutely see that video is at least on par with all the other types of content you have out there, if not maybe a notch above everything else,” Arnold advises. “As far as engagement such as liking a video or commenting on a video, I don’t think those are realistic metrics to look at just because that’s not what we’re asking that end consumer or customer to do.”

Whatever you want consumers to do, you need to “frontload” it, Arnold notes, or run the risk of losing viewers. “When you think about a traditional television spot, you think about something that resolves at the end of 30 seconds,” says Arnold. “So that’s great if somebody is going to click through but there better be a really compelling reason on the front end of that video for them to be able to do that.”

Herm is no longer a metrics guy, preferring to leave the numbers game to others. He notes the Madison market is good for about 500 to 1,000 views no matter what your video content looks like. All the views above that mark are usually paid advertising placements because like any advertising strategy, if you want it played, be prepared to pay.

In his view, your primary concern should be producing content that accurately represents your business and your brand. “People ask me this all the time, ‘How do I know if my video is effective?’ My answer is, how well does the video reflect who you are as a business? Does the video effectively communicate your brand and your marketing strategy? Does the tone of the video accurately represent the tone of your business or the tone of the product you are selling?”

According to Lee, metrics such as views, length of views, followers, and shares means you’re heading toward your objectives. Otherwise, they are only vanity statistics. “What businesses care about, and what matters to your business at the end of the day, will be the actions that your target audience takes as a result of your videos.”

That means tracking sales because views can, in Rañola’s words, be nothing but “smoke and mirrors.” Just because 10,000 people viewed your video, that doesn’t mean you’re going to get any sales. “To me, it’s whether the needle’s been moved,” Rañola states. “I’ve seen videos with hundreds of thousands of views but because of the way they used it, I don’t know if the company had one extra sale.”

Final frame

While social media is an ocean of opportunity, Herm says the challenge is that social media is alive, constantly evolving, and always trending in different directions. The creative content that you wrap around your messaging must match current social media trends in terms of content and placement. Do your best keep up with the big trends but don’t stress out over every change in the tide, he advises.

“Social media apps will come and go, but nobody knows where or when the next big trend is coming, so just go with the flow until the wave starts to break and don’t get caught wasting money in the undertow,” he states. “MySpace or Vine, anyone?”



Culver’s does a digital 360

Perhaps no industry can be more creative with “social video” than the restaurant industry, and thanks to her attendance at a recent Facebook conference, Culver’s Jessie Corning has already implemented some spicy new ideas.

Among the videos Culver’s has deployed are an entertaining series titled “Curd Nerd Comedy” (above), cinemagraphs featuring one moving element such as steam coming off the top of a coffee cup, and rotating “Flavors of the Day.”

Corning, who serves as senior marketing manager for Culver’s, says her recent visit to Facebook’s California headquarters was inspiring for several reasons. COO Sheryl Sandberg talked about the future of Facebook, one of Culver’s social media platforms, and Corning learned some new techniques.

One new method is a 360-degree video on Culver’s Facebook page. While not “video” in the traditional sense, it made good use of visual movement and interactivity in support of Culver’s pumpkin spice shake promotion. Consumers simply move their smartphones up, down, and around to experience different things from the same image.

“It’s as though you are there within that visual moment,” Corning says. “How cool is that?”

The coolness factor weighed heavily throughout the month of October, when Culver’s took part in national “Curd Nerd Day.” It produced three 20-second videos called Curd Nerd Comedy, starring a cheese curd on a stick doing comedy skits. That was followed by two videos related to National Dessert Month, one showing a spinning dish of custard that, when it slowed down, presented a different flavor.

Corning would also like to explore more video with cinemagraphs, a still photo with one feature that moves — another takeaway from the Facebook conference. “We did a really short example of that on National Coffee Day, where we had the Culver’s coffee cup and steam was coming off the top.”

During October, Culver’s produced videos anywhere from eight seconds to one minute in length, and it also uses Snapchat and Instagram, testing advertisements on the latter. Asked how she measures the effectiveness of Culver’s social video, Corning says measurement for each post is different because certain videos have a specific call to action such as “like this post” or “check out our flavor of the day,” but in each case she looks for “reach” that translates into sales. “We are definitely tracking all of those metrics on these posts, but there probably is a different benchmark for each different type of post,” she explains.

Asked if she regrets waiting to delve into social video, Corning answered in the affirmative because she appreciates the opportunity to experiment. “We’re certainly seeing what performs best among our guests. There are so many options with animating photos and loop videos that go back-and-forth that just seeing what resonates with a specific audience is really important.”



DIY video tools

Video's status as a powerful form of engagement leads most professional videographers to argue against making an iPhone video in a poorly lit office, but that’s not a universally held view.

With the exception of high-end television productions and video posts to your own website, Adrianne Machina believes the cameras, audio, and editing apps available on smartphones can help budget-conscious businesses produce quality videos without investing in expensive equipment or hiring an in-house team.

Machina, chief velocity officer for Tornado Marketing, is so sure of this she instructs a video class at the UW Small Business Development Center. With iPhones and inexpensive apps such as Adobe Spark Video, Fuse, VidLab, or Apple iMovie (costing $2 or $3), users can add captions or slides in videos “and it looks so slick,” she states, “and it’s just so easy to do.”

For desktops, the tools include Windows MovieMaker, iMovie, Camtasia, TechSmith’s Jing, and Adobe Premiere Clip, and software that comes with your camera. MovieMaker and Jing are free for PC users but all are simple and relatively inexpensive. Machina prefers an upgrade to Camtasia, which is about $200 and comes with an entire set of options, but it’s still “really crazy simple,” she says.

Another tool comes as a surprise to people — PowerPoint. Among the things it allows users to do is record your screen and then insert it, and also record audio on slides and save it as a video file.

Finally, a tripod prevents “shaky camera syndrome,” a good microphone — Machina prefers Blue Yeti mics — or a wireless microphone prevents poor audio quality, and a pop filter eliminates those popping “P” sounds.

Machina also has some advice for posting videos. “One of the things I teach in my class is that if you post a video directly on your website, video will slow down your website because it’s such a huge file, which Google does not like,” she cautioned. “It penalizes you in the search engines because you have a slow website but secondly, whoever is hosting your website is probably going to charge you extra, so you’re going to have bandwidth charges, especially if your ads on video become popular.”

Better to host it on YouTube and get the embed code so that it looks like it’s on your website while it’s actually hosted somewhere else that has larger servers and faster video hosting provided by services such as Wistia.

For people who are trying to reach a Facebook audience, it’s a mistake to upload a video on YouTube and then share it on Facebook. You want to take the same video and upload it once on YouTube and once on Facebook, otherwise “it splits your stats,” she says.

As for the type of video, the one every business must have is a “how-to” or helpful-tip video. Lead with a question that piques a viewer’s curiosity, solve the problem, and keep it short. At the end, you can place a “bookend” in which you identify the next step. “Obviously you’re not going to be able to solve all problems in a minute, or three minutes, or five minutes,” Machina says. “They might have a call to action to subscribe to a series.”

Finally, remember what she calls the three “e’s” of shareable content and make your videos either educational, emotional but not cheesy, or entertaining without being offensive.

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