Using Online Video Platforms for Customer Relationships

Communication with customers has changed fundamentally with the rise of online video tools. When once it took a substantial amount of time, money, and effort to reach customers with a distinctive visual message, now businesses can move out video campaigns in the span of hours.

This ease of use comes with a price, however: more than 300 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube (the Internet’s largest platform for uploading and sharing of videos) every minute, and consumers are inundated with visual data. Making a lasting impression in a customer’s mind still demands the same time, money, and effort it always has, even if putting a video online is cheap.

Choosing the right platform is a large part of making a lasting impression. Though the undisputed winner in the video field is YouTube, countless other effective platforms have sprung up that offer a niche uniquely their own.

YouTube: An Industry Leader

YouTube is simple and straightforward: get an account and start uploading videos. Uploaded videos stick around as long as desired, as long as they don’t violate YouTube’s terms of service (TOS) or someone else’s copyright claim on a piece of audio or video. Most well-known brands have taken advantage of YouTube at one point or another, but getting the most out of it takes more than just uploading videos and hoping for virality.

There are a lot of great reasons to use YouTube, but to put it simply: consumers are hungry for visual media, and businesses that don’t take advantage of this will ultimately be left behind by competitors. Every year YouTube grows larger and larger—nearly as many videos were uploaded in a single month by the global top 100 brands in 2013 than were uploaded over the entirety of 2008. These brands have invested billions of dollars in the creation of videos, enabling them to reach more people than ever before with their messages.

A Look at a Successful Brand

Content generally has to be engaging for customers to care about its message, but YouTube content has to be on another level entirely. An advertisement that airs on television or a TV streaming service like Hulu has to keep attention, and similarly, marketing communication pieces on YouTube have to be compelling enough that customers actively seek them out.  The rules for creating viral content apply here, too:  a piece intended for YouTube consumption has to be able to stand on its own rather than as just a solid advertisement.

One of the all-time winners of advertising on YouTube is Old Spice, with its Smell Like a Man, Man campaign, which began with the hit video “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like.” This campaign generated tremendous buzz for Old Spice, and is almost perfectly tailored for the needs of a YouTube project. The key points it hits are simple:

  • It’s short. Viewers routinely click away from videos when they stop caring, and that time often comes quickly. YouTube gives users the option to track average view duration, which allows you to track not only when something is being viewed at all, but also whether your viewers stay around long enough or not to show that they care.
  • It’s distinctive. At the time, Old Spice’s ad didn’t look very much like any other ad a user might see on (or off) of YouTube. The Internet gravitates to novelty in a way that is rapid and hard to replicate via other media, and Old Spice delivered on a visual craving for newness repeatedly. The campaign gave the brand a personality that was entirely its own, which ends up transcending the platform it proliferated from.
  • It’s well-supported. The campaign received several follow-up ads during its run, and the company used other social media platforms to buttress it. When Old Spice decided to change spokespeople, Isaiah Mustafa received a sendoff that let him pass the torch to the new face of the brand, Fabio. Users’ emotional investment in the campaign was rewarded and preserved from start to finish.
  • It’s got great production values. Don’t underestimate the role of video quality in getting something to succeed on YouTube. It’s not everything, but it’s still important—users aren’t going to be as interested if something looks like it was filmed on terrible equipment. Frequent YouTube viewers have coined the phrase for describing poor production values and bad video quality as a video having been “filmed on a potato.”

Not all campaigns, even with the care, thought, time, and money put into Smell Like a Man, Man, will reach the millions of views that campaign garnered, but a little polish has the potential go a very long way. Take the time to ask basic questions of your video like: “Is this just selling our product, or would someone want to watch this as a video in its own right?” when creating content to distribute through YouTube.

Looking For a Solution—How-To Searches

Among the fastest-growing types of YouTube search is the how-to search, which according to Google is growing by as much 70% year over year as of 2015. YouTube users turn to the service to find out how to do pretty much anything, taking advantage of portable audio and video to learn more quickly and conveniently.  Everything from arts and crafts to practical skills gets searched for.

Marketers interested in getting eyes on their YouTube channels should consider what their business can teach. Not all businesses will have a strong tutorial video concept, but a company that makes fishing lures might do well to upload a few instructional videos around fishing season. Brands like The Home Depot, which nave a natural association with learning and do-it-yourself culture, have carved out a distinctive niche on YouTube using these searches. With a how-to search, users are already engaged and are eager to listen from the moment they find a match.

Other Uses for YouTube—More Than Just Ads and Announcements

YouTube gives users the opportunity to view videos at their own pace, at a time that’s comfortable for them. It can supplement live streaming (discussed in more detail later) by providing a place for people who can’t watch an event during airing to still share the experience through a video on demand. It also makes a platform for businesses that already create lots of visual media, such as television programs, to show off highlights and draw attention to their products.

YouTube can also be a great place to put seminars, meetings, and training courses. Employees who miss a learning opportunity can catch up online later, and those who aren’t sure they understood everything the first time can review a training course a few times and come out of it with a better understanding … or at least better questions. Meeting videos can be flagged as private, meaning only those with the link can see them, if security is a concern.

Morale events and team-building exercises are also good candidates for YouTube videos. If the event is memorable, this can be a great way to encourage teams to look back on the event fondly and build camaraderie. Be sure to let everyone known the event will be put online, however, as some employees may be embarrassed or self-conscious regarding these activities.

A Whole World Out There—YouTube Alternatives

Though YouTube is far and away the most popular of the services available for videos of average length, other sites also give users and businesses a platform to make such videos available.

  • Metacafe: Metacafe primarily offers a platform for videos in entertainment fields such as music, technology, gaming, and movies. Businesses in these spheres should consider at least mirroring videos on Metacafe.
  • Flickr: Flickr has a higher focus on creative, unique content than some of the other options available. It also offers photo hosting, so those interested in hosting both single shots and longer videos might give Flickr a look.
  • Dailymotion: Businesses with an international reach should look into adding content to Dailymotion. This French service has been making efforts to expand its American and international appeal through strategic partnerships.
  • Vimeo: Unlike YouTube, Vimeo offers a premium service for businesses and content creators who want to use it for more robust, complex projects and longer videos. Users can also change the appearance of the player itself, which lets brand-conscious organizations create a distinctive visual experience.

Short-Form Video Sharing: Do It For the Vine

A recent form of video sharing has taken on a much more social dimension than YouTube. Short-form video sharing, driven through platforms like Vine and Tout, allows users to easily share the shots of videos that they can easily create on phones, tablets, or laptops. These videos play on a loop by default, and are limited to well under a minute. The short-form video leader, Vine, allows only a scant six seconds for users to make their point. This allows these videos to play unobtrusively on mute before users opt into sounds, similar to animated .gif files.

These platforms might be described as being to YouTube what Twitter is to WordPress: they don’t offer the same flexibility or depth, but are easy to digest and anyone with a phone can relatively painlessly make posts and contribute to a conversation. Unless there’s a clear, direct way to convey a product’s message and a means of getting it out there in only a few seconds, a Vine or Tout won’t have the same strength. They often rely on humor, shock value, or absurdity rather than clear, coherent narratives, and thus don’t fit every brand. That’s not to say that short-form videos can’t figure into an advertising and marketing strategy.

Video Participating—Getting Hype, Building Hype

One way to easily integrate short-form video into a campaign is to allow customers to show their own enthusiasm through videos. A campaign might provide a hashtag and encourage users to take to Vine with what they have to say about it, or go on Tout to comment on a recent announcement. As the videos come from users themselves, excitement expressed in the specific ones a company chooses to highlight can feel more sincere and genuine than a sponsored message or paid testimonial might.

The other core advantage a short-form video platform offers is its ease of integration into other social media efforts. Vine videos, for example, can be integrated directly into tweets and Tumblr posts, giving them more reach than a Vine might have on its own. This allows those who see and like these shorts to easily spread them through retweets and reblogs. Videos posted to YouTube directly typically require at least a modest amount of attention from their viewers. Shorts, on the other hand, can loop a few times completely before a user finishes scrolling through vertically.

While Vine has come out of the infancy of micro-video as its seeming clear winner, other services are also available for businesses to try.

  • Keek: Unlike Vine, Keek allows videos in excess of 30 seconds. While these videos still have the feel of a visual microblog, they give businesses a little more flexibility in terms of content and duration.
  • Tout: Tout is intended for use by entertainment, sports, and journalism brands, providing additional tools for these brands. Anyone can create such a video, but its unique features focus on video revenue and other aspects of short-form video of interest to these groups.

Streaming Video: Live, Everywhere, Whenever

The final tool in the online marketer’s video arsenal is live streaming. Live streaming services are closer to television broadcasts than other forms of online video: users tune in during a broadcast, which can be everything from a major announcement to a product demonstration. Streaming video tends to work best for companies with significant followings, especially those with regular product announcements or demonstration opportunities.

Convention Streaming: Remote Participation

Those that operate conventions or conferences can also use streams to extend the reach of their activities and spread their messages to a much wider audience. One popular organization that has used this aspect of streaming to tremendous effect is TED, which offers those who can’t attend the talks and events physically the opportunity to see them live at a modest fee. Though TED has always attracted excellent speakers and large audiences, offering the talks as both streaming videos and on-demand videos lets the organization radically expand its audience.

Even events not solely focused on speakers can take advantage of streaming and subsequent video-on-demand opportunities. A small event that attracts a more prominent guest or panel of guests can stream and publicize the speaker’s time at the event, building notoriety for the speaker as well as the event itself. Cartoon Network has used this to great effect with its panels at events like Comic Con, attracting guests its key demographics are interested in and using that to enhance the brand’s image.

Announcements and Demonstrations: The Search for Novelty

One of the strongest uses of live streams is to build hype with a sense of immediacy. The search for novelty is nearly constant, and a live stream of a product announcement gives viewers the feeling that they’re seeing something truly, authentically new for themselves. These events usually need to be publicized beforehand, but continue to generate hype for themselves well after the stream ends.

No brand knows this better than Apple: almost every product announcement, keynote speech, and product demonstration the company offers is streamed live and made available as a video-on-demand shortly afterward. These talks, delivered by Steve Jobs until his death and more recently his successor Tim Cook, have become a signature of the company, and streaming technology has allowed them to reach enormous numbers of people.

Stream Sponsorship: You Don’t Need to Run One Yourself

Sponsorship has a long and storied history, and while it often draws to mind images of traditional television and sporting broadcasts, more and more brands are looking to sponsorship of streaming events as well. Just as conventional sponsorships might come in the form of banners along the edges of an arena, stream sponsorships often involve the appearance of a banner or frame around the action carrying a company’s logo. Sponsors also often receive free advertising time in the program, and unlike advertisements built into the streaming service, these ads cannot be skipped or hidden, as they are placed directly in the broadcast.

Top brands like Intel have decided to commit to stream sponsorship, helping foot the bill for conventions and video game tournaments. Since it began sponsoring these events they have taken off massively, selling out real arenas and drawing millions of viewers online. Smart sponsorship can not only draw a large number of eyes for a relatively low cost, it also hits very narrow slices of the market, ensuring that most of those eyes are the ones a company wants looking at its brand.

Get Seen: Streaming Platforms

The availability of streaming services has drastically increased, and even YouTube offers streaming functionality. Those interested in using streaming to enhance their businesses’ reach can look at some of the following platforms:

  • Ustream: One of the first easily-accessible streaming platforms, Ustream offers secure video sharing for enterprises as well as public broadcasts. Users can reach thousands with a stream, or just allow employees to attend meetings remotely. Any user can embed the video in a non-Ustream page.
  • Livestream: Founded around the same time as Ustream, Livestream offers similar functionality. Livestream offers paid users some additional control over who can view streams and how those streams can be viewed.

Other streaming services are targeted more narrowly, and of less use for business., for example, caters solely to gaming streams, making it easier for users to find streams in which they are interested. Those who sell to the markets these serve can consider sponsoring streams and events to reach even larger numbers of viewers.

A Visual World

Customers are always looking for something to occupy their attention, and video services of all types provide a chance to compete for those moments of boredom. A solid video has to be engaging, however, to really succeed in a world where so much visual stimulation is available.

Have you rolled out a major video initiative at your company? Do you have any experiences with live streaming or short-form video you’d like to share? Tell us about your visual experiences in the comments.

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