How to Get Your Business Started on YouTube

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Get your business started on YouTube
Making videos, much like Facebooking, blogging, and tweeting, is not an end but a means. It is a means of communicating with customers and marketing your wares. And it is increasingly a means of promoting yourself more visibly via search engines. On many a Web search, Google will place videos at the top of the results. This is common for many terms, and some have suggested that Web pages that contain embedded videos place higher in Google’s search results.

For the vast majority of businesses, producing and distributing videos is probably not a natural activity. Yet, while calculating the hard ROI of online video is a fool’s errand, the data suggest that video adds real value--and potentially lots of it--because users really do watch the stuff. RevZilla, a small motorcycle gear store in Philadelphia, jumped into YouTube on a whim in 2009; since then, its videos have received over 4.1 million views.

What Kind of Video to Shoot

Once you’ve decided to get your small business into video, what kind of videos should you make? Consumers are interested in the inner workings of corporate America, as TV shows like How It’s Made, Undercover Boss, and Dirty Jobs prove. You may think your business is boring, and it very well may be. But there’s literally nothing that can’t be peeled back, expounded upon, or satirized for entertainment gold. (Consider a long-running sitcom like The Office if you don’t believe me.)

If you’re still having trouble thinking of something, remember that your video doesn’t have to be a true story. For some inspiration, check out Orabrush, which makes tongue cleaners and which has used YouTube to grow into a $10 million business.

The Key: Be Funny

If there’s a single takeaway from most companies’ success with online video, it’s that humor works: Funny videos are the biggest overnight YouTube hits. Consider your own video-viewing and -sharing habits; would you rather share a recorded PowerPoint presentation, or the commercial below, for California taxidermist Chuck Testa?

So, how can you use comedy to promote your presumably serious business? A coffee shop could create a highlight reel of awful open-mic performances, or create a hoax cooking show. A jeweler could make a faux Home Shopping Network segment, complete with callers dialing in. A corporate branding expert could stage a product-name brainstorming skit in a conference room, Mad Men-style. All of these can serve as a call to action to viewers to become a real customer.

Blendtec has made a cottage industry--190 million views and counting--out of grinding up iPhones and other otherwise nonblendable objects. The recent overnight phenomenon Dollar Shave Club, below, matches laugh-out-loud comedy with a compelling business case.

Of course, you know your customers best, and how far you can push comedy, satire, and self-deprecation. Kick back over pizza with trusted colleagues and brainstorm; the ones that make you laugh most are probably the ones to pursue first.

Or Don’t Be Funny

Okay, maybe you don’t have a knack for humor. Videos don’t have to be funny to be successes. You might have legitimate reasons to explain, soberly, how a product works or to prove your company’s expertise as, perhaps, a first-aid services outfit (where too much humor might be seen as cavalier). Gary Vaynerchuk’s long-running (now inactive) Wine Library TV turned him into a worldwide sensation, despite largely featuring a guy drinking wine in front of a wall.

Making the Video: Think About the Audience

YouTube shows you who's watching.
It’s been said that you don’t choose your audience; your audience chooses you. To some degree that’s true, but you can still guide the kind of viewer that you most want to reach: your ideal customer, naturally. Have a handle on what this customer looks like, demographically speaking, and write down a customer profile: Is she a 29-year-old urban fashionista? A suburban older man facing retirement?

YouTube provides demographics about viewers, so if you find a video that you think would resonate, check out who’s watching it. To reach YouTube Analytics, on any video just click the small graph button to the right of the number of video views. You’ll see when the video has been viewed; where the traffic came from; and the age, gender, and location of the audience. Use this data on your own videos, of course, to confirm whether you are reaching the audience you intended, and to help your next production.

Writing a Script

Once you’ve conceived your video thematically, it’s time for the hardest part: Writing the script. It’s a terrible idea to take a camera and just start shooting, figuring that you’ll edit the footage together into something funny later. The best viral videos are tightly scripted productions that were agonized over until they were perfect. They may come across as spontaneous and improvised, and that’s intentional.

The good news: The best videos are short. Audiences have very limited patience for Web video, so keep yours under 90 seconds long, and the shorter the better. You’ll be able to cut in postproduction, but you’re best off planning a brief video during the writing process.

Shooting a Great Video

Need help shooting your first production? Don’t forget these tips.

  • First, shoot in high definition, and in widescreen if you can.
  • As with still photography, lighting is everything. Pay careful attention to the lighting to avoid harsh shadows and dimly lighted environments. Take test shots to get a sense of how the video will look after it's made: What might seem perfectly bright to your eyes often looks impossibly dark on video.
  • While lighting is everything, sound is everything else. If you can’t afford a boom microphone, try to shoot in otherwise quiet locations, and avoid shooting outdoors on windy days. Your camera’s microphone is just as important as its lens.
  • Don’t be afraid of multiple takes. Use a real Hollywood-style clapper, if you’d like, to mark, at the beginning of each scene, the chronological number of each take, and have someone on hand to keep notes on which takes worked best to save you time in the editing process.
  • Shoot with a tripod. If you don’t have to move the camera, don’t.
  • Leave the zoom lens alone. Zooming in and out a lot is the first sign of an amateur production and a quick way to turn viewers off. If your shot absolutely needs to move, move the camera by physically moving in and out, and leave the zoom lens out of it.
  • Don’t shoot your video using your phone's camera. Use a real video camera if at all possible.
  • Edit fast and heavy: Get your video down to the shortest possible length, and cut out every last frame that doesn’t have to be in the finished product. You want your video to move, to be urgent, and to leave your audience with a smile or a laugh, not a sigh that you’ve overstayed your welcome.
  • Use overlays to add information about your company at the end of the video (or throughout the clip): your website, phone number, email address, or physical address--whatever’s most appropriate for your business. Other than this, ignore all the other “special effects” your editing software or camera may offer.

Polishing Your Video

Once your video’s done, polish it for publication and consumption. First, make sure you have a Channel. All YouTube accounts automatically have a Channel associated with them, which you can customize by clicking the Edit Channel button on your Channel’s home page. Here you can promote a featured video, connect to social networks, and add links to your business’s website. You can get fancy with a corporate logo and custom background, too; the more branding, the better.

Don't forget to tag each video with related topic keywords.
When you upload your video, use the same guidelines as you would for creating any page of content on the Web. Thoughtfully use the keywords you want to optimize for, add descriptions, and check your spelling. Don’t spam the fields with excessive keywords, but be savvy about the use of synonyms that searchers might type when searching for content like yours. YouTube suggests popular terms once you start typing inside its search box.

Adding captions or subtitles to your video is a great idea (Google explains how), not just for accessibility for the hearing impaired but for SEO purposes, too. It shouldn’t take more than a few minutes to caption your video if you’ve kept it short.

Also, if you’re making video an ongoing project, invite viewers to subscribe to your Channel. Subscribers get new videos sent directly to their home page, making this one of the best ways to keep fresh content in front of your audience.

Promoting Your Video

Finally, a great video is useless unless you promote it properly, so rally your other social networking connections to get the word out. By now you know the drill: Use Twitter, your Facebook pages, Google+, and even LinkedIn to tell the world to check out your creation. You’ll want to embed videos directly on your own website, too. If you’ve made your video genuinely entertaining (test it out on a few friends), you can try to take it viral through submissions to StumbleUpon, Reddit, Digg, and other social news sites.

If you aren’t getting the eyeballs, you can promote your video with Google AdWords for Video (now being beta-tested and launching to the public this spring). Video ad campaigns work the same way that text ads work, by letting you bid on keywords and pay-per-view. YouTube explains how the system works here and in the video below.

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