How To

Getting on the Video Blog Bandwagon

Using Vlogs as Marketing Tools

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When Ed Dale and Dan Raine wanted to entice people to earn their first 10 dollars online "without investing a dime," the pair used an online marketing approach that included a video web log, or "Vlog," to teach cybersurfers about the basics of Internet marketing, search engine optimization (SEO) and various other strategies.

The pair posted its "30-Day Challenge" Vlog daily and focused less on the "sell" and more on educating consumers about the fine points of making money online. Dale and Raine put the information out there using this "blog on steroids" tool, provided the information, and then sat back while eager recipients set out to begin creating their own online businesses. Only when the 30-day challenge was over did they start to offer their Internet business products.

"They weren't trying to sell anything at first, and just used the Vlog to get the word out about the challenge," says Stephanie Cottrell Bryant, author of Video Blogging for Dummies (Wiley, 2006). "It worked well because it put the information out there in a video format that was easy to access, and that allowed viewers to make their own decisions about buying the product."

The 30-Day Challenge folks aren't alone in their quest to use video to create strong online marketing messages. In 2000, Adam Kontras launched the first known Vlog called "The Journey," detailing his move to Los Angeles and his attempt to break into show business, but it wasn't until 2005 that companies caught onto the trend. Since then, BMW has used Vlogs to share its newest cars with rabid fans and Weight Watchers uses them to spread the word about its customers' success stories.

Unlike their blog forebears, Vlogs feature videos rather than photos or text. As online video viewership continues to climb—and as sites like YouTube grow in worldwide popularity—so too does the Vlog's profile. This is especially true among marketers, a great many of whom now incorporate video storytelling in their Web sites.

Getting started is fairly simple. Start with a camera (or Web cam) and video editing software that allows you to shoot the Vlog, and then edit it as needed. Mac users typically turn to iLife or iMovie to do the job, while Windows users have their choice of either Windows Movie Maker (which was free with the operating system up until Vista came along), QuickTime Pro or Adobe's Vlog It!, the latter of which allows for easy dragging and dropping of photos, video and music clips into the Vlog.

To come up with the content, Daryl H. Bryant, CEO at customized Web development firm Hudson Horizons in Fairlawn, N.J., says companies should be thinking about how to keep viewers intrigued with upbeat, interesting videos, photos, music and supporting text that compels the audience to share clips with friends, family and colleagues. "The driving force behind the YouTube explosion is the ability to put up a 2-minute video about your company or product," says Daryl Bryant, "and have it instantly become viral, with people passing it along to one another."

That brings us to an age-old Internet rule: keep the content fresh. Much like companies that update their Web sites regularly, Vlogs need to be kept current and relevant in order to retain their viewer base. Aim for Vlogs that are two to five minutes in length (any more and you'll bore viewers, any less and your impression won't last), and that incorporate visual breaks for viewers, such mixing in graphics, still photos, a video clip of a trade show presentation or an advance peek at a new product.

"If you don't break up the monotony," says Stephanie Cottrell Bryant, "people will stop paying attention and move on."

Remember that the best Vlog in the world won't do your company any good if no one watches it. One of the top ways to get those eyeballs is through Web syndication that enables distribution of video over the Internet using either the RSS (Real Simple Syndication) or Atom Syndication formats. That way, viewers can not only watch the videos online, but they can also download them for playback on mobile devices, such as iPods.

Daryl Bryant sees RSS as the best choice for Vloggers who want to publicize and syndicate their content online. To create an even bigger impact, he suggests using FeedBurner to publish, publicize and advertise the Vlog. Recently acquired by Google, FeedBurner provides media distribution and audience engagement services bloggers, podcasters and commercial publishers.

To ensure that your Vlog is developed, distributed and kept updated in the most effective manner possible, Stephanie Cottrell Bryant says the person in charge should be well versed in the ways of Vlogging, and shouldn't be thrown on the job just for the sake of getting the video online quickly. By joining a video blogging group and learning the ins and outs of effective Vlog strategies, she adds, "you'll be more apt to create exciting, interesting Vlogs that people want to watch and share."

Timothy R. Hawthorne is chairman and executive creative director of Hawthorne Direct Inc., a full-service DRTV and New Media ad agency founded in 1986. A 35-year television producer/writer/director, Hawthorne is a cum laude Harvard graduate.
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