how to

HOW TO: Using Video Effectively – Part II

In our last video post titled: HOW TO: Using Video Effectively – Part I, we talked mainly about why you should consider adding web video to your content offerings and how you can use finished clips to promote your business. In this installment we’re going to talk about the nuts and bolts of actually creating your video content.

There are two schools of thinking when it comes to creating video. The first is that you invest in hiring someone with pro camera gear, lighting and know-how to create a professional and polished finished product. The other option is that you get creative with your iPhone or Flip Camera and create something that feels grittier and more user-generated. I don’t think there is necessarily a “right” answer here. It just depends on how you want your brand to be perceived and the resources you have at your disposal.

If you can afford to hire an agency to create, direct and produce your content for you, then have at it. They should be able to move your project in the right direction. That said, this post is geared more towards those that want to get started in video and want to take a more DIY approach. I’ll warn you, it won’t always be easy and you’ll definitely encounter your fair share of challenges, but if you stick with it the end result will be rewarding.

DECIDING ON A FORMAT

Now that you’ve squared away your budget, you have to decide what the meat of your video is going to be. Are you doing product reviews, interviews with tastemakers and influencers or screencast product demos? You need to decide what format is going to have the most impact on your viewers. For example, if you run a fashion blog you’ll probably get the most traction out of interviewing up-and-coming designers. Selling software? You’ll probably want to highlight your product through a series of screencasts. The format you choose will set the tone of your video series going forward so put some thought into it.

EMBRACE BREVITY

With so many choices available online, the average attention span has dwindled down to next to nothing. It’s hard enough to get people to watch your video in the first place. You’ll loose them for sure if you saddle them with a 27-minute piece that drags on and on. My advice is to keep your videos to 10 minutes or less unless there is a compelling reason for them to be longer. If you have lots of information to cover consider breaking them into bite-sized sections and creating a multi-part series. This will not only make your videos more approachable to your audience, but will also provide you with more content to share and promote.

TAKE CARE WITH AUDIO AND LIGHTING

The two biggest mistakes I see in amateur video production are poor audio and bad lighting. Both can ruin an otherwise great video.

First, let’s talk lighting. I always try to shoot outdoors if possible. There is something about the warm glow of natural light that makes people’s skin tones light up and look great on video (there’s a reason we shoot most “Chatting with ePN” segments outside). If you have to shoot inside, try to find a location with lots of windows or at least a lot of lamps or ceiling lighting. Shooting an iPhone video in a dark corner just won’t cut it.

Next, most people underestimate the importance that sound plays in a great video. If possible use a camera that has an external microphone input. This will allow you to use a handheld mic for interviews or a lapel mic for one-person video segments. Pretty much every camera can be rigged with an external microphone – even an iPhone. If for some reason you can’t work a mic into your shoot, then it’s imperative that you find a quiet place to shoot to minimize background noise. Trying to do a video update on your Flip Cam from the trade show floor may not cut it.

VIDEOLICIOUS

About a month ago I discovered the secret weapon of iPhone video shooting. It’s called Videolicious and it’s a free app that lets you create a fairly professional video piece with absolutely no editing experience whatsoever. I could try and explain it, but I think it would easier to show you an example of a video I put together for my personal blog.

I created that video in about 20 minutes. First, I filmed short clips of New York and BlogWorld Expo. Then I told a brief story while sitting in my hotel room. After I was happy with that take, I selected soundtrack music from the Videolicious library. Finally, I uploaded the finished video to YouTube from my Phone and published it to my blog.

I used this tool for a quick diary update from BlogWorld New York, but imagine what you could do with more time and some imagination. Oh, and Videolicious is FREE.

EDIT CAREFULLY

Editing is a good thing. It trims the fat and helps viewers focus on the most important parts of the content. It can also add polish to your project by adding titles and graphics. That said, I would caution you to not get sucked into the Hollywood trailer mentality. More is not always better. Try to keep your videos more organic and let the quality of your content tell your story rather than relying on flashy editing. I think your users will put more stock in its authenticity.

ENCODING

If you’re uploading content directly from your phone, the encoding decisions will be made for you. If you happen to be using an editing program like Final Cut Pro, Adobe Premiere or even iMovie, you’ll want to take some care in dialing in your encoding parameters for the best possible sound and picture. YouTube and Vimeo offer their own suggestions and are a great place to start. From there you can tweak various settings to your liking.

TAKING THE LEAP

Like most things in life the best way to get better at producing video is to just do it. You’ll start to develop your own tips, tricks and workflows and your videos will get better.

I know a lot of you already produce video content on your website. What have you learned about producing video that could be helpful to other publishers? What are some of your best tips and tricks? Please leave a constructive comment below.

HOW TO: Ways to Source Great Content for Your Blog

One of the most important tools a business can have in its marketing arsenal is a great blog. Your corporate homepage is important in establishing your credentials and legitimacy, but your blog is what gives your business its identity and personality.

When I speak to business owners about starting a blog, I usually hear three reasons why they believe it’s not possible for them:

1. We don’t have anyone in-house that can write well.

2. We don’t have the resources to commit someone to this for the long-term.

3. We tried starting a blog before but ran out of ideas.

I’ve heard these concerns (and about a hundred more) repeatedly in my time in the online marketing space - they are all valid. That said, how do we remove those obstacles while sticking to our day-to-day business goals and not breaking the bank hiring a dedicated blog resource?

Let’s address these in order, shall we?

We don’t have anyone in-house that can write well.

Writing takes practice - you don’t decide to be a blogger one day and start writing with the finesse of a New York Times journalist the next. It takes time to find your voice and develop your writing style. The only way to do that is to keep at it…often. Instead of surfing CNN everyday during your morning coffee break, decide that you’re going to spend that time writing something of value for your business. It can be a clever Tweet, a comment in an industry forum or a Facebook update. It doesn’t have to be a blog post – just something that furthers your writing abilities. It takes practice, but I promise if you put in the time, you will get better.

We don’t have the resources to commit someone to this for the long-term.

Every business has resource constraints. You need your people focused on tasks that generate revenue or ensure the flow of smooth day-to-day operations. It’s just not in your budget to hire someone to dedicate to blogging. I hear that often and I get it.

Here’s the thing – it doesn’t have to take much time. Somewhere along the way we got the notion that an interesting blog needs to contain articles that are 5000 words and read like a dissertation about your chosen field. Sure, there’s a place for that style of in-depth writing and analysis, but it doesn’t have to be on your blog. Instead, try bookmarking a few of your favorite industry publications and read a few articles every day. When you find one that evokes an opinion, emotion or point of view from you, write about it. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel, simply copy and paste an excerpt from the original source into your blog (giving credit and linking to the original article of course), then write a paragraph or two about why you agree or disagree with the author’s original post. This not only provides a great shortcut to writing compelling content, but you also succeed in establishing yourself as an authority in your field by sharing your opinion on a relevant piece. As a bonus, the author of the original article will appreciate your inbound link to his/her blog and may even comment on your interpretation. Win win.

We tried starting a blog before but ran out of ideas.

While the approach of commenting on other people’s articles is one way to get new ideas for content, I get that sometimes we just hit mental roadblocks when writing. In my role here at eBay Partner Network I’m responsible for writing anywhere between 3-6 new articles per week for this blog. Sometimes ideas flow out of me, but more often than not I sit down at my laptop and my mind goes blank. How do I combat that?

My solution is somewhat simple. I carry my iPhone with me everywhere and when something or someone inspires me with a great idea for a story, I open the “Notes” app on the phone and jot down as many bullet points as I can think of. It’s usually not a fully formed set of sentences, but instead a free-flow stream of consciousness. I get as many points down as I can and I save it for later. To date I’ve found inspiration on airplanes, bar stools, city streets, conferences and even playing with my daughter. By taking this approach I hold anywhere from 10-15 ideas in reserve at a time. It’s saved the day more than once for me.

Making the Commitment

At the end of the day, there isn’t just one way to approach your blog. It is a daunting task to take on, for sure. It requires focus and commitment from the highest levels of the organization. I bet that if you use some of the tips I’ve mentioned and force yourself to keep a content schedule, you’ll see a marked level of improvement in the areas of SEO ranking, customer engagement, relationship management and recognition of expertise in your field.

As an ePN publisher we want you to be successful and I think this is a great vehicle to help you get there. I know there are a lot of smart people in our community and I’d love to get your thoughts about how you create and maintain an interesting, relevant blog presence.

HOW TO: Using Twitter to Grow Your Audience

FollowMe As publishers at eBay Partner Network, many of you use websites or blogs as part of your business model. That means you’re constantly thinking about how to increase traffic to those properties and stimulate more engagement with your brand. Today I want to talk to you about how you can accomplish that more effectively using Twitter.

GETTING STARTED

First, if you haven’t already, sign up for a Twitter account. Choose a handle that best represents your brand – for example, if the name of your site is “Fashion Mall,” try to secure @FashionMall as your Twitter handle. Obviously, Twitter’s popularity has made it more difficult to get the exact moniker you want, but try and get it as close as possible.

Once you’ve registered, you’ll want to make sure your profile is complete. Make sure you talk about your brand in a succinct way in the description field, and be sure to include your site URL. You’d be surprised how many businesses don’t do an adequate job filling in these pieces of information leaving potential followers bewildered about who you are and what your business does.

CONTENT IS KING

The type of content you create and share on Twitter is essential to your success. Ideally, the goal is to get people to click on links you’ve shared that bring them back to your website. You accomplish this by creating content of interest on your web properties and distribute those links via your Twitter account. That means you have to make sure there’s a constant flow of new and exciting things happening on your site.

Be careful about using Twitter solely as a megaphone. Your followers want a well-rounded experience in regard to the types of content you share. Make a point to comment on, and share, content you discover from other relevant sources in your industry. So, if you’re an auto site, don’t just link to content from your own blog. Instead, share links from other auto sites and comment on why you think it’s interesting or valuable to your followers. This conveys that you’re interested in building a community, not just shilling your wares all the time.

BUILD YOUR COMMUNITY

Building a substantial community on Twitter can take some time. If you want a genuine, passionate set of followers, there are no shortcuts.

First off, use Twitter’s search function to locate other users that are interested in the same things in which your brand specializes. Follow them. Take a look at their recent Twitter stream and make comments on any tweets you find interesting. Try to offer a unique perspective or add value in some way. Saying “hey, nice tweet” or “yeah, I agree” doesn’t add much to the conversation and just increases the noise level. Over time, the community will notice your participation and will follow you back.

Second, make sure your customers know you’re on Twitter. Make sure that your handle appears on all of your marketing collateral including your homepage, blog and any email communications. This holds true for any other social channels you participate in, including Facebook, YouTube and Tumblr. This lets your base know that you want to interact with them in a variety of ways.

Finally, make sure to nurture your Twitter community. Nothing makes followers lose interest faster than a social media account that is left unattended for long periods of time. Try and make it a priority to find at least one thing to say on Twitter everyday. This will show your growing community that you’re present and engaged.

TERMS OF SERVICE

While we at eBay Partner Network believe in the tremendous impact Twitter can have in growing your business, I want to remind you that it is against our terms of service to drive traffic directly to eBay from your Twitter account. Instead, the desired lead path is for a user to find you on Twitter, click through to your web property and complete the click to eBay from your domain. This approach not only keeps things within our TOS, it also has a better chance of building a long-term supporter of your brand.

I’d love to hear about your experiences using Twitter to build your brand presence. Please leave a comment below.

-Scott