Are You Misusing YouTube?

By TIMOTHY R. HAWTHORNE
Founder, Chairman and Executive Creative Director
Hawthorne Direct

Why traditional advertising methods don’t work in the online viral video space

Depressed that your TV commercial on YouTube has garnered just 79 views after weeks online? You’re not alone. If you look at YouTube as a great place to repurpose your TV advertising into shorter bites for everyone to enjoy and respond to, then you’re coming at the online video trend from the wrong angle. In fact, marketers who use this approach will quickly find themselves scratching their heads over why no one is watching and/or sharing their video clips.

“We see a lot of agencies producing really cool commercials and throwing them on YouTube, thinking that it’s going to have an impact,” says Amanda Vega, formerly a paid blogger for America Online and current CEO of marketing consultancy Amanda Vega Consulting in Scottsdale, Ariz. “It doesn’t work that way.”

Creating the next “Will it Blend” video hit is the rare exception in viral strategies. That’s because in the world of viral video, people are looking for useful, informative and entertaining content that they can interact with and share with friends. Few are interested in DRTV commercials, and they’re certainly not enticed by the hard sell. “Unless what you’re doing is exceptionally creative which is usually not the case then no one is going to be interested,” says Vega, who advises companies to be original when developing online video. “The content needs to be fresh and interesting, not re-warmed.”

Marketers also run into challenges when they assume a “build it and they will come” posture by creating online videos and hoping someone will watch them. “If the company doesn’t already have a following, and a channel to push the message out to,” Vega explains, “then the results will be pretty poor.”

Those firms that post videos without the appropriate interaction mechanisms are also missing the boat. To maximize the “social” aspect of online video, you must provide a way for customers to connect with your firm, usually via a comment section located on the screen below the video itself. “Companies that don’t respond to at least some of those viewer comments,” says Vega, “are completely missing out on YouTube’s valuable social media component.”

Vega points to electronics manufacturer LG as a good example of how quickly a traditional advertising approach can backfire on YouTube. “The company took its TV commercials and put them on YouTube, but never responded to anyone’s comments,” explains Vega. “Then it left them up there, thinking “Oh yeah, this is going to transform into a viral campaign.” (The company also re-purposes its blog postings on social networking sites like Facebook.)

“LG assumes it will pick up thousands of viewers and commentaries simply from people looking at its videos and blogs,” says Vega, “but that’s not at all what social media is about.” It is about putting useful information in the hands of viewers, and then inviting them to interact with that content. Here are just a few ways that companies are doing that:

Demoing New Products
Use the video to share a new product, tell how it works and show how it can help improve the viewer’s life. Tell them where they can buy it, and what your customers are saying about it. Invite interactivity (via a comment section, for example) and discussion, both of which differentiate online video from traditional advertising.

Stretching Their Ad Investments
It’s okay to select informational or useful snippets of existing commercials, just as long as you’re not using blatant advertising methods. Remember that the Web is a medium that allows companies to see who’s watching, and responding to, their videos. Online, you’ll be able to track how many times your video has been played, and stretch your advertising investment.

Positioning Themselves as Experts
If you’re known as an expert in your field, consider shooting a one-minute video giving viewers four valuable tips from your area of expertise. A hair salon owner, for example, could highlight three tips for maintaining healthy hair. Make sure you include a place where viewers can leave feedback, and a link to your company’s Web site for more information.

There are literally hundreds of different ways to maximize YouTube’s reach without crossing the line and using blatant advertising. But as many companies have already learned, the portal’s viral component can be unpredictable and difficult to plan for. Remember the crying man who gained popularity with his “Leave Brittany alone plea? Millions of viewers were drawn to it during a short period of time due to the massive sharing of the video, and the subsequent press attention, despite its sheer silliness.

“Viral is something that takes place organically,” says Vega. “Companies have very little control over it, and really can’t say ‘okay, we’re going to make this go viral.” Because online video uploaded to sites like YouTube falls into this category, the best approach is to come up with creative, original content that tells a story that viewers will be interested in.

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