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Tech Talk: Make Web video more than talking heads

The blending of video and website content has arrived. It’s everywhere, and startups are popping up all over to support low-cost video production specifically for websites.

But the question now needs to be asked: What are we doing with it? By approaching it without a strategy, are we just making corporate Web videos that are just as boring as corporate Web content?

When websites came along, they were text-based and competed for attention with corporate brochures, and this gave websites license to be as dry as they needed to be. By moving into video, websites are now competing with TV and YouTube, and if your audience is expecting something as exciting as this from your corporate videos, then we need to think harder about what to put in them.

I’ve met several Web video startups recently and I hear this mantra: “Why write text on a page when you can have a video of someone reading the text.” There’s something to be said for keeping people on your site longer, but if you’re going for a full 30 seconds of someone’s time, shouldn’t the video be a really memorable or compelling experience?

Can a CEO be compelling while reading a script?

Going too far

I’ve seen CEOs knock it out of the park with this simple setup. I’ve also seen videographers work extra hard on lighting and props to help add ambience to the performance, which takes a bit of the pressure off the person being filmed. There are ways to pull this off successfully, with a little time and patience. Most companies moving into video on the Web start here.

But then what?

This is the $1 million question, because a commitment to video means you make a lot of videos in order to enjoy the cost benefits of filming multiples instead of a one-off. So do you go down the senior management hierarchy and have each executive talk a bit about the company? After a while, the quantity of similar content starts diluting the effectiveness of the video effort in general, the same way it would if the website contained a letter from each executive.

How many talking heads does a site visitor want to watch in a row? That’s a question that begs some research.

We had the same “how much is the right amount” question pop up when Macromedia Flash software was introduced in 1996. Flash let us put moving image sliders and games on our websites and add lots of sizzle-y motion to the interfaces. It was a game changer, because people were just so sick of static sites. Site users have always responded to a graphically intense, video game-like experience.

We went too far, of course, which is why Flash imagery is now met with eye rolls and knowing looks between clients and developers. Even the basic elements like the website’s navigation had to undulate, roll and fly out as a Flash element. It really was too much.

What should we be doing?

Could video be headed down this path? Maybe, maybe not. Video isn’t as aggravating for site visitors as Flash, and doesn’t cause the same technology issues as Flash, but the enthusiasm for producing content is right there at the same level.

What should we be doing?

-Product demonstrations — Instead of describing what your product does, show it in a video. You can be as serious or lighthearted as you want to be, either is guaranteed to be more interesting than reading a description on your site.

-Put your money where your mouth is — If your brand is fun, and you’re trying to show that you don’t take yourself too seriously, then a candid, funny video can help reinforce this brand position and make a big impact.

-Service scenarios — The biggest challenge that service providers face is that customers never really know when to call them. Making a scenario video that illustrates when your service is needed will help inform your customers and get that phone ringing.

-Elevate yourself above competition — You alone own the content of the videos on your site. Why not compare your competition’s products to yours in a video? Show their product next to yours. Make it visual. The infomercial people have been doing this for a long time. Now it’s your turn.

-Assembly instructions and troubleshooting — Videos can take the place of support calls any day of the week if the videos are clear and really show how to perform the task. I’m not kidding when I say I taught myself how to knit sweaters from watching videos on YouTube.

You get the point, right? Talking heads have their place, but it’s the tip of the iceberg when you think about how useful video really can be. We just need to be a little creative.

Marci De Vries is president of MDV Interactive, a Web consulting firm in Baltimore. Her e-mail address is [email protected] Follow her on Twitter, @marcidevries.