With Online Video, You Have 20 Seconds To Capture Your Viewer. Go.

With ever-increasing YouTube lunch breaks and Vimeo dinner dates, online video is becoming a constant companion--one that every brand is rushing to take advantage of. Follow these five tips so you don't turn off would-be viewers.

As I wrote in my last post, online video has seen a huge spike in popularity that will only increase. With the barriers to creating high-quality content continually breaking down, the next five years will see an influx of companies taking advantage of consumers' love for online video. That also means that a lot of brands will fail in their quest to cash in on the current--as well as the forthcoming--craze.

Here are five potential problems with online video that you should make sure to avoid:

1. It Follows The Same Format As Television

Like many people in the social-media generation, my viewing habits have steadily changed from watching my favorite show in its allotted time on its scheduled date to watching it whenever, wherever, and however I'd like on my computer. The social media generation puts accessibility above almost all else, and nothing is more accessible than the world wide web. As a result, a new type of viewing experience has emerged--quick views over your breakfast cereal or during your lunch break. But video producers often fail to cater to this type of viewing experience, instead focusing on what has been successful over the past half-century.

I'm continually amazed that established television brands just port over their content from their shows online and call it their web strategy. It's not only lazy, but it's also incredibly shortsighted. Yes, viewers love to watch television content online, and I like behind the scene shots of No Reservations as much as the next guy, but the current online environment calls for video and content that is made specifically for online audiences. Meaning short-form video with a quality that matches the production level of offline content. Not spinoffs or originally discarded footage, but shows and content made specifically for online viewers. If you don't capture that audience now, you'll be way behind in half a decade.

2. It Relies On User-Generated Content

The past decade of internet technology was the land of the user. In travel, TripAdvisor became the biggest source of travel reviews by letting users put in their own two cents. For video, it was YouTube's endless amounts of humans doing hilarious things that gave everyone a 1-2 minute break during the workday--and a reason to laugh their asses off. While these videos are often hilarious, they have two big problems: the production quality is horrible, and the predictability of whether they'll go viral is incredibly difficult. Very few people would have guessed that a guy blabbering about a double rainbow for five minutes would get 34 million views. Now the online market is over-saturated with tons of low-quality, unpredictable content.

As a result, the next stage the web's evolution lies in curation and original content. For photos, Pinterest has shown the power of curated content; while it has entered the curated video space as well, it has yet to take off. Eventually, a startup will figure out the best way to feature video, or viewers will continue to turn to their Facebook friends to see the newest video. But for curators to surface awesome content, there has to be awesome content to begin with. Original content, from inspirational marketing videos (like Nike's below) to an online-specific show, will continue to rise in popularity. While user-generated content will exist as long as users exist, and can often be very successful, the next five years will see viewers putting curated quality over random quantity.

3. It Doesn't Engage The Viewer

I have a rule when I'm reading a book: If it doesn't capture my attention or pique my interest in the first 50 pages, I'll put it down and never read it again. There are too many good books in print to waste time reading one that doesn't enthrall me in some way (I'm looking at you, Dan Brown). Fifty pages could take more than an hour to get through--that's a decent amount of time to commit. For online videos, start thinking in the 20-second range. Once a user hits play, that video has a very short amount of time to capture their attention before they'll start browsing some other site.

Online video doesn't have the luxury of longer-form shows that a viewer schedules time to watch. More likely, they stumbled upon your video by chance on their Twitter or Facebook feed. They haven't committed to watching their video, but their interest is piqued and they've pushed play. Don't waste that chance. The video must grab and engage them nearly instantaneously--if not, you'll lose potential longterm fans. Unengaging, ported-over content won't survive in our ADD environment.

4. It is too heavy handed with marketing. 

If you're looking to convert viewers into potential customers and brand ambassadors, a well-timed online video is the way to go. However, in an attempt to push the brand, marketing videos often forego authenticity in favor of an over-markety tone. This disengages the viewer and separates them from the brand. Online users don't wanted to be sold to, they want to be engaged.

Brand loyalty stems first from producing the best product possible, but once you've captured a user's attention, it's about engaging that user and making them feel special. Because of their loyalty (whether that's liking a brand on Facebook or signing up for their newsletter), they want to feel as if they are in on a secret that non-followers don't have access to.

So when they see that awesome Red Bull video, not only are they seeing the Red Bull logo, they’re also seeing the world's finest extreme sportsmen doing amazing things on film, exclusively for them. That's something I'll like a company for. Brands should create a movement they believe in--and match their videos to it--rather than slamming their brand down their viewers’ throats.

Be authentic and engaging and the viewers will come. Check out this beautiful Nokia video about pushing their message of "Connecting People"--it's subtle, beautiful, and engaging--just the way a marketing video should be:

5. It's Difficult To Find

I'm continually amazed at the amount of fantastic video content that I come across online. I'm also amazed that I continually watch horrible video content online. The problem is that there isn't a great way to find the good stuff and weed out the bad, (though maybe I need better friends on Facebook). Like Pinterest did for online photography, a new startup will emerge for curated video content.

Until then, you can try to rely on your YouTube homepage (I wouldn't) or head to Vimeo to satisfy your inner video nerd. Today, viewers still have to find content by visiting a company’s actual site, stumbling across it on YouTube or Vimeo, or hoping their friends do the same and share it. Someday soon, however, a site will make online video as well-curated as Pinterest made photography.

Can someone smarter than me please give me the site I hope for? That'd be great. Thanks in advance.

Kerrin is the co-founder of the new travel documentary site Humanity.TV. He is a self-taught filmmaker and photographer with a passion for adventure. Follow him on Twitter and like Humanity.TV on Facebook for inspiring travel videos and photos.

[Image: Flickr user Cordey]

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5 Comments

  • DS Wadeson

    Couldn't agree more! This is what I try and tell our clients and potential clients on a daily basis....

    As for great video-curation sites, your best bet so far is probably the Vimeo homepage and sites like the very one I'm commenting on. 

  • John Root Stone

    Fantastic post, Kerrin. Couldn't agree more with your analysis. I would have posted #5 first, as I believe the others can be mitigated if this issue is addressed first (more targeted, less noise, better experience). And I absolutely agree there are start-ups that are working on this issue...

  • Kestrel Jenkins

    So important today. I truly believe that authenticity falls high on the engagement with your audience; sharing that true and transparent story with your followers is key to building an honest relationship that will develop and grow into the future.

  • START CUT

    Nice Article. I like youir point about discreet marketing. People almost never share videos that are commercials while they do share videos that are entertaining

  • CHRIS MΛRTZ

    When you say "video content online" you are being pretty broad, there are plenty of channels and sites that grab consistently good content, just depends on what you are looking for.

    Devour (http://devour.com/) is pretty decent for this for general video content, alot of it branded advertising (since you seem to like that).
    VHX.tv is coming along pretty well as a general video curation social networkMotionographer (Motionographer.com) is a good site for more animated advertising/films.