When CEO Tom Dickson first fired up his low-cost camera to record what happens when you throw a wooden rake handle, among other things, into one of his Blendtec blenders, he had no idea that within days he'd be an Internet superstar. Between YouTube and the company's willitblend.com, viewers have watched these extreme experiments more than 75 million times. His blenders are the ones whirring at Starbucks, but Will It Blend? is what juiced online retail sales more than 500% in the last year.
I can't promise you the same kind of results—Dickson's a funny guy and blending an iPhone or a Chuck Norris action figure is catnip for Web-video addicts. But you don't need a shtick to use video successfully, just a story. The future of Web video extends beyond funny shorts to include live broadcasting as well as interactive apps. The rapid proliferation of video tools reveals several trends that enterprising businesses should learn to exploit in addition to using YouTube, still the big kahuna of the field. Everything discussed below is free to use, although many of these services are in alpha or beta mode and may require an invitation or company approval before experimenting.
Streaming video: Build your own live TV network whenever you need one. There are a ton of tools that let you do this; my current favorite, Mogulus, supports multiple cameras, graphics, and even recorded video if you aren't broadcasting live. (Others to consider are Qik, blogTV, and Kyte.) What would you do with your own network? I used it to report live from the floor of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Companies should have been shooting the action in their booths, so employees or fans of the firm could vicariously share in the excitement.
Cell-phone video: I shot my CES experience using my
Global video: Even if you, like me, speak only English, you can reach customers in, say, Japan, Germany, or Russia using an amazing tool called dotSub. It will add captions to your videos, which can then be translated into dozens of languages. Last year's Pop!Tech conference used dotSub for its live Web video.
Email video: What's the worst part of email? Wondering if the sender is being sarcastic or not. Eyejot brings the eye roll and every other face-to-face nuance to personalized video emails. If your business is on Facebook, it offers a similar service.
Interactive video: Watch the videos over at Asterpix.com, and your mind will race with possibilities. With Asterpix, you can add clickable hot spots to clips. Click on one and open another video or a Web page. This is really great stuff for building how-to videos, because viewers can get the basics in one video or go deep for more detail. I also like how Asterpix lets you display new information next to the video while it runs on your Web site. No matter which services you choose, the most important point is simply to use video. Too many companies don't have clips showing their products, their philosophies, or simple news announcements by their CEOs. Business is a conversation, and video is increasingly how that conversation takes place.
A version of this article appeared in the March 2008 issue of Fast Company magazine.