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Lights, Camera, Action: 9 Tips for Creating a Compelling Online Video

Are you using online video to promote your small business? If not, you’re at an increasing disadvantage: Customers who view a product video are up to 85 percent more likely to buy and, according to Cisco, by 2016, 55 percent of all consumer Internet traffic will be video.

In an increasingly crowded media landscape, online video offers entrepreneurs an opportunity to stand out. But without Steven Spielberg’s creativity or James Cameron’s Titanic budget, how can you create cost-effective, compelling videos? These nine tips will help:

1. Know your goals. Start by knowing what you want your video to accomplish, says Kevin D. Johnson, Jr., a director and producer at multimedia production company NorthStarr Media Group. “Your video can look great, but if it [doesn’t achieve your goals], that won’t matter,” he says. You may want to use videos for product demonstrations, employee training, inbound marketing or online advertising. “If you know you need a video but not the type of video to best get your message across," Johnson adds, "a production company can help.”

2. Set your inner child free. “If you’re going to set up a camera, sit at your desk and talk, you may as well not be using video,” says Gary Lipkowitz, chief operating officer at GoAnimate, a cloud based-application that allows users to quickly and cheaply create high-quality animated videos. But many entrepreneurs freeze up at the idea of getting creative. To unleash your creativity, Lipkowitz suggests playing with your children. “Filter out distractions, and let go of that serious, goal-oriented, organized attitude so you can let your creativity flow again.”

3. Loosen up. Check out creative examples of online videos for a list of possibilities. Lipkowitz recommends watching Dumb Ways to Die and fun, schlocky low-budget ‘70s flicks like Toxic Avenger or Hong Kong martial arts movies—they’ll show you that live-action video doesn’t have to look like a Hollywood movie. And, he adds, “The most important thing is to have fun. If you’re having a good time, your audience will have a good time along with you.”

4. Think visually. Because we spend most of our time being verbal, 99 percent of people plan their videos by writing down the words they want to say first, Lipkowitz says. “By definition, that’s flat and bound to fail,” he says. Instead, Lipkowitz urges entrepreneurs to think not just visually but in rich media—including visuals, sound effects, motion and music. “Watch Who Framed Roger Rabbit to see the moment when Roger slips the handcuffs on Bob Hoskins,” Lipkowitz says. “That’s the best definition of ‘rich moments’ I’ve seen.”

5. Get equipped. If you’re shooting live-action video yourself, Lipkowitz recommends, at minimum, an iPhone or GoPro camera, a small lighting kit, a tripod and a good-quality microphone. “Videos made with handheld camcorders and onboard [microphones]," he warns, "almost always come out muffled and badly lighted.”

6. Hire help. A video production company can not only provide professional equipment, sound and editing but can also help plan your video and make recommendations to achieve your goals. “They’ll have insights on new technologies and styles,” Johnson says. Be sure to check out a company carefully to ensure it can deliver a video that fits your brand image. Because videos are more likely to be shared than other types of content, Johnson notes, “Often the video is the only time a person sees something about your company. If the production values aren’t consistent with your brand quality, that hurts your image and could cause you to lose potential clients.”

And live action isn’t your only option. Solutions such as GoAnimate let you create animated videos yourself. Besides being affordable (GoAnimate lets you create a video for as little as $79), Lipkowitz notes that animated videos give you more freedom than live action. “You have total control over the environment, and there’s nothing restricting your imagination,” he explains. “If you want someone to jump off a building, bounce off the ground and hit the moon, it’s a matter of a few clicks. That enables you to tell very expressive stories.”

Animated video is also great for illustrating very big or small concepts, like the workings of a global logistics system or your new microprocessor. “You can’t aim a camera at those things," Johnson says, "but animation makes them viewable and understandable.”

7. Set a budget. Video can cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars (if you do it yourself with your own equipment or a solution like GoAnimate) to several thousand dollars (if you do live-action with a custom video production company such as NorthStarr). Higher budgets buy extras, such as having your video professionally scored, hiring actors or using professional voice-overs, that Johnson says make a big difference to the quality of the finished product.

8. Tell a story. No matter what type of video you’re creating, Johnson says, “you need to tap into human emotions. Why would someone care about this? Whether it’s laughter or tears, emotion is what drives people to watch.”

What’s the ideal length? If your story is good enough, it doesn’t matter how long your video is. “People will watch a poor video for less than 5 seconds,” Lipkowitz offers, “but they’ll watch a great video until it’s done.”

Speaking of great videos, how can you achieve every marketer’s dream—a viral video? While Johnson cautions that there’s no magic formula, he says viral videos almost always have an element of the unexpected. “For instance, we did a video for a rap star and had an 85-year-old grandma rapping,” he says. “That video really took off.”

9. Make the most of it. Making a video is only half the work—then you need to market the heck out of it. “For the best SEO, put a teaser—not the whole video—on YouTube, and link back to your website for the full video,” Lipkowitz says. “Host the entire video with keyword-rich text and the right tags on your own site.” And always have a good video on your home page, Lipkowitz advises. If you do digital marketing, put videos on your dedicated landing pages as well. As Lipkowitz says, “That’s proven to really boost conversion.”

Finally, throw video into your social media mix now and then. Twitter lets users embed videos directly in tweets; short videos (15 seconds max) are hot on Instagram. “Fifteen seconds on Instagram is now equivalent to the 30-second spot on TV,” Johnson says. “Video gives small businesses the ability to reach people like never before—and you don’t need a lot of money to do it.”

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