Even the best-looking video will fail miserably if the content isn't compelling—and compelling content can compensate for poor production values. Remember that what you shoot is more important than how you shoot it; it's the content, stupid!
When creating content for YouTube, you want to give viewers a reason to come back for future viewings and to share your video with others. It's this sharing that makes for a viral video—compelling content begs to be more widely viewed.
The first rule of YouTube content is the most obvious: Your video must be entertaining. Produce a boring video, and no one will watch it. People like to be entertained. Give the people what they want.
It doesn't matter what product you sell or what your message is. Find a way to make your product, service, brand, or company entertaining. Not necessarily funny (although that helps—as you'll learn shortly), but entertaining—at least enough to keep viewers watching for the entire length of the video.
Trust me on this one. There is absolutely no way on this planet to make a recycled corporate PowerPoint presentation entertaining.
Being entertaining is essential, but so is being informative. A good video needs some meat to it; ask yourself, "Where's the beef?"
The typical name for this combination of education and entertainment is edutainment. That is, useful information presented in an entertaining manner. People might come for the entertainment, but they stay for the information.
Go for the Funny
Remember when I said that your video needs to be entertaining? Well, in many instances, the best way to be entertaining is to be funny. People like to laugh—and they remember the funny videos they view on YouTube.
It's a fact; the majority of top-rated videos on YouTube are funny ones. It's easier for a humorous video to go viral than it is for a deadly serious one to get the same exposure.
That means, of course, that you can't take yourself, your product, or your company too seriously. Your company needs a sense of humor and has to be able to laugh at itself. When you laugh at yourself, your audience will laugh with you, which establishes an emotional connection with your customer.
Keep It Short
One way to kill your video's entertainment value is to make it too long. Viewers today, and especially online, have a short attention span. The YouTube audience is the post-MTV generation, which means even a three-minute video has trouble holding its attention.
It's imperative, then, that you keep your videos short enough so that viewers don't tune out midway through. How short is short? It depends on who you ask; some experts say five minutes at the top end, some say one minute or less, and some even say 20 seconds is ideal. My recommendation is to keep your video no longer than two or three minutes—and the shorter, the better. Videos longer than three minutes or so typically don't get big viewership.
That doesn't mean you have to produce a video that's exactly three minutes long. As I said, shorter is better. If you can say what you want to say in 60 seconds, great. If you need the full three minutes, take it. But take into account viewers' short attention spans, and present your message quickly and efficiently.
If you have a message that takes more than three minutes to present, consider chopping it up into multiple shorter videos that you can then combine into a YouTube playlist. For example, if you want to post a ten-minute speech, edit it into four segments of two to three minutes apiece.
Keep It Simple
You don't have to spend a lot of money on a YouTube video for it to be effective. In fact, it's easy for a company to spend too much money on its videos; the result is typically an overproduced monstrosity that looks horrible online. In many cases, a single person talking directly to a camera is all you need.
Part of keeping it simple is focusing on a single message. Remember, you have only a few minutes at most to communicate to YouTube viewers. Don't spend that time trying to show your entire product line, or even multiple features of a sophisticated product. Hone in on a single product and communicate its strongest feature or benefit. One video per product or feature should be your rule.
Communicate a Clear Message
Whether you produce a talking-head video or one with a cast of thousands, make sure the message of your video is clear. Viewers have to come away with a clear idea of what you're selling and why they need it. Don't let the production get in the way of the message.
One way to do this is to test your video by showing it to a few people—family, friends, colleagues, whatever. Ask them to give you a single-sentence description of what they've just seen. If they can't repeat your message simply and succinctly, then you haven't communicated your message well—and you have more work to do.
Avoid the Hard Sell
Even though your message should be clear, you don't have to hit the viewers over the head with it. On YouTube, the soft sell works better than the hard sell. That's why a how-to video showing your product in use typically works better than a straight-ahead product demonstration; the former is a soft sell that communicates a subtle message to the viewers—who will typically turn off a harder message.
In other words, infomercials and edutainment are better than straight advertisements. In fact, if a video feels like an ad, most YouTube viewers will avoid it like the plague.
If you show your product in a video, make sure you show it well. You need to clearly demonstrate your product throughout the course of the video; fortunately, video is uniquely suited for this sort of detailed product demonstration.
Keep It Fresh
The video you create today will be forgotten a month or two from now. With users posting thousands of new videos on YouTube every day, your video will quickly become yesterday's news. This requires you to update your company's video library continually; you need to either replace or refresh older videos on a regular basis. If you go more than a few months without posting a new video, your company's channel will lose viewership.
Design for Remixing
Here's a tip for advanced video marketers. The Internet and YouTube encourage interactivity; passive viewership is rapidly becoming a thing of the past. To that end, consider the act of remixing when creating your videos. That is, design a video that viewers can edit, adding their own dialog and music, or even cutting and pasting elements in a different order. When you encourage viewer interaction, you make a stronger connection with potential customers; you make them feel as if they're part of the process, and thus uniquely invested in your success.