How HuffPost Live Is Changing the Social Video Model

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What Users Want From Social Video

Examining how and why HPL is effective at what it does requires an evaluation of how social video has changed and what users value in the videos they watch nowadays.

"The most successful social video campaigns have conversation built into the content because its unique power lies in its ability to create an emotional connection. And because it's so easy to share, social video can ignite and amplify conversations at a speed and scale unimaginable prior to the advent of the social web," David Waterhouse, head of content and PR for Unruly, a video technology company in New York City, says. "This is its unique selling point versus other media channels such as TV, cinema, or print. Video is the most social of media-it's more personal than a static image, more persuasive than written text, and more emotive than the spoken word."

Video also offers an ideal means of creating more passion around your brand and more connections with your users. As users become more engaged, they become advocates for your brand, which drives video as a useful social channel for business.

"You can pack a lot more messages into this medium than you can a 140-character tweet," says Catherine Gluckstein, president of SumAll in New York City. "And engaged users can crowdsource to create great content that supports what you're doing as a brand."

Cantin says that people quickly grow tired of reading and looking at pictures, "but video really makes a product and service pop. It helps a client get a feel for your company and makes a far warmer impression that just doesn't convey very well using any other type of media. Video builds trust, whereas pictures build intent."

Many of the most successful social videos are unexpected zeitgeist phenomena that capture users' attention with brief but engaging content that makes you smile and want to share the experience. Case in point: the successful series of Will It Blend videos by Blendtec-featuring a mad scientist of sorts who successfully grinds up smartphones, tablets, and other nonedible objects in the company's industrial-strength blender-exemplifies how social video can be effectively used by companies with even the blandest of wares.

"Think of the Harlem Shake and other viral videos. It's all about being of the moment and honing your content to mean something that makes it relevant," Gluckstein says. "But the timeline for social media is much shorter than other media-things rise and die very quickly."

Webcasting 101

Whether you're selling widgets in the brick-and-mortar world or promoting an intangible product or service in the digital domain, "[W]e're all in the content game now, and everyone has to create content that keeps users interested," says Jose Castillo, founder and president of Think Jose, LLC, in Johnson City, Tenn. "If you're not yet doing live videos or streaming, you need to or you're going to miss the bus."

Today's culture demands instantaneous stimuli and spontaneity. People want to see things as they're happening, and live streaming and webcasting your content creates immediacy-people can chat, interact, and provide feedback in real time.

Webcasting also can be a great means to showcase all manner of absorbing stories about your company and what it offers, including behind-the-scenes segments on what you produce, interviews with partners and collaborators, employee spotlights, trending designs, upcoming events and promotions, and other industry-related news.

The most important rule any live online streaming model must follow today is to know your audience, which will dictate the path, hours of programming, and subject matter you need to establish, says Cantin, who tries to create approximately 1 hour of new business video content every 2 weeks.

Live webcasting can be risky, however; you can generate negative posts and disparaging user comments and provoke an instant social media backlash if your content is subpar. "But the positive benefits greatly outweigh the negatives," says Castillo.

While it's not practical or cost-effective for every business to create hours of original live or recorded programming to stream, it's important to determine what content will be most appealing and interactive for your core audience and to deliver it creatively-all while ensuring that it's as accessible and on-demand as possible, says James Fletcher, commercial director at CDN.net, a content delivery network (CDN) provider in London.

Users nowadays are also looking for interactive broadcast activity that lets them contribute their own thoughts, "which is why webcasts that allow for audience engagement through a Q&A, for example, are quite successful," says Fletcher. "Being able to share content with friends and family is important as well."

Tools of the Trade

Churning out ample chunks of social video doesn't have to be prohibitively expensive, but it will require an investment in technical resources such as a reliable domain with the necessary bandwidth for streaming, sufficient storage for video files, clip editors, and lighting, camera, and sound equipment.

McDonald says HuffPost Live simply employs a webcam and Google Hangouts to bring guests on air, although the underpinning technology used to create the platform is a proprietary content management system that allows for real-time guest management and production.

If you want to take the easiest route to social video without radically revamping your site, consider using YouTube, where you can webcast recorded or live content for free if you have at least 1,000 fans.

Publishers and content providers should also be incorporating Google Hangouts into their social video programs, "as they can allow for 10 people to have a conversation live and the capability to be broadcast to your audience," says Martin Hayward, director of marketing for dynamic delivery network Mirror Image Internet, Inc. in Tewksbury, Mass.

Two more gratis apparatuses that can further your social video cause are Instagram and Vine. Integrating either platform can provide an effective way to tease out some of your content and drive viewers to the full videos, says Hayward.

Before Jumping Into the Stream

Prior to creating a social video strategy, clear goals must be set. Ask yourself: Do you want it to drive awareness or increase engagement with a particular audience? And what are the key metrics that need to be developed for your campaign/project that may change, based on your goal?

"If the goal is to drive awareness, you'll want to look at metrics like the number of times your video content is played and the number of times the video is mentioned in editorial articles," says Waterhouse. "If you want to drive action, metrics like click-through rate or volume of traffic should be used to measure campaign success."

Once the goals are determined, your video player technology can be customized to drive user action in these areas. If you want users to have a prolonged, meaningful experience with your brand via your video, for instance, your player can be outfitted with multiple videos, different apps, and other items that increase dwell time. If your aim is to strictly drive views and shares, you may want to offer a simpler player, as a user is likely to click only once or twice and a minimal player will avoid distracting activities.

As with any content, a successful social video launch takes a lot of careful planning, investment, and infrastructure, Gluckstein says. "A subpar offering will negatively impact your brand. It's got to be good quality content that people can engage with."

To better ensure a successful rollout, Been suggests reaching out to your audience and asking for their feedback.

"What do they want you to provide?" asks Been. "Do they enjoy or want video or live streaming? Is there a need for the video to be edited for content? Is there a quality concern over live streaming versus edited and produced video?"

If you're thinking about streaming live and original content, Brian Coughlin, social media and SEO analyst for OpticsPlanet, Inc., in Northbrook, Ill., recommends creating a focused series that's on a limited amount of time first.

"Consider streaming a live show that teaches a skill or instructs in another way. Or (deliver) the news in a single dose for a particular industry that's not served as well in other media at present. Whatever approach, you need lively discussion and talented hosts to keep people interested," Coughlin says.

Additionally, encourage users to upload video comments and look for ways to provide an incentive for these uploads, says Russ Somers, vice president of marketing for Invodo, a business video strategy firm in Austin, Texas.

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