Youtube_Body.jpgBy Iris Dorbian.


Since its inception in 2005, YouTube, the video-sharing site, has exploded in popularity, becoming a media sensation on par with that of its social media siblings, Twitter and Facebook. Consider these following statistics provided by YouTube: Over three-billion videos are viewed a day, while the site (which was purchased by Google in 2006 for $1.65 billion) attracts on average 800-million unique visitors each month. Plus, nearly 17 million users have connected their YouTube account to at least one social media service. And here’s the final coup de grace—the site is free and easy to use.


It should come as no surprise then that an increasing number of entrepreneurs are starting to explore YouTube  as a part of their marketing strategy. For small business owners eager to jump into the video fray, the following guidelines—and caveats—should help.


Make your videos look professional

Even if you have a very limited marketing budget, your YouTube videos should look crisp and professional. Anything less than that will lower the impression that prospective customers have of your brand and could hurt your reputation. You’re looking to drive traffic to your site and gain customers—not repel them.


At the same time, don’t go overboard. Tell your story—it can be anything from a customer testimonial to a demo of your product or service—simply and without splashy special effects. Leave the blockbusters to silver screen masters like Steven Spielberg or James Cameron.


Caroline Ceniza-Levine, co-founder of the five-year-old SixFigureStart, a New York City-based career-coaching firm, is a small business owner who subscribes wholeheartedly to this best practice. Her company started using YouTube as a marketing vehicle following Ceniza-Levine’s appearances on CNN and CBS news segments to discuss various career-related issues. The appearances not only resulted in heightened attention for SixFigureStart but in additional customers as well.


“Don’t feel like you need to have all the bells and whistles in place,” advises Ceniza-Levine, whose firm usually works with a team of six to 10 associate coaches as needed. “Start with some short video blogs. And if you find that your videos are improving your traffic, it might be worthwhile to invest in a professional shoot.”


Youtube_PQ.jpgBe strategic but also realistic

Shooting a video and then posting it on YouTube when you don’t have a story to tell or a clear-cut marketing objective is a waste of time, energy, and resources, however. Think about why you want to do this and how it will improve your company’s brand equity and bottom line.


For Ted Devine, CEO of Insureon, a 12-year-old Chicago-based insurance company that works with small business clients, leveraging YouTube as a marketing tool is an excellent way of reinforcing what’s most important about his brand. Because Devine believes so strongly in the power of this platform to communicate and engage with customers, launching a YouTube channel was one of the first things he did when he assumed the helm 14 months ago. But he also stresses that YouTube, like display ads or his company’s website, is just one element of Insureon’s media marketing mix.


“I think it’s a mistake for a small business owner to go out there and shoot a video, throw it on YouTube [without knowing why they’re doing it] and then think it’s going to help in any way,” explains Devine. Although such an undertaking might make the small business owner feel good, the elation won’t last unless there’s a specific marketing goal behind creating the YouTube video.

“[In our case] the YouTube platform has to reinforce the elements of the brand that we’re trying to establish as we grow our firm from 30,000 small businesses to 100,000 small businesses over the next two to three years,” he says.


Don’t be obscure in your content

To widen your market appeal, produce videos that are approachable and user-friendly, even if your business targets a specific audience or demographic. Avoid esoteric content at all costs.


Mike Salguero, co-founder of CustomMade, an online marketplace that connect artists with buyers looking to have items such as furniture, jewelry, or musical instruments customized to their needs, agrees.


“There are a lot of videos on YouTube that seem a little too smart,” says Salguero, whose company started using the platform a year ago. “For example, if a maker is teaching you how to make a diamond engagement ring, he/she can get a little too technical about the setting. [What he/she should do is] try to appeal to a broader audience instead of a few people.”


Salguero, who purchased CustomMade in 2009 (it began as a website in 1996), points to professional and home blending company Blendtec’s “Will it Blend?” videos, in which the company’s founder Tom Dickson blends different products such as iPhones and golf balls as a humorous gimmick. These videos’ surprising popularity is an example of huge success attained as a result of appealing to a wide audience. The campaign, which launched in 2006 and still runs, has become a viral marketing phenomenon, garnering awards, publicity, and as of mid-January, over 220-million views on YouTube.


Don’t obsess about being viral

However, just because one company has experienced tremendous breakout success with YouTube viral marketing doesn’t mean you should emulate it as a business model. Think what’s best for your company and how you can achieve it with YouTube.


“There's a common misconception that a video on YouTube needs to go viral in order to be successful,” says Jason Rich, a small business consultant and author of “The Ultimate Guide To YouTube For Business,” set to be published later this year. “That's not the case at all. If a small business creates a video and it's seen by only 100, 500 or 1,000 people and those people wind up making a purchase or becoming a customer of that business, then the YouTube video served its purpose.”


So far, that strategy has worked out well for CustomMade. According to Salguero, in the year that the company has been using YouTube as a marketing tool, the return has been positive.


“We’ve had over 4,000 hours of people watching [our YouTube videos], which is 180 days of watch time,” he explains.  “So basically we’ve been able to capture hundreds of thousands of visitors who probably wouldn’t have otherwise gone to our site. That plays into brand impressions, getting the word out about what we do, and getting various viewers excited about CustomMade and the possibility of buying custom.”


Brevity is best

To better appeal to busy online users, it helps to produce YouTube videos that are five minutes or less in length. Otherwise fickle viewers will feverishly click off and scan for the next video for additional stimuli.


“Shorter videos, and more of them help retain an audience's attention,” says Rich. “Plus the additional videos on a company's YouTube channel will result in more listings when someone uses YouTube or Google to search for video content. This helps to improve a company's SEO [search engine optimization] results.”


Take advantage of the site’s SEO capabilities

Did you know that YouTube is the second largest search engine after Google? For small business owners interested in leveraging YouTube to market their business, that’s a goldmine of opportunity that should not be ignored. 


“Once a business creates a video, it should use the tools available through YouTube to properly title, categorize, and describe the video, and then add highly relevant keywords to it,” notes Rich. “This makes it much easier for people to find the videos via YouTube and Google. Then a company should promote the videos on their own Facebook page, website, blog, and Twitter feed to help promote their videos.”


In this 24/7 digital age, reaching out to customers and prospects via YouTube video can be an effective way of increasing your brand’s awareness and ROI. But without focused messaging and marketing goals, all the clever artistry in the world will not bring you closer to driving up sales and acquiring customers.