The amount of videos posted online continues to grow with seemingly no end in sight. A recent study by Cisco predicts that by 2017, videos will account for 69 percent of all consumer Internet traffic—a 12 percent jump from 2012. Webisodes, or web series, will certainly be part of this upswing in viewership. Like scripted broadcast or cable programming, webisodes can have an ongoing story and intriguing characters—but instead of merely entertaining viewers, they can also build awareness of your brand, forge stronger ties with your customers, and provide content that is relevant and useful.
Frame them like stories
Although webisodes are often used as part of a business strategy, experts warn that they are not commercials in disguise. Customers and potential buyers will not sit still for watching a long sales pitch spread out over multiple segments. "Entertaining, engaging content is always king," says Curt Mercadante, president of Charleston, South Carolina-based Gravina Online Strategies. "Webisodes are like a TV show where people are left wanting more."
Webisodes can tell stories through different dramatic formats to stoke viewer curiosity and keep them involved with the storyline. For example, Mercadante has partnered with a firm called Feed.Us that develops web-based content management applications. Instead of a hard, direct pitch about the features and benefits of their products, Feed.Us produced webisodes about two of their technicians who answer customer problems over the phone, "but they built [it around] this soap opera of webisodes that has a funny romance," Mercadante says. "They filmed the webisodes at their desk. Sometimes a grainier look is better because it has that human feel."
Some webisodes have recurring characters or an ongoing plot, but others can center on a common theme. Mercadante produced webisodes for the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform called Faces of Lawsuit Abuse. While these looked like mini-documentaries or news segments, they also tell stories of victims of lawsuit abuse. "The [institute's] product is lawsuit reform, but it is rarely mentioned in any of the videos," Mercadante explains. "It's less about selling the action and more about telling the story about being real life victims."
Like a morning talk show
Some businesses are comfortable producing webisodes internally. Others find that using a familiar talk show format and a seasoned interviewer can bring out and capture the essence of their business and the personality of the business owner in a more accessible way.
"The video needs to be professional if they want the business to look professional," says Bella Shaw, a former anchor for CNN who now does videos for the BzS business webisode series. Shaw begins by doing a pre-interview with the subject and using questions before the filming to draw out key points, such as: What makes you the star of your own business? What sets you apart from the competition? What success stories can you share? What is something people would be surprised to know about you? Shaw will also send out an in-depth memo that covers everything from what the subject should wear to how to use simple language and stories to make their points.
"A lot of people are nervous in front of the camera, but I tell them that this is a conversation," Shaw says. "The nice thing is, it's not live. I know when I have my sound bite. If I don't get what I need, I rephrase the question in a way that we can get that."
The interview takes place on a set that looks like a morning talk show, with footage of the subject at their business or doing something unexpected edited in later. "You have to have good visuals," Shaw says. "We did a video of a company called Ladyface Ale, a brewery in Calabasas, California. We showed the owner taste testing and walking around the plant. Anything moving makes really good video."
Taking it on the road
Webisodes provide great flexibility and versatility for involving viewers in a storyline. Just ask Jacob Ballard, self-proclaimed grand pooh-bah of iWebXpert, an Asheville, North Carolina-based company specializing in Internet marketing.
In April 2013, Ballard and his brother, a company vice president, took off for a two-month road trip across the United States for the purpose of interviewing small business owners, pushing the benefits of entrepreneurship—and marketing their own company as well. They edited the videos into a series of webisodes called Big Town Small Business.
Some of the interviews were set up in advance, but others were more spontaneous. "We had a wireless Internet card that we would use to research some unique creative companies while we drove," Ballard says. "We didn't get a 'yes' from everybody we reached out to, but we got a pretty good response from the people we were able to interview."
Eight videos were posted on the iWebXpert website, each about eight to 10 minutes in length. "Along the trip we got three clients from some of the businesses we actually interviewed, which was not intended," Ballard says. "The expense of the trip was made back in less than a month upon returning."
Creating videos for clients has now become a major source of new business for Ballard. For small business owners who want to produce their own web series, Ballard offers this advice: "First, you need to be consistent [in your format]. Second, provide great content. Third, plan out the strategy behind your webisodes and how it's going to help your business. Videos are a win from every angle you look at for your website, for telling your story, and for marketing."