You Tube“There are almost as many videos viewed in the UK as there are searches done. Everyone recognises the phenomenon of search, and recognises how intrinsic it is to the web experience, but they don’t think about video in the same way.”

When you’re debating bona fide internet phenomena, a few names quickly filter into the conversation. Google, for instance. Facebook, for sure. And also YouTube. In fact, in terms of the share of online time spent on site, YouTube is neck and neck with Facebook as the global leader. The difference is that while video represents a quarter of the web’s traffic at present, it could be as high as 90% in only three years’ time (according to Cisco). This will have huge implications for YouTube – a site which already sees over 20 hours of video uploaded every minute – and also for businesses that want to engage with consumers online.

Organisations are acquainting themselves with social networks like Facebook and Twitter, working out the rules of engagement, and using them as increasingly sophisticated tools to connect and communicate with the customer. The number of organisations using Twitter and Facebook as an engagement tool is estimated to have leapt 250% in six months according to a Palo Alto Networks study.

But the rise of user generated content is also significant and no organisation can afford to dismiss video sharing sites such as YouTube if video’s dominance of the internet pans out as predicted. And while it is an obvious fit for promotional videos, there are many other ways in which YouTube can be used for engagement. And one person who knows about this more than most – and is happy to lift the lid on some of these techniques – is Bruce Daisley, Google UK’s leader for YouTube.

Video archives

“There are almost as many videos viewed in the UK as there are searches done. Everyone recognises the phenomenon of search, and recognises how intrinsic it is to the web experience, but they don’t think about video in the same way,” says Daisley. “It is very easy to think web videos are only for Coca-Cola, or big Nike style brands, but the reality is that businesses of all sizes can connect with customers through video in a very effective way.”

For many brands, this involves creating their own YouTube profile and then archiving their ads on their own YouTube channel. “Most brands have gone in and reclaimed their old archived ads – Guinness, for instance, has got all of its ads on there, which is a fantastic volume of work,” says Daisley. “The brands that are using YouTube best will tag their content and put all of it up there.”

But there are also more sophisticated approaches, designed to get maximum coverage. “Nike is amazing at it,” says Daisley. “For its ‘Show Your 5’ campaign last year it recorded 20 professional clips and then gave video cameras to lots of regular submitters to YouTube, who then uploaded other clips. So the campaign has got about 1,000 clips, which is great for them. And if someone searches ‘Liverpool’ or ‘Birmingham City’, quite often they’ll end up in the Nike channel because a Birmingham City five-a-side game is on there. So it is very clever.”

Such is the power of YouTube that some other organisations have used YouTube as an arbiter for ad campaigns. “We had a car advertiser recently who uploaded their TV ad – which was their set piece creative of the year – and at the same time they uploaded a video which detailed the making of the ad as well. What they found was that the TV ad tracked really badly. However, the behind-the-scenes ‘making of’ did really well. So the guy from the agency suggested that they should recut the ad without all the illusions and special effects, showing how they made it, because clearly that connected with people whereas the big creative overblown ad didn’t connect in the same way.”

Creative ideas

Throwing money at a campaign has never guaranteed success, but certain production standards are expected of television campaigns. On YouTube, however, low-fi is embraced just as much as big budget. As such, the combination of tiny budget and big views is the holy grail for organisations on YouTube, and in particular videos that ‘go viral’.

Creating a successful viral marketing campaign is something of a dark art – “The things that generally work really well are something that puts a smile on your face, has a good story to it… don’t necessarily be too preoccupied with the time, but keep it tight… the consumer has to feel that there is a payoff,” says Daisley – and in some cases it appears there is more luck than judgement involved. However, there are other ways that organisations can create videos that notch up major YouTube views for minimum spend. And firms should think about how YouTube can in some way embody what they want the brand to be about. As an example, Daisley highlights the work of Carphone Warehouse.

“The Carphone Warehouse brand wants to be remembered for expertise – that their sales people know more than the sales people in any other shop. So it noticed the phenomenon of ‘unboxing’, where people queue over night to buy a new gadget, then they take it home and video themselves opening the product and unpacking it. So watching it you’re vicariously experiencing that through them, and the amount of views these videos get is remarkable.

“So to create a tease for the shops, Carphone Warehouse made these low-fi videos of people opening products and uploaded them. It received loads of comments, and people started to go straight to the Carphone Warehouse channel to check out new phones. It was a very simple way of bringing their brand qualities to YouTube. And more and more brands are realising that video is a massive phenomenon, and it can affect small businesses as well as your Nikes and Sonys.”

A direct channel

An increasing number of organisations are also leveraging the fact that YouTube is a direct channel of communication to an audience, posting videos and cutting out the middle man. Toyota recently used it in the wake of its recall saga, to provide customers with advice about the problem, while Eurostar chief executive Richard Brown used YouTube to apologise for breakdowns at the end of last year. But there is also a two-way aspect to the video sharing site that is now being exploited – when Barack Obama recently became the first ever sitting US President to be interviewed on YouTube, he answered text and video questions submitted by users.

“We have 20 hours of content uploaded every minute – an incredible amount – and half of it is commented on and rated,” says Daisley. “The community has always been really responsive, and half the experience of YouTube is that you want to be logged in to add your comments and rate the videos. So Obama is just taking it to the next level with video submissions and so on. He’s really captured the mood.”

And still other innovative ways of using the site to engage are emerging. “YouTube has become something of a shortcut, it is just another way to get these things out,” explains Daisley. “A lot of brands say OK, let’s send people to our YouTube site. But now in fact we’re increasingly seeing brands saying ‘just look for us on YouTube’.” One great example of this is American creative agency BooneOakley, which has effectively turned its YouTube channel into its website, with the video screen providing users with navigation items to demonstrate what they do and providing information, and the timeline providing other details. “A lot of people are using it and thinking whether or not they even need a website – should they just do something on YouTube?”

So where next? With videos forecast to dominate the internet in only a few years’ time, it is time for firms to start thinking about the way that they approach information on the web, according to Daisley. “By one estimation 90% of the web is going to be video in three years time. So we’re not even half way to that yet. Rather than creating two pages of description of what their product it, brands need to be thinking about how they can show what it can do. Even if the audience for that is only 50 people, that video will be such a powerful advocacy message to that community that it is worthwhile.”

And it also raises major questions about the kind of skills that businesses may need to have in-house in the future. Businesses have marketing departments but few have camera men. The old school model would be to commission someone and spend thousands of pounds to produce a hugely creative video – but businesses should consider whether this is necessary in the YouTube age.

“Carphone Warehouse is firmly in the experimental camp and are doing it themselves – their view is that they’re never going to learn if they hire someone,” concludes Daisley. “It is important to recognise that maybe you’re not going to have the same brand values as the TV – but does the community expect you to? The lesson of YouTube is definitely that people have a maturity such that they won’t just disregard something just because it doesn’t look polished.”

Video killed the radio star, but is it also set to kill the internet as we know it? If so, it’s certainly time to start considering what this might mean for our businesses and customers.