Which of our videos are successful and why?

Robert Freedman, an ASBPE past president and senior editor with REALTOR magazine explains how to tell a good web video initiative from a bad one.

Like many publications, our magazine (REALTOR) has branched off into videos, with some successful and others just so-so in terms of traffic. Which ones are working and why? There are five types of videos that  are working well for the real estate agents and brokers who are our readers.

1) Short how-tos. We launched a series called The How-to Minute and the videos are just what the name implies. In more or less a minute (we don’t keep within that time frame  strictly) we approach a small but useful topic. A good example is one we did on how to start a WordPress blog. It’s perfect for a short how-to. It combines narrative and screen shots.

2) More complex how-tos. These are like The How-to Minute but they treat more complicated topics, yet they’re structured very much the same, with narration and depictions of concrete actions. A good example is a how-to we did on filling out a new form from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. New forms can be complicated to understand, so through a combination of narrative, screen shots (with moving arrows pointing to key parts of the form), the video helped make the new form understandable. We’ve had almost 30,000 views of that video, last time I checked.

3) “Master Series” videos. These are video profiles of real estate agents who are very good at a niche, such as selling historic homes. We spend the day with the agent and show them at work. They talk about how they approach deals and viewers see them in their natural environment doing what they do best. These videos routinely get thousands of views and they have a long shelf life, so two years after releasing them, they’re still attracting views.

4) News updates. Our readers have a reputation of being too busy and too much on the go to spend much time reading, so whenever a hot news story is unfolding, we’ll do a news segment on it. The editor sits down with a key person and, after summarizing the issue, talks to the person about what’s happening and where the issue’s going. Graphics and tables slide in and out as needed to reinforce what’s being said. The success of these videos is dependent on how hot the topic is. Hot-topic videos get thousands of views; not-so-hot topics get views in the hundreds. The foreclosure moratorium earlier this year, which banks announced after news reports of their botched handling of millions of foreclosures over the last two years, was a hot news topic.

 5) Economic updates. In these videos, an editor sits down with an economist to talk about what’s happening with the economy as it impacts real estate. These videos attract strong traffic every month, but their shelf life is limited. So we do one each month.

Now, here’s what doesn’t work:

1) Videos of conference sessions. Our experience has been that nothing is more boring than watching people on a panel talk, even if the topic is of interest. Something happens in the translation from a panel discussion to a video that makes these deadly dull. The best you can do is extract the most important sound bites, create a narrative, then plug in the sound bites as needed.

2) The talking head. Having a person look into the camera and talk is dull. This type of “video blogging” only works, in my view, if it’s an extremely important topic and it’s kept short, like 45 seconds. It’s better in most cases to turn it into an interview, at a  minimum, with graphic overlays, to give it a talk-show feel. Not everyone will agree with me on this.

3) Converting a magazine feature into a video — and I mean literally trying to take print feature and “videotize” it without putting the video to any unique use. Talking heads, large blocks of text lifted from the print feature and poked into the video like a bad PowerPoint presentation. It you don’t leverage what’s unique about the video medium, why bother?

Video is about action, which is why how-tos are perfect for the medium in a B2B context, and they’re about speed, which is why they’re perfect for quick news updates. If you keep your how-to narrowly targeted, short, and with lots of illustrative images, you’ll attract viewers and give them something that helps them in their work. On news, if you leverage the speed at which you can pull together a video on a hot topic, people will watch. But if you just train the camera on people talking at a conference, you’ll put your readers to sleep.

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