You’re doing it.  You’re investing in video as a part of your overall social media marketing plan.  You’ve got excellent instincts.  But how do you do it?  You want to put well-designed, professional face to your brand, but you can’t throw many hundreds or thousands of dollars at it right now.

Luckily, you don’t have to.

Consumer-grade video gear has been improving in quality over the years at an exponential rate, putting the power of professional-quality video production in practically anyone’s hands.  With a background in audio and video production and a passion for social media, I’m often asked what constitutes the “essential” video kit for social media.  Here is my shopping list for assembling a versatile, “bare essentials” kit that’s within the reach of everyone.  (Prices are based on Amazon pricing as of 3/18/11)

Kodak Zi8 Pocket Video Camera ($100)It’s been around for a little while now, but it’s still the king amongst an ever-changing crop of pocket HD video cameras.  Why?  First of all, it’s dead-simple to use.  It doesn’t overwhelm with complicated settings, yet is robust enough to offer fantastic quality in standard-definition or in 1080p high-def.  It even takes 5-megapixel still photos.It also has a few unique features that make it perfect for social media.  Highest on my list is an external microphone jack, which accepts a 3.5mm stereo input.  Even on cameras costing five times as much, the on-board microphones are universally lousy.  Putting a microphone on your subject, whether a lapel-style or a hand-held, will vastly improve the end result.  The Zi8 also features a pop-out USB jack, so there’s no extra cords to lug around when you need to connect it to a PC.  It also features an SD card slot, allowing expandable memory limited only to the number of SD cards you choose to carry.  The competiting Flip line from Cisco continues to favor built-in memory, which limits your recording time.
SDHC Memory Card – 16GB ($25)HD video files are huge.  There’s no way around it, so equip yourself for ample recording time.  Luckily, SD memory is standard and cheap.  Go no lower than 8GB, and at least a speed rating of Class 6 to ensure smooth recording and playback.  I recommend memory cards from Toshiba and Transcend.If you can, pick up an extra card or two to keep on hand, even if they’re a little smaller.  If 10+ years of location videography has taught me anything, it’s this — be prepared.  Sometimes you burn through more media than you thought, so have it on hand.  Similarly…
Kodak Li-Ion Rechargeable Battery/KLIC 7004 ($17)Keep at least one extra battery in your kit.  They’re not expensive and they’re more useful than you may know.  The standard battery on the Zi8, depending on conditions, lasts about an hour or an hour and a half.  If you can’t tether your camera to a power outlet for a long-form shoot, an extra battery in your kit always helps.  Likewise, if you’re bad about remembering to charge your camera, an extra battery may be a necessity.
Mini Tripod ($3)Hand-held videos can often trigger viewer nausea.  Don’t do it if you can avoid it.  That said, always keep a tripod on you.  I always recommend getting at least a mini-tripod to keep in your camera bag.  You can set it up on a table-top in a pinch, so why not have it?  I’d still recommend a free-standing tripod, which can be had for under $15, but these mini models are a great essential item to carry in your kit.
Audio Technica ATR-3350 Lavalier Omnidirectional Condenser Microphone ($22)This is a great all-purpose microphone that’s easily tucked away in your camera bag, and it produces fantastic results compared to the Zi8’s on-board microphone.  It is self-powered by a small watch battery, and gives your video’s subject rich, intelligible audio.  It also features an ample 20-foot cord, which is long enough to get the mic on your subject even when they’re situated away from the camera.One side note about the ATR-3350 used in conjunction with the Zi8: The microphone plug is mono and the camera input is stereo.  Plugged in directly, all your sound will be pushed into the left speaker of your viewer’s computer.  Unfortunately, most external microphones feature mono plugs.  You’ll need to get an 3.5mm mono-female to stereo-male adapter to make sure sound is present in both speakers.  You can pick one up at for about 36 cents.  Do not use the one they offer at Radio Shack, as it’s ever-so-slightly different in size, and it may result in audio dropouts.
Sima SL-20LX Ultra Bright Video Light ($30)If anything in this kit would be “optional,” this would be it.  If you’re diligent about shooting in well-lit locations, you can do without this.  But if you’re shooting “run and gun” without advanced knowledge of the lighting conditions, this is a great thing to have on hand.  It’s small enough to fit in your kit, super bright (no, really!) and it comes with a bracket to mount it on the camera via the tripod shoe.  (Note: since it is very bright and not dimmable, I wouldn’t suggest using it if you’re going to be in close proximity to your subject.  You may make them white as a ghost!)
Camera bag ($14)This kit is designed to be portable, so everything fits in a highly portable camera bag that you can take anywhere you go.  I recommend LowePro bags, and for the purposes of this kit, I’d recommend the LowePro “Edit 130” model.  It’s durable, well-designed, and small enough to take on the go.  It features nice compartments for storing extra batteries and memory cards, as well as your external microphone and power cords.  Whether you go with this bag or not, get a camera bag of some kind.  It’s very much worth it.
Sony Vegas Movie Studio HD 9 ($27)I’ve tried a few different consumer-priced video editing products, and Sony’s is still the best.  I’ve long used Sony Vegas’s professional software as my go-to solution for making high quality edits, and their Movie Studio line is essentially the same under the hood.  The only difference is they make certain limitations for the consumer price-tag, but they also improve certain things to make it more user-friendly.  I find it to be the best all-around solution for social media video.  You can add titles, graphics, music, and so much more.  It’s loaded with a great selection of transitions, effects and audio tools.  It’s also great for audio functions like recording podcasts.  If you get really good at it, you can really do a lot with Vegas Movie Studio.One really nice feature is the ability to upload your video to YouTube right off the timeline.  No need to muck around with saving the correct format and uploading it through your browser.  You can literally set it and forget it.  You put in your YouTube login information, select the quality and set the video info, and it will appropriately render your final video and upload it automatically.  It really is a fantastic solution for any social media videographer.

So how’d we do?  We put together a complete end-to-end, turnkey social media video kit for $238.  That’s right… $238!  For little more than the cost of a Cisco Flip Video camera, you can assemble a well-rounded, complete “pro-sumer” video solution.  No longer is doing it right out of the reach of even the most thrify social media professional.

If you are looking to implement such a solution for your business, or would like to tailor or improve upon my “essential social media video kit” for yourself, feel free to contact me!  I love helping individuals and small businesses jump into the exciting world of YouTube.