YouTube is one of the most revolutionary creations of our time.  When I was in college, getting your stuff on cable access felt like a big deal.  Now anyone with a $100 handheld camera and a broadband connection can put video in front of millions of people.  That’s a big reason why I think it’s so important to harness the power of YouTube in an overall social media marketing strategy.  A clever, well-made video can achieve great things that a written article cannot.

I come from a media production background, so I’m notoriously picky when it comes to YouTube videos, especially ones done by advertising agencies.  I’m not saying every video needs to be Emmy-bait, but there are certain things that make videos stand out amongst the thousands of videos posted to YouTube every day.  People walk out of bad movies every day, and it’s a heck of a lot easier to make a bad YouTube video go away.  A little basic effort and fore-thought goes a long way to conveying your message.

Here are a few pet peeves of mine when it comes to YouTube videos done for small businesses:

Bad sound.  If you’ve read any of my past blogs on social media video, you’ve probably heard this a million times.  Poor sound is the achilles heel of any video, whether it’s on YouTube or not.  There’s no excuse for poor, virtually inaudible sound, and the vast majority of social media videos suffer from this.  A simple $20 microphone and an inexpensive camera that supports external microphones are easy to obtain.

If you are absolutely stuck with a bad camera or no external microphone, some basic common sense techniques can help.  Get as close to the camera as you can without your frame looking cramped.  Have your subject speak clearly and loudly (without shouting).  Shoot in an environment devoid of background noise, and shoot indoors to avoid wind noise from invading your soundtrack.  There are also things you can do in editing to raise the level of your speaker’s voice, tune out background noise, and make it clear.

Overbearing music.  This is especially bad when you don’t treat the first problem I’ve warned you about.  I’ve been seeing a lot of videos where music is added to the background, but at a level that greatly overpowers the subject.  If you start with bad recordings in the first place, music makes things worse.  I’d much rather hear the speaker over a barely audible music track than labor to make out what someone’s saying over an oppressive music track.

Too many editing gimmicks.  Many affordable editing programs are packed with all sorts of fancy effects and transitions.  Used in a meaningful way, they can greatly add to your overall presentation.  Used excessively, they make it look amateurish.  When your message is captivating, there’s never a need to use a star-wipe.  I’ve seen videos where it looks more like a demonstration catalog for an editing program’s effects than a video about a business.  Use them sparingly, or with purpose.  Impress with your message and vision, not with your editing skills.

Video runs too long.  Now that YouTube is opening up many accounts to upload clips that are longer than 15 minutes, I’ve been seeing a number of videos where the narrative drags and drifts.  Keep your videos concise, informative and entertaining.  A video that’s tightly-paced and informative is vastly more effective than one that’s all-encompassing and takes forever to watch.  Our attention spans are growing ever shorter, so the best way to get us to get your whole message is to encapsulate it in a concise, easily-consumable bite (or a series of them).

Sounds too scripted.  I come down on either side of this issue.  While sometimes it’s good to have at least a general outline of what you want to say, sometimes a video sounds very much like someone reciting a blog.  If you’re going to do that… blog!  Speaking off the cuff naturally, or in response to questions, feel more genuine and human than tightly-scripted pieces.  I know it’s often hard to tell someone “loosen up!!!”  But feel free to have fun with your videos.  Do a couple takes if necessary and pick the best one (or the best pieces from several).  Natural trumps canned every time.

Too much telling, not enough showing.  Of course it’s easiest to tell us what you do.  It’s better to show us what you do.  The reason you choose to make something a video instead of a blog is because you can do things with video you can’t easily convey in the written word.  Don’t hold your audience at arm’s length.  Bring them into your process, pull back the curtain, and give them something they might normally get coming into your store or frequenting your business.  If you’re a restaurant, cook on camera!  If you make better widgets than any other widgetmaker in town, show us a little bit about how your widgets are made!  Don’t just tell us… show us!

Distracting trimming of longer dialogues.  You want to keep your videos concise, but if you’re shooting someone who rambles on and on (and we’ve all faced that), what do you do?  Many will simply trim spaces out of a continuous span of dialogue, resulting in a video that appears jarring or scattered.  You can doctor it up slightly with transitional effects, but there are better ways to go about trimming dialogue for time.  Shoot some “b-roll” footage, or shots that you can use to visually cut away from your speaker.  If they are talking about something their business is doing, shoot some footage of that and cut it into places where you want to economize a long speech.  It adds to the overall visual interest of the piece, and gives you the opportunity to clip a long speech into shorter, more digestable bits.

Disallowing embedding, comments and ratings.  Don’t be anti-social.  If you’re putting something out there on YouTube publicly, allow sharing and feedback.  Not only is it good for video discovery and sharing, but it’s also a great way to engage your audience in a dialogue.  Don’t be afraid of the criticisms that may arise.  As long as they remain respectful, they may prove to be learning experiences.

Video slideshows.  With services like Animoto making it easy to create videos without a video camera, I’ll say one thing about video slideshows on YouTube — I loathe them.  Absolutely loathe them.  They’re the scourge of YouTube.  If you’re only going to take the time to snap some still photos, let me see them more crisply as a photo slideshow.  Made into a video slideshow, you’re lowering the quality of the pictures, bogging it down with cheesy effects and music, and making your overall image appear cheap.  Make the effort and put video on YouTube.  It’s no longer expensive, it’s not hard, and it’s way more engaging than a cheesy photo slideshow.