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Innovating into the new year: Video & Photo Sharing Key Areas for Business to foucs on

January 3, 2009

Photo- and video-sharing sites, which I’ll refer to as media-sharing sites, provide nontechnical people with simple and free tools to publish photos and videos to the Web. They also offer a group of features that facilitate sharing these media files. The Web sites share several defining characteristics:

* Easy publishing tools. Before media-sharing sites came into being, formatting, uploading, and coding a Web page to display photos and videos required technical expertise. Media-sharing sites removed almost all of the technical complexity.
* Social features. Media-sharing sites offer a variety of methods for sharing and discussing media files, such as comment areas and tools for sending photos and videos to friends.
* Publishing to personal sites. One of the key media-sharing innovations was a simple method for publishing media files directly to social networking profiles, blogs, and Web sites. It’s often been said that My-Space was a primary factor in YouTube’s growth, as millions of MySpace visitors used the service to put videos on their profile pages.
* Low cost. Most media-sharing sites do not charge for their services or have a tiered pricing plan that includes a free option.

Thanks to the low cost, relative absence of technical hurdles, and easy methods for sharing, people have been creating, distributing, and consuming visual media in huge numbers. According to a recent report by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, over 75 percent of young people watch online video, and about 50 percent upload photos. Perhaps most interesting, a majority of young people watch video with friends—the activity has become a real-life social event

Publishing a video on YouTube requires only that you complete the form; several of the options it offers are worth exploring:

* Tags. They’re one of the most powerful methods for organizing data across and within Web sites, as mentioned frequently throughout this post.
* Date and map options. If you expand this box, you’re able to enter the location, date, and time at which you filmed your video. Adding this information is called geotagging: attributing latitude and longitude coordinates to a media file. Geotagging allows the aggregation of media by place. You can travel a map of the world seeing photos from anyone who has provided this information. See the mapping post for more information.
Sharing options. If you expand this box, you’re able to turn various sharing options on or off, such as comments, video responses, ratings, and “embedding.” In this context, embedding refers to giving someone permission to put your video on his or her Web page, blog, or social networking profile.

Create Your Own Channel or Group

YouTube has “channels”; Flickr has “groups.” Most media-sharing sites have an equivalent concept. These are Web pages that enable you to centralize all your media, give you options to write introductory text material, and often offer social tools, such as discussion groups or commenting fields. Start your own group and join others. You’ll quickly get a sense of how they work.
Use Tags

I can’t overemphasize the importance of tagging to so many Web 2.0 technologies, and particularly to photo and video. Tagging systems are integral to organizing your media assets effectively so that you can find them later and so that others can discover them. Tags allow you to organize assets into groups and bind you to the group of people who use the same tags. By using one tag across media-sharing sites and blogs, you can effectively create (and give your supporters a way to create) a collection of media across the Internet. Before beginning a campaign, familiarize yourself with tag “vocabulary” by looking at tag clouds, and think about the tags that you will use and the ways in which you will encourage their usage among supporters.

Have Conversations

Explore the ways in which your organization can use video and photos to generate lively discussion. You can build an ecosystem of communication: ask for participation, respond, and repeat. Encourage supporters to interact with one another—video and photos can make these interactions more vivid.

Media-sharing sites have dramatically reduced barriers to communication—distance, cost, and time. Talking at your constituency using the broadcast model is no longer the only option.
Consider Production Values

In certain instances, production values don’t matter. Don’t worry about editing the most perfect video. Think about media sharing as a video conference call. You might comb your hair in advance, but when you’re on the call, you’re engaged with people, listening and talking. In order to be present, you can’t take the time to worry about imperfections. Video conversations are not formal productions.

Some media campaigns are not in fact conversations. Some media are intended to get a conversation started through a careful presentation. For example, CARF’s photo group is dedicated to high-quality photos of at-risk youth. A poor-quality submission would be inappropriate in this context. Determine the strategic worth of production values to your campaign. Some highly persuasive videos require deep thinking, planning, and a focus on production values.

Practice Brevity

Internet video is not television, and young people are loath to sit through a thirty-minute video. Look to Congressman George Miller’s example. He prepared two-minute responses to questions asked by supporters in addition to in-depth answers for those interested in a more complete discussion. He acknowledged both the attention span of Internet users and the fact that complex issues cannot be fully addressed within the confines of this span.
Be Funny

News content is the most popular category across age ranges, except for those viewers ages eighteen to twenty-nine. Young people like comedy: more than half of young people say that they use the Internet to watch funny videos. Hillary Clinton’s experiences with online video testify to this reality of young tastes. Obviously, comedy is not appropriate for all topics. However, when you can maintain the mission of your organization and incorporate humor, make an effort to do so.

Find Your Niche and Use the Right Tools

Network television produces high-quality entertainment that appeals to a broad range of people. Your organization will have difficulty competing with television on the same terms. Ask yourself what you can provide that is not available in mainstream media or elsewhere.

And when you find your niche, take advantage of a media-sharing site’s tools to make your message more compelling. Oxfam created a mini-channel that delivered Oxfam-specific G8 Summit news that supporters couldn’t find anywhere else. However, it didn’t use the participatory tools that might have strengthened supporter engagement and delivered better results.

Encourage Subscriptions

Most media-sharing sites offer some sort of membership function. By joining a photo or video group, a supporter will receive regular updates about your campaign. If you succeed in persuading people to join your group, you can engage them over the long term. Ensure that you learn about and take advantage of your media-sharing site’s subscription options.
Integrate with a Broader Campaign

Media-sharing sites enable you to run an entire campaign using only their sites. However, the tools are limited. Remember that one of the most important elements to any campaign is the story. Ask yourself if you can effectively convey your story on the media-sharing site alone. If the answer is no, develop a strategy for incorporating the media-sharing site into your broader campaign. Many organizations craft a campaign that operates across Web 2.0 technologies, such as social networks, media-sharing sites, and blogs.

Use a Flexible Content License

The ability to copy and remix media is one of the major factors in the growth of Web 2.0 technologies. Supporters take their favorite videos and photos and “mash them up” into new creations. The process of being able to remix endears people to your organization, because you supply them with the raw materials they need to express themselves creatively. Enable your supporters to mashup your content legally by using one of the Creative Commons’ licenses that retain some rights while giving away important remixing rights.

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