How to create engaging YouTube content.
by : 

Maggie Feeney

October 1, 2013

Step aside facebook and Twitter. YouTube has become the new social media darling, and for good reason. The statistics swirling around YouTube are pretty impressive. More than 1 billion unique users visit YouTube every month, and according to Nielsen, YouTube reaches more U.S. adults ages 18 to 34 than any cable TV network. People watch YouTube on the go, too: Views from mobile devices account for 25 percent of YouTube traffic.

You probably have noticed yourself that a search on practically any topic brings up a string of YouTube links. And, people are beginning to go directly to YouTube to search for information rather than use a traditional search engine such as Google or Bing. Considering the staggering volume of traffic on YouTube every minute of every day, it’s no wonder it’s been cited as the number two search engine behind Google. It’s also no surprise businesses big and small are jumping on board the YouTube bandwagon; it’s certainly being touted as the final frontier of marketing. But does marketing on YouTube live up to the hype? Is it worth the investment of time, effort, and money?

It’s all about the content

I love YouTube. I’m a visual learner, so when I need to know how to do something, I turn to YouTube. Can’t remember how to do the purl stitch? No problem, just search YouTube and get knitting tips from a steady stream of crafting mavens. Need to install a new flush valve on your toilet? Hit up YouTube for plumbing advice from professional and amateur handymen and handywomen. I’m not gonna lie: I also love a good cat video! I love to be entertained, and YouTube provides an endless supply of it, from the good, to the great, to the ridiculous, and everything in between. I know you know what I mean!

The best of YouTube is funny, engaging, informative, brief, and, above all, share-worthy. And that’s what every business posting videos aspires to create: a video people will watch and share with all their friends and family. And, here we get to the dilemma: How do you as a business create a video people will want to watch and share?

The vast majority of YouTube viewers do not want to be sold products. When you’re watching your favorite cat video (they have great dog videos, too), how often do you skip the paid ad that appears before the video you want to see? Pretty much always, right? Or, how often do you click away from a video that turns out to be a sales pitch? The point is people go to YouTube to be entertained and informed; they do not go there to watch commercials. Nor do they go there for slick videos with high production values. Most viewers prefer authenticity and genuineness over video expertise. In fact, the most popular viral videos—Gangam-style aside—are those shot by regular folks with handheld cameras and grainy webcams. What makes them popular is good content.

So, the question of whether or not to add YouTube to your marketing mix hinges on what you want to accomplish. And on YouTube, as with all social media, it’s about fulfilling the viewers’ needs, not about selling. If you can educate or entertain people on YouTube, they will like and share your videos, driving traffic to your website and customers to your store. If you approach YouTube with the primary goal of generating sales, you will probably end up frustrated. If you go into it with the mindset of having fun and promoting your business as an added benefit, then you are ready for the next step.

Harness the power of SEO

If at this point you’re saying, “Wait a second, I paid good money to produce a television commercial, and I’ve already uploaded it to YouTube. Are you saying that was a waste of money?” Absolutely not! A commercial-style video about your store is a great thing to have on YouTube. If people have already heard about your store and are curious about you, they will appreciate being able to “walk” your store via YouTube. But, if you want to really harness the power and potential of YouTube, it’s time to think about how you can help people who are searching for information or just a mental break in their day.

Have you noticed you’ve hardly had any hits on your existing YouTube video? You might want to revisit your video title, description, and tags. We’re talking SEO—search engine optimization. Try tweaking your title to reflect what you carry in your store, not just the name of your store. For example, a fictional store named “Pandora’s Box” would benefit from changing their video title to “Pandora’s Box in Anytown, USA: Unique gifts for body, mind, and spirit.” In your video description, put your store’s website address first, before any further description. Your description can be as detailed as you want it to be. The more you can share about the details of your store and the more key words and phrases used, the better. Don’t forget the tags! Tags should include your store name, your city and state, a general description (e.g., “gift store” or “bookstore”), and a list of the top products you sell (e.g., “greeting cards, jewelry, journals” and so on).

If you’ve already made an effort to have a presence on YouTube—make sure you are promoting your existing video to people who are already interested in your store: your customers. Embed it on your website, post a link on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest (yes, you can post videos on Pinterest boards). If you send out a monthly email to your customers, include the link there, too. With commercial-style videos, you’ve got to promote it in order for people to find it. And, if you update your video title, description, and tags, you can increase the likelihood of it coming up as a related video in YouTube searches (those videos that come up on the right side of the video player as suggestions based on your search).

Expand their minds—expand your reach

What videos are likely to engage YouTube viewers and educate or entertain them? Well, as a store owner, brief how-to videos and product reviews are a good starting point. I say brief because you have a lot of competition for viewers on YouTube. According to YouTube, 100 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute. People generally decide within the first 10 seconds if they will continue viewing a video, and some (myself included) rarely click on videos more than four minutes long. Incidentally, 4 minutes just so happens to be the average length of videos on YouTube, according to a 2010 report by the social media monitoring service Sysomos.

As retailers in the body-mind-spirit market looking to expand your customer base, you might want to focus on how-to topics mainstream consumers are interested in, such as meditation, feng shui, and aromatherapy. That’s just a suggestion; it’s important to research and discover what topics are relevant in your own town and focus on the ones that match what your store offers. Guided relaxation videos are popular on YouTube, but many of them are quite long (some are longer than an hour!). If you are considering creating your own, try keeping it short—two minutes or less—and promote it as a quick “time out” for busy people.

Product reviews are a way to promote what you carry in your store without blatantly selling (which doesn’t generate many views). You could create a series of very brief—one minute or less—reviews of your favorite products from your store. Or, transform your review videos into how-tos by explaining how viewers can incorporate the product into their lives. For instance, a product review of your favorite singing bowl could also be a how-to about its use in meditation: how to generate the sounds using a mallet, how the sound focuses and quiets the mind, etc. The possibilities are endless and, because your inventory changes throughout the year, these videos can also be a way to alert your customers to new products coming into your store.

Whatever videos you decide to produce, make sure you choose topics about which you feel confident and well-informed. You don’t have to be an expert, but you should be knowledgeable enough on the topic you are presenting to provide valuable solutions to your viewers.

Getting started

While you don’t necessarily need to draw video storyboards or read verbatim from cue cards, you do need to spend a little time preparing for your video. Write out a script or at least an outline of the points you want to cover. Practice it a few times to make sure you can deliver your content in the desired time period. Practice time is also a chance to work out the right tone for your topic. If you plan to record a guided meditation video, for instance, you’ll want to make sure you’re speaking at a relaxed pace in a relaxing tone. Don’t shoot that type of video after slugging a venti quad-shot Americano! If you’re doing a video to generate excitement about a product you love, make sure you convey your excitement with a healthy dose of genuine enthusiasm, but not like a used car salesman. If you find you are not comfortable at all in front of the camera, ask one of your employees to give it a try. It’s not about promoting you, after all, it’s about promoting interest in your store. And, the great thing about video is if you aren’t comfortable on your first take, you can reshoot it until you are!

In my opinion, the best how-to and product review videos open with the person introducing themselves and any affiliation they have (in your case, the name of your store, or better yet, your website address if it’s easy to say). Then, briefly state what the video is about and launch into the content. Close by reiterating your name and store name, while your website address is shown at the bottom of the screen.

“This all sounds well and good, but I can’t afford to make videos.” Yes, you can! Sure, if you want to record a commercial that is television broadcast-ready, you do need to hire someone who knows how to do that. But, YouTube is a different beast. YouTube viewers are looking for quality content, not quality video. People want real, authentic content that engages them. You don’t need a green screen or a special backdrop. People like seeing video bloggers in their “natural habitat,” which for you is your store. Filming in your store personalizes you, your store, and your video. Your video doesn’t have to be technically perfect on YouTube. In fact, highly produced videos can actually minimize credibility because they can appear too “corporate.”

Technically speaking

You will need some equipment, but there is no need to spend a lot of money on a YouTube video. Chances are you already have a video camera, but if it’s one that requires a lot of work to transfer the footage to YouTube, you’re less likely to start. I personally love my Cisco Flip UltraHD video camera. It shoots in 1080p HD (that’s really good quality), it’s as easy to use as pressing the big red record button, and it has a built-in USB for easy upload of footage onto my computer.

The Kodak Zi8 camcorder is another good option, but both it and the Flip camera are no longer being manufactured. However, I’ve seen both of them for sale on eBay for less than $100, and other similar pocket camcorders are out there. Samsung’s W300 Rugged Full HD 1080p pocket camcorder is one with good reviews, but it requires a few extra steps to edit the video on a Mac (reportedly, you have to open the footage in Quicktime and export it to iTunes first).

Believe it or not, the iPhone shoots really good video, and you can upload the footage directly to YouTube right from your phone. You can shoot HD footage on the iPhone 4, 4s, and 5, but only the 4s and 5 give you 1080p quality. Beyond these suggestions, any video camera with a built-in hard drive will make the process of uploading to YouTube a lot easier than having to import mini-DV tapes in real time (meaning if you filmed an hour of footage, it will take an hour just to import it to your computer).

You don’t have to have a boom microphone to get good audio quality, but you may want to pick up an external mic. If you’re filming on an iPhone, for instance, an external mic will greatly enhance your sound. IK Multimedia sells the iRig external iPhone mic. It costs about $60. I’ve never used it, but it gets great reviews. A lavalier, or lapel, mic will really enhance your audio quality, as it will record your voice clearly without the interference of background noise. The price and quality run the gamut, but for your purposes, a low-end, inexpensive mic is the way to go. Look for a wired, omnidirectional mic. I bought mine from RadioShack for about $30. The Audio-Technica ATR-3350 mic is another option; it has gotten very good reviews.

To use a lavalier mic with your camera, you need to have an audio in, that is, a microphone input. You can use a lavalier mic with an iPhone, too, but you’ll need a microphone adaptor, which you can get for under $20. If you’re not using an iPhone and your camcorder doesn’t have a microphone input, don’t sweat it. Just make sure to minimize background noise: shut doors and windows, turn off fans and other machinery that hums, film in a room with carpet or rugs (to reduce the echo-y noise from wood floors), etc.

Lighting is also essential, but, again, you don’t need to go out and buy a professional light kit. A couple of gooseneck task lamps (that you probably already have) will give you decent lighting you can direct wherever you need it. Place one on either side of you and one in front of you, too. Make sure they are placed at the same level as your head. If placed above or below you, they will cast weird, garish shadows. The goal with lighting is to cancel out shadows.

I have footage—now what?

If you shoot your footage all in one take, your job is simple. All you need to do is upload it to YouTube. If you use a pocket camcorder with a USB connector, you can actually upload the footage directly to YouTube without ever downloading anything to your computer at all. The camera will mount on your computer just like a thumb drive and you simply open the folder and select the video you want to upload. If you’re filming with an iPhone, it’s even easier. You just select the video from your photos folder and choose YouTube as your sharing method instead of Mail or Message.

If you have several videos you want to edit together, YouTube now has a simple editing feature that bypasses the need for editing software altogether. It won’t garner you an Oscar-winning video, but it does a decent job and it’s pretty easy to use. Once the video is uploaded, click on the Edit button, then click on the Enhancements tab, then click where it says “Try the YouTube Video Editor.” From there, you can string video clips together, add transitions, add audio, add a banner at the end with your website address, etc.

If you prefer to edit the video before uploading it to YouTube, several software packages are available. For Mac, you can’t beat iMovie, which comes installed with your Mac. And, iMovie has an option for exporting directly to YouTube. If you want something more advanced, you can purchase Final Cut Pro X, but it will set you back $300. I learned how to edit on Final Cut Pro and love it, but it’s much more advanced than necessary for the videos I’m talking about. For PC, there’s Windows Movie Maker, which is free and easy to use, and Adobe Premiere. Adobe offers Premiere through their Creative Cloud for a single month price of $29.99 or $19.99/month for an annual commitment.

Of course, for all of this to work, you will need an Internet connection and a free YouTube account, which only takes a few minutes to set up. You can set it up right now, without shooting any footage at all. Go to, create your account, and let the creativity begin!

To inform and entertain

To truly harness the best of YouTube, focus on providing informative and entertaining content. Don’t get hung up on video production values; you can keep your equipment costs low and make interesting, discoverable, and share-worthy videos that will increase your visibility, highlight what makes your store unique, and attract new customers to your store.

Maggie Feeney is Managing Editor of Retailing Insight.