Video used to be the domain of only the largest companies with the biggest marketing budgets. But the explosion of online video sharing sites has given companies of all sizes the opportunity to create and disseminate videos.

As small businesses assess those PR tactics that will yield the greatest ROI, online video has grown in popularity as a way to generate buzz without breaking the bank. However, simply shooting a video and posting it online will not guarantee results. The key to a successful video campaign is compelling content--if you aren't distributing something that people will want to watch your campaign will fall flat.

I recently spoke with Todd Grossman, Vice President of Sales and Client Services at MultiVu, about the benefits of online video to small businesses and the steps that companies should consider before embarking on such an endeavor.

What are some of the ways a small business can benefit from online video?
Video can be used for something straightforward such as introducing a new product or service; to increase traffic to your website via a clever video; to provide a product demonstration or tutorial to your customers; to deliver commentary from your CEO to investors; or to convey a message to employees.

Additionally, many small businesses find additional uses for videos by utilizing them for online advertising, or by incorporating them into a Multimedia News Release. An MNR is a great tool that incorporates video, photos, text, links and other information; making it more interactive than standard, text only, press releases.

What types of companies are best suited for video promotion?
Companies of all size and across all industries are suited for video promotion, including most companies with a consumer product or service and many with a B-to-B product or service. But first the company should ask itself whether its product or service will translate well into a visual message. If the answer is yes, then it's relatively easy to get started.

What are the do-it-yourself options?
If you have the budget, hire a professional. It
will save you the time and effort of figuring out all of the details of putting a great video together and it will help you get a more eye-catching final result. You don't even have to worry about it looking too manufactured--professional producers can still give your video a viral look.

If a professional producer is not an option, there are a number of options that let you produce your own videos for free or low cost. For example, editing software packages such as Avid, Adobe Premiere, Final Cut Pro and Media 100 enable you to edit your video like a pro.

You're going to need a video camera to shoot footage. If you can't borrow a good one, try one of the simplest camera's out there, the Flip Video MinoHD. It's stocked with a light editing package and can be purchased for under $200 online. An added bonus, it can also be mounted on a tripod.

Be sure to incorporate upbeat background music. Remember, you will need to get permission if it is copyrighted; otherwise, you can get royalty free music from sites like RoyaltyFreeMusic.com. Add a call to action and provide a viewer feedback mechanism--such as a comments section or direct contact information--to engage your audience.

Once video has been created, how do you get it out there?
You can always post to your own website, although this requires a site with multimedia capabilities and technological savvy on your part.

Video host sites such as YouTube or Vidler let you load you video and also make it easy for you to embed it to other websites. Be advised with the volume of videos on these sites you run the risk of never being discovered and shared.

A better way to get it out to the customer, B2B or the media audiences is the MNR. It's designed for the new media landscape and can be distributed as a news release to television, radio, web or print media. It can also be sent to key contacts as a direct marketing tool.

How long should a video be?
Generally, you want to be short and to the point, with content ranging from 30 seconds to 3 minutes. However, there are times when longer video is appropriate. For example, if you're posting video of a conference keynote or a surgical procedure. If you do create a long-format video, consider indexing it or breaking it up into smaller segments to post as a series. You may even add teasers for upcoming features to keep your viewers interested.

It's the rare video that becomes a viral sensation. Rather than go into the production of a video thinking about creating a viral hit, focus on creating a quality video that can gain traction with your target audience. Humor is a great way to attract viewers, and one of the advantages of the internet is that it doesn't have the same standards as television. This, allows you to take more risks and experiment a little. Just remember that this video is a representation of your brand, so be careful not to cross the line.