Some people freeze up the second the camera starts recording. Savvy entrepreneurs should instead sit up straight, smile and embrace the opportunity to promote their small businesses through one of the simplest and most cost-effective online communication vehicles available today. Happily, a range of value-priced, portable pocket video cameras such as Kodak's new Zi8 ($179.95) can turn any entrepreneur into the next Michael Moore or Eli Roth.
Mind you, we didn't say Steven Spielberg. Although units like the Zi8--which can capture several hours of 1080p widescreen, high-definition video on interchangeable SD memory cards--make filming easy, they're no replacement for an experienced production company. While Kodak's latest model offers handy features like image stabilization, external microphone input and auto-assists that aid with filming in dimly-lit conditions, know this: You won't be using it to record any feature-length broadcast spots.
But just because slick TV commercials and green screen-backed evening news segments are beyond the reach of such entry-level units doesn't mean you can't attract as many eyeballs as you would via broadcast distribution. Buoyed by heightened broadband penetration and viewers' insatiable appetite for original content, demand for video is skyrocketing as consumers continue to gravitate en masse from television toward online aggregators like Vimeo, Viddler and Crackle. That includes category leader YouTube, which now attracts more than 100 million viewers a month, though even that figure's peanuts overall, considering that U.S. households can watch roughly 15 billion videos online in the same 30-day period. Likewise, marketing opportunities are also growing by leaps and bounds, ensuring that even if it's not a current cornerstone of your current promotional or public relations strategy, online video should be.
As an added bonus, virtual distribution channels are a dime a dozen nowadays, and all the more accessible and attractive given their ability to host and serve video at no cost to you, the creator. Just be careful to read the fine print: Some automatically assume ownership rights of all footage uploaded to their service, while others place frustrating caps on video size and length. Still, offering the ability to easily "embed" video links, letting you seamlessly integrate recorded spots into existing corporate web pages, blogs and social networks, there's no beating their value, ease of use or proven ability to reach end-users.
When properly packaged and promoted via free and paid newswires, online communities, user forums, newsletters, social networks and services such as LinkedIn, Plaxo or Twitter, it's literally possible to reach millions via word of mouth. Moreover, nothing's stopping you from branding a sequence of regular shorts as an "online series" or a dedicated area of your website devoted to a specific topic. As such, it's relatively easy to put all the mechanics in place needed for videos to virally spread, and brand both yourself and your enterprise as a thought leader in any given space. While news pickup and audience numbers can vary wildly--not every project will post up the same numbers as "Chocolate Rain"--you can accurately position and time videos to capture the public gestalt.
Technology and price are no longer barriers to entry. With more than a dozen different options like Flip's Ultra HD ($199) and Mino HD ($229); Creative Labs' Vado HD ($229); and Sony's Webbie HD MHS-PM1 ($169) or MHS-CM1 ($199), it's easy to find a suitable camcorder. That goes double considering that manufacturers like Aiptek and DXG also offer a range of stylish, portable and travel-friendly selections ranging from just $99 to $149. All are simple point-and-shoot devices that require roughly five to 15 minutes to learn, and plug-and-play units that connect right to any Mac or PC, letting you quickly dump video to desktop and upload online. Bearing this in mind, you don't need any technical expertise to become a producer anymore, or have to spend a small fortune on high-end production values. Although, as fellow columnist Ramon Ray kindly points out, taking a little extra time to edit and enhance video quality will improve your company's image.
The best part for closet Hollywood hopefuls: Footage can take the form of daily video blog entries; expert advice; how-tos; behind-the-scenes looks at the making of your startup; roundtable discussions; panel debates; documentaries; and more. Options for video setup and construction are literally as endless as your imagination, and while it can pay to keep things simple, oftentimes, the more creative the better. It's even possible to enjoy a more active dialogue with customers through these vehicles than you'd achieve with static print, broadcast or online placements. For example, imagine posting a blog entry asking readers to submit questions, then quickly filming yourself answering pressing queries and uploading responses the same day.
One can't underestimate the human touch either, as such productions not only help put a human face on your enterprise, but also let you speak to specific viewers directly and concisely, and engage in a more organic form of conversation. Likewise, the psychological value of appearing on-camera shouldn't be discounted. As much as people love seeing their names in print (and pretentious show hosts are loath to admit), there's an even greater halo effect that benefits those who appear as experts on film.
So what are you waiting for? For less than the cost of catering a single day of shooting a traditional infomercial, overnight celebrity--as well as the heightened awareness and opportunities it can bring your business--awaits.