“Can you make us a video? We really need a video to engage our audience.”

Virpi OinonenI’ve probably heard that sentence dozens of times in my online communications career. For some reason people seem to treat video as some sort of silver bullet of audience engagement. It’s as if a video recording would suddenly transform your event into a brilliant TED talk or your public stunt into a viral video that bring tons of traffic back to your website. The sad truth is that it rarely does.

So if you think video might just be what your content marketing strategy needs you might be in for a surprise. Especially if you thought that you’d get lots of good video content from events like conferences or seminars and you’re trying to reach a professional audience.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m as big a fan of a good video as the next woman. I absolutely adore RSA animate animations and TED talks. And a YouTube clip where a hamster is catapulted off its wheel never ceases to entertain me. But I don’t think all content is suitable for video and not all audiences like to watch videos.

Far from it.

Most videos are a waste of time and money

A good example of when video might not be the smartest use of time and money are recordings from events (panel talks, interviews of participants etc). Especially if your events are not exactly Apple product launches but closer to something like this.

When I first started as an online engagement specialist I absolutely loved video and was always happy to attend events with my trusted camcorder. I spent countless hours recording panel talks and interviewing people (including famous people as they would surely make the video go viral). After the event I spent as much time again editing these videos into something someone would want to watch.

But then I saw the YouTube stats. They were depressing to say the least. I was baffled. How can the videos be so unpopular if the event itself had sold out?

That’s when I decided to do an experiment. I uploaded a short video and a PowerPoint presentation about the same topic online (from the same event). I promoted both through the same channels (newsletters and social media). The PowerPoint presentation got almost 900 views. The video got 47 views.

I was shocked and a bit disappointed that a PowerPoint presentation (a PowerPoint presentation!) had wiped the floor with my video.

The ROI of video production was appalling.

I’m a busy CEO, please don’t make me watch a video

One reason for the disappointing viewing stats might be in the audience itself. The people we were trying to reach were usually busy professionals who were consuming content related to their work. People who don’t have time for long winded explanations – they rely on executive summaries and they skim read a lot. A lot (if not most) of them are people in senior roles.

Video is not skimmable. You don’t know what you’re going to get and it takes too long to find out where the good bits are.

The same people might well watch a video when they are relaxing and want to be entertained. But when they need to find out about something they don’t want to waste any time.

Simple is often better (and cheaper).

I came across a similar phenomenon with other types of video as well. A video that was calculated to go viral was beaten by something a lot simpler and cheaper: a photo with a smart caption. In short: It doesn’t have to move to be effective.

Makes you really think about what you spend your money on.

The secret is in the click

I have to elaborate a bit. I rarely offer PowerPoint presentations as downloadable files. I upload them on a service called Slideshare.net that turn the presentations into clickable slideshows. I can then embed the files on a website or a blog (or just link to the presentation on Slideshare). This is an important detail. There’s namely very special magic in clickable PowerPoint presentations.

PowerPoint presentations on Slideshare give the control to the user

Why is the click so important? One simple reason: control. The next (and back) button gives the power to the reader. They can consume the information at their own pace and they are able to limit the amount of information that hits their brain because they only see one slide at a time.

Video throws a steady stream of information at you. Yes, you can pause the video but that stops everything. A clickable slideshow allows you to really take in the information. Or quickly skip the bits that are not relevant to you.

Note: PowerPoint presentations that don’t work well in a live situation (too many bullet points etc) tend to work better online exactly because you have control over pace and don’t have to divide your attention between the presenter and the presentation. However, good visuals are important online and off.

Why bother with expensive video when a good PowerPoint presentation does the trick?

I’m not saying that you should abandon all your video projects. Often video is the cheapest and quickest way to create great content. I once did a video interview that took about an hour to produce and got over 1000 views because it addressed a real pain point and there wasn’t much information about the topic anywhere else.

But please don’t think that video is the answer to all your online engagement and content marketing woes.

Need help?

Want to create a kick ass PowerPoint presentation? Want to do an animation AND a PowerPoint presentation? Drop me a line at virpi(at)businessillustrator (dot) com Alternatively: why not sign up for my newsletter and get the latest tips in your inbox.