"User-generated content" is much more than today's most tossed-around-the-tongue buzzword. It's the difference between having a flood of site traffic or just a trickle. Empower your users to create information that their peers want to see, and your site becomes a living, breathing place to be. Profiles, photos, and blogs still have currency in this post-and-share world—but video blogging is the hot now thing that's taking off fast.
Savvy.com, for which I'm marketing director, recently rolled out video blogging. The site is ranked as the No. 2 men's online lifestyle site by Alexa and others. With our complementary magazine and social network sections, plus streaming video and web TV, we've been called a "Yahoo for Men."
Our male-oriented news, sports, and entertainment content attracts heavy traffic from a mostly young and male demographic, but that content is not solely what brings them back to Savvy day after day. Audience retention is enhanced substantially by our "Friends" social-networking community, where most of our regular users drop in to update profiles, browse, blog, join model's fan clubs or other groups, and message other members.
In February, we launched video blogging to our regulars and new visitors—and learned three important tips.
Tip 1: Don't wait for "critical mass" to formulate your vlog strategy
Video blogs—or "vlogs"—are not yet entrenched in the mass consciousness. But that doesn't mean you should wait for the hordes to catch on before you start figuring out how to fit vlogs into your site and business model.
Without a doubt, streaming video has come of age now that more than 4 in 10 Americans reach the Web via high-speed broadband connections. A study by the Online Publishers Association found that 46% of Internet users watch online video at least once a month, and the success of YouTube bears this out. The site, which allows users to share their home-made videos, has seen its unique daily users double since December, from 3 million to 6 million. Likewise, Apple has sold more than 10 million iPods, the newest of which can play 75 hours of video.
But watching videos is only half the story. The vlogging party will really get pumping as webcam hardware is more widely adopted, steadily enabling mainstream subscribers to shoot their own images. Peripherals manufacturer Logitech's retail video sales have risen 36% year over year, driven by demand for its webcams. And Microsoft recently announced plans to offer mass-market webcams for as low as $50 by August.
If you want to get a head start on the video blogging boom, start strategizing now. Ask yourself, what role do blogs currently play on my site, and how can we translate this purpose into compelling vlogs?
Within Savvy's social-networking community, blogs host community-building open discussion. Visitors check our central pages, which group together the most recent contributions, along with the "most commented" and "most viewed" blogs. Our models and model contestants interact daily with male—and female—visitors, and our bloggers post personal viewpoints, questions, or stories.
Using that as our starting point, we decided to use vlogs as a way to extend the blogging dialogue and make it three dimensional. We integrated vlogs—or "v-blogs" as we dubbed the functionality on our site—into Friends, inviting our users to "Stop typing and start talking!"
Tip 2: Let the users get the cameras rolling—and expect to be surprised
It took less than three weeks for Savvy regulars to start posting, viewing, and commenting on vlogs. After a few initial contributions, we deliberately let the community organically discover vlogs instead of giving in to the marketer's temptation to seed the site with company-made videos.
Our decision to honor the user paid off in unexpected ways. We didn't know who the early adopters would be in our young male community. As it turns out, it was young women who launched our vlogs.
Models competing for Savvy's monthly "Is She Hot" modeling competition were the first to heat things up and shamelessly canvass for votes by posting their own vlogs. Our most viewed vlog is from a flirty blonde sunbathing in a bikini to John Parr's '80s hit, "Naughty, Naughty."
The guys viewed, the guys commented, the girls joined in—and soon, the guys began posting their own vlogs—such as the guy who decided, for whatever reason, to fold his underwear to music for a full minute.
Well, the vlogs that followed have included opera singing, election and sports commentary, multiple confused-looking pets making their online debuts, and Savvy's most extroverted female members and models creatively outdoing each other with their one-minute clips.
The point is that user-generated content is driven in part by street cred. Create the vehicle, and then get out of the way. Let word of mouth and user participation carry the day.
Tip 3: If vlogging isn't easy, it is just not smart
Do you get frustrated when you try a new feature on a site, only to be told you have to download additional plug-ins, pay additional fees, or otherwise jump through hoops? So do your users—so you must deploy vlogging seamlessly if you want them to have an experience that will keep them coming back.
One of Savvy's primary concerns was that our users would not have to download any additional software or plug-ins, or be redirected from our site.
After evaluating a few companies' offerings, we chose Los Angeles-based Userplane's Webrecorder as the underlying technology. Userplane (www.userplane.com) specializes in Web applications that support live text and audio/video communication, based on Macromedia's Flash Communication Server MX technology. The Webrecorder requires only one plug-in—the practically universal Flash plug-in, which nearly all users already have installed on their systems. The Userplane Webrecorder also integrates seamlessly into Savvy, instantly recognizing any webcam without requiring tricky configuration.
The bottom line is that within seconds, without having to install anything or go anywhere, Savvy visitors can record and play back audio/video messages, then post their newly created vlogs or videotaped comments on other blog threads. If your site can't offer that, then your site will not be known as the right place for users to record and post their own vlogs.
Implementing vlogs on Savvy.com was relatively painless—because (1) we took the time to figure out what we wanted to accomplish, (2) we let the users literally and figuratively run the show, and (3) we picked user-friendly technology to get the job done.
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