What's a proven but very overlooked social media business strategy for professional minded individuals and small business operations, one that's well-suited for online video? According to successful author and Chicago media personality Robyn Okrant, it's doing "serialization" with your video content – i.e., knowing how to tell a story as a series of videos where your audience stays tuned on a daily basis. Listen to my podcast interview to hear about a how serialization can be a successful online video strategy that builds an enthusiastic audience and great-word-of-mouth marketing – even without having an actual marketing budget. [powerpress]
Every now and then we at ReelSEO like to cover media personalities and their own takes on online video marketing, getting fresh perspectives from people not embedded deep in our industry. Robyn Okrant is a Chicago-based author, artist, and media personality who I would say certainly fits that billing. She's the author of the book Living Oprah: My One-Year Experiment to Walk the Walk of the Queen of Talk, and the sister "Living Oprah" blog that generated over a million monthly views featuring her personal project diary. Her online popularity led to international television appearances (including the Today show, CNBC, MSNBC) and national radio programs, more book deals, and the lecture circuit on successful social networking with new media, but a self-avowed non-tecchie drama arts major.
So how does someone with a performance background but no real techie background manage to be a proven success with social media all by herself? Well, aside from picking a subject that happens to be arguable the biggest key influencer in modern history save for perhaps one or two religious figures (I'm referring to Oprah Winfrey of course), she touched on a concept that is pervasive in the traditional entertainment world and high-priced video webisodes, but very rare with your regular bloggers – that would be serialization.
What is Serialization in Video Blogging?
By serialization in video blogging, we can be talking about doing video that's published or produced in regular installments (series), typically chronologically, like in a novel or television drama. AKA - a web video show, video series, webisode, episodic video blogging, etc...
The Advantages of Online Video Web Series
The proven success of serialization in traditional media is obvious – the audience reaps a benefit from following a storyline that can leave people wanting to stay tuned for more, and builds a community of passionate followers who debate with each other on the nuances of the series, making them feel that they are a part of the series itself.
Robyn explained that online video serialization isn't just meant for glossy-produced webisodes with actors. As Robyn explained, anyone who can simply has a webcam and can think like a scriptwriter (and an editor), can build their own web show series that gets an audience more emotionally invested, where they can participate in the story as it unfolds, and dialogue with others in between its breaks.
Here's an excerpt of Robyn's keynote at the Chicago Association of Direct Marketing results 2010 conference, where she explains in-depth about her success with serialization in blogging and social media…
"I think one of the things that worked really well for me, without really intending to, was I created like a serial – almost like a soap opera – for people. And I think that's why they started tuning in on a daily basis. I wrote regularly. I think that is one of the most important things with social networking – whether it's blogging, Facebook, Twitter.”
"The thing about the serial idea to this that I didn't really know that I as creating, was that when I go back and read the site, I realize now I was creating cliffhangers. On Friday, when I would announce what I was going to try out, on Monday I would have more readers than the week before. People were so excited to see what happened, and they let their friends know who started reading. I created this narrative. For my project, it was easy to do that, because there was a beginning, middle and end. I was thinking about creating a really interesting story that just grabs people. Maybe it comes from my theater background, but we're told to always create a beginning, middle and end to a project. So if you invent yourself and create a strong brand out there (for yourself) in the beginning, you seem to be leading up to something really exciting. There's an amazing amount of buy-in that people get so excited about.”
Robyn Okrant on Serialization in Video Blogging
I then had my colleague ask Robyn her thoughts on serialization in not just blogging, but in successful video blogging, to which her response is below:
"First, I actually get a lot of great feedback because people love putting visuals onto what they read. I think there is a lot more impact when people hear video and see me speak, as opposed to people just reading my blog (words). So yes, I really get obsessed with the idea of serialization of a project, and I think video is one of the best ways to do it; and you can do it with a webcam; you don't even need a fancy camera. As long as it's clear, and lit well, it doesn't have to be genius. Just give it a beginning, a middle, and an end… You don't have to be a genius filmmaker. Just tap into your 'Inner Spike Lee' and you will be fine."
Tips for Your Own Web Video Series - Be a Performer
As a fellow "performer" on ReelSEO's podcast show and several conference ventures in video clips (albeit far from a serialized version, although it would be very nice), here are some tips I was able to gather from Robyn's own experiences with serialization that you can transfer into an innovative online video marketing strategy:
- Plan your video blogging as a real show. Think of it as a performance as much as instructional, where people can benefit even more from following it regularly and staying tuned.
- Create a narrative. Think of each episode's beginning, middle, and end – even if you have to think it out in your head, allow yourself at least a few minutes before you start shooting. Thinking it out to yourself will put you in a better position to tell a compelling story that grabs people.
- Be passionate and personal. As Robyn explains, "I think I could have gotten really academic and thrown lots of research at them or proselytized. I could have done that, but always talking about personal experiences is what people were really interested in. I felt that people really got to know me, and with good cause. I tried to be as unfiltered as possible. I really that's not appropriate for everyone; but for me I was sort of this warm, friendly voice that everyone came to hear everyday.
- Respond to people: "This is really important in the beginning when you've gotten a blog." Says Robyn. "People don't want to feel like their comments just got thrown into the void. People just want to be heard. If anyone knows, Oprah knows that people want to feel like they're being appreciated and taken in. So I think that's one of the things that worked really well for me was that I responded to people's blogs. And also, (and I didn't realize it was such a big deal at the time), I included what they wrote into the actual text of what I was posting. So people got really excited about seeing themselves in my posts. They would say, "she wrote about me!" And then they would market for me. Again, it was unintentional, but when I put their name on my blog, they told everyone they knew about my blog.”
- Ask for input. Robyn shared that she asked people for their own feedback, rather than telling them what they should think necessarily. "I think people really don't like to be spoken at. It's so boring to only be lectured at; but if you're lecturing and asking people to respond in kind, they get excited. Again, I would find my polls on other people's websites, saying what they loved and referring their network to me. Their own network was drawn in. So every time I put something out there, everyone was marketing for me, even though I wasn't trying to market myself." And of course, she published that feedback prolifically, letting her audience "speak back at her" which made her readers feel part of a close community. "Sometimes it was painful, but it creates ownership. They felt like they owned my site just as much as I did.”
- Be light even when you're being serious. "People love funny." Says Robyn. "Even if I spoke on a serious issue, people responded to humor like crazy. If did just a heartwarming story, people weren't as interested. But if I added humor to it, the response was amazing.”
- Stick to your story! Robyn says that her readers respected her because once she set up her project (and her world), she stuck to it. "I didn't change my mind part way through and do a different tact. I didn't change the look of my site in any major way. I didn't suddenly start putting advertising on my site (even though that would have been great for me towards the end of that year because it was costing me a lot of money!) I still didn't accept outside contributions. You stick to the rules that you create and people will respect you for that. I know that works, too, because I would get notes that people were modeling their own websites based on mine. I was really honored by that, and I learned that by doing something unintentionally. You create your laws, and you stick to those guns.”
- Leave your audience wanting more – never, ever tell them the full story. Robyn says that's something she learned from her theater background. "You create mystery and you create suspense, but you're real [with that suspense]… Give people a taste and they're going to want to keep coming back for more.”