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PART ONE: VIDEO STRATEGY

Want to add video to your website? Maybe it's time to hire a pro Add to ...

For businesses, video can be a power for good or ill. ( Just ask FedEx and their box-tossing deliveryman.) Even if you don't have a funny cat or sleepy toddler, video is an increasingly popular format for finding and engaging with new customers online.

Industry magazine eMarketer estimates U.S. businesses will spend 43 per cent more on video ads in 2012 – still far behind the spending on banner or search ads, but video is predicted to grow three times more rapidly than other formats.

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In this four-part series, we'll look at how your small business can use video to pump up your web presence. We'll look at what kind of videos work, how to make them and how to get them noticed. We'll start with the first step: if you're going to use video, is it better to hire a professional videographer or go it alone?

Hire a professional

When Lisa Ostrikoff was a television journalist, she produced news and feature stories on businesses across Western Canada.

Now, as co-creator of BizBOXTV, she brings the same storytelling eye to online videos – but it's the businesses that call the shots.

“[Video]is the best way to communicate any message,” Ms. Ostrikoff says. “If a picture is worth a thousand words, a video is worth a million.”

BizBOXTV, based in Calgary, is a small production house that creates short videos for clients as varied as restaurants, oil and gas firms and software companies. The videos range from informative how-tos to journalism-style profiles.

“For a restaurant, what's the experience like? What's the ambience? What's it look like in the room?” Ms. Ostrikoff says.

BizBOXTV also handles social media for clients, making sure their videos get out there and get seen. After all, YouTube isn't just a video website – it's a social media platform.

“Anyone who works with us, we don't just produce the video and leave them to figure out what to do with it,” Ms. Ostrikoff says.

She says the big reason to hire a professional is quality. She and other videographers in her company have years of experience, and can ensure that videos are engaging, not to mention polished and professional.

Small businesses doing it themselves may not have the same skills and equipment – and shaky camera work or sloppy editing, for example, may be harmful to the company’s brand.

Quality does come with a price. BizBOXTV claims they're cheaper than most production companies, but that still means a little under $2,000 for a one-off video. Longer contracts, which can include maintaining a client's social media presence, can cost substantially more .

Do-it-yourself

In the travel industry, you're not just selling a product – you're selling an experience.

Aaron McCourtie says this is particularly true of his company, Original Trails in Toronto, that specializes in “responsible travel.” Their focus is on creating ethical, authentic trips that put travellers right in the local cultures of developing countries.

So for Original Trails, video was an important tool to transport potential clients to destinations and show them what they could be doing.

“[Video]is a way to really connect with people, really show people the places we're travelling to,” Mr. McCourtie says. Video helps Original Trails show exactly what they say sets them apart from other travel companies.

Mr. McCourtie says he had the idea while he and his partner, Aparna Guha, were travelling in Tanzania about six months ago. They recorded video, then edited the clips and posted them on YouTube.

Since then, they've shot video in several other countries and featured travellers in the midst of their trips. Mr. McCourtie says his two favourite videos were shot in Nepal: One features a cooking class in a Tharu village, while the other takes the viewer through a trek in the lush Annapurna foothills.

There were two big reasons Original Trails wanted to do their video in-house: lower cost and more creative control.

Original Trails shot their videos on a Nikon D5000 – a digital SLR camera that shoots still photos and HD video for about $600 – and edited the clips using Windows Movie Maker (though they're looking for something more high end next year). They don't have any formal training.

Mr. McCourtie says their business was so specialized that they felt uncomfortable about getting an outside person involved in the production.

“From our perspective, we want to control what people see in our style of travel,” he says. “We have a great feel for how we want clients to experience our trips.”

He says they've gotten good feedback from clients, and – like Ms. Ostrikoff of BizBOXTV suggested – video has been part of their overall social media strategy, which includes Facebook and Twitter accounts, and photos on Flickr.

Original Trails' next video step, Mr. McCourtie says, is focusing on more informative videos, such as those explaining terminology to new travellers.

If you're interested in video, how do you get started? We'll start with the basics in part two of this series next Thursday.

Other stories can be found on the Web Strategy section of the Report on Small Business website .

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