My Favorite Free Communications Tools

I am frequently amazed by how many excellent communications tools are now available for free. Just a few years ago they were either not available at all or were expensive. Now, with a little time and ingenuity you can express yourself (or promote your clients) in ways we only dreamed about.

Here are a few of my favorites.

  • WordPress: This blogging platform has now evolved into a full fledged Content Management System that rivals Drupal and Joomla but which (IMHO) is much more intuitive to use for the non-programmer. Not only is the platform itself free, but there are thousands of free templates, to give you a customized look and feel, and innumerable free plug-ins that provide a wide variety of functionality. I use both and, depending on the application. Certainly for the complete novice, the hosted platform at is a blessing. My 11 year old daughter set up a blog by herself in less than an hour on WordPress!
  • This free webconferencing service is easy to use and works pretty well. Only once have I had a problem with the sound quality.
  • YouTube: With a little imagination you can create your own broadcasting channel on any topic you want. While it’s helpful to provide your own content, even that’s not necessary: You can bring other people’s videos into your Channel using playlists.
  • Blog Booker: Turn your blog into a PDF book in less than five minutes. It works like a charm!
  • Self-publish your e-Book in a number of electronic formats including Amazon Digital Text Platform (DTP), Smashwords, and Barnes & Noble PubIt. While these services don’t charge you for creating your book, all do take royalties on sales.

Of course there are also platforms such as Twitter, FaceBook, and LinkedIn for people who want to stay connected.

The hardest part is keeping track of all of the new offerings. I’ve really been enjoying the proliferation of these new digitally available platforms and products because they have allowed me to manage my own content on line and present it in visually appealing packages. I was shocked recently to find that I was able to recreate a site that in WordPress that I paid major $$ for someone to build for me in Drupal. The real kicker? Mine looks better.

Live video streaming through YouTube just around the corner

We all think of YouTube as a way to catch up with events through video. But what if it offered you a front row seat to an event . . . anything from a concert . . . to an inauguration . . . to a community event or a press conference? Think of the possibilities that it offers to communicators as a way to reach a broad, worldwide audience in a truly interactive way. This is the step that will really turn YouTube into a broadcaster.

YouTube has been testing its new live streaming platform which integrates live streaming directly into YouTube channels; all broadcasters need is a webcam or external USB/FireWire camera.

There will also be a “Live Comments” module which lets you engage with the broadcaster and the broader YouTube community.

This feature was trialed in September. Soon to be available to Google Partners!

The benefits of an enhanced YouTube Channel

You may have heard people talking about Enhanced vs. Standard YouTube channels. What exactly does that mean? Standard channels are the ones that anyone can set up using a Google email address. Enhanced channels have additional features and functionality.

Enhanced channels are available to colleges and universities through YouTube’s EDU program or from a Google Content Provider like CMTv.

Here are some of the benefits of an Enhanced Channel as compared to a Standard Channel.

High Impact, Interactive Banners:

Enhanced YouTube Channels feature a “clickable” banner at the top of the page. This allows you to link your Channel directly to your Web site and also to reproduce the “look and feel” of your Web site. This provides direct integration with your existing outreach and provides a more professional look. In fact, YouTube banners are completely mappable so you can link directly to different parts of your school’s website, like the DSU banner, or to different YouTube channels, such as Northwestern. Standard channels have no banner; the only branding is at the top of the screen like you can see on the Curry College channel.

Delaware State University uses mapping to link directly to pages on their website.

Northwestern University highlights its YouTube play lists in its banner.

Curry College has a standard channel. There is no banner; the only branding comes from the college name.

“Instant On” Video:

Enhanced Channels have a “featured video” which plays as soon as you visit the page, immediately engaging your viewers. Standard channels are static. Many colleges and universities use this feature to play a 60-second promotional video.

Branding Boxes:

With an Enhanced YouTube Channel you have blocks to sign up subscribers, link to specific topic areas, and fully active links to other pages and sites. This helps you “push” visitors to the most relevant parts of your Web sites and create direct links to areas of interest. Standard channels have no branding boxes.

Branding boxes allow you to link users back to pages on your Website or other social media.

This box links to a description of the college's video contest.

Curry College uses play lists to help organize their content and make it easier to find.

Comprehensive Analytics:

Enhanced YouTube Channels have access to more extensive data than Standard Channels. This data can can help you fine tune your marketing outreach and target specific geographies and populations.

Extended Play Videos

Break the 10 minute barrier! On standard channels, videos on YouTube are limited to 10 minutes. Enhanced channels can host videos that are several hours long. For colleges and universities this gives you the opportunity to leverage one of your most important assets: your courses. UC Berkeley had made a commitment to offering many of its classes on line. The response has been amazing. Just look at the views on these videos! Think about all the data that they collected by attracting so many viewers.

UC Berkeley features its courses on its YouTube Channel. Take a look at the views!

Tips for Video Search Engine Optimization on YouTube

Uploading a video to your YouTube Channel is pretty easy; it’s what you do with the video once it’s part of your site that influences how much visibility it gets.

YouTube works as a typical search engine regarding listing results. The search algorithm checks the title, the description, the tags, the number of views, the links and ratings of the video. Therefore you should focus to the above factors to make sure that you have fully optimized your videos and get high rankings not only on YouTube but also on Google. Note that even though YouTube is about video . . . search engines don’t look at video files; they look at the content that surrounds them. It’s the written word that determines your Search Engine Ranking.

As part of your marketing strategy identify the key words or phrases that you want to have identified with your college or university. Think about it like this: these are the words that you hope people will use to find your college on YouTube.

  1. Use key words in your title. While cute or funny titles seem like they would attract views, it’s better to be descriptive than clever. The title of your YouTube video becomes its meta tag and it is also the most important piece of information that search engines have about your video.
  2. Write your description with SEO in mind. Use key words and descriptive phrases when you describe your video. After the title, it’s the most important information for search engines. It can be helpful to include a URL in your description especially if you are driving viewers to a specific program or event. Put that URL first.
  3. If you need input on key words, YouTube has a Keyword suggestion tool that can help you identify the words YouTube viewers are searching on (keep in mind that video searches are often different than web searches):
  4. Make those first 27 characters count. This how many characters you have for key word placement before the ellipsis when the description is truncated. That’s why you should put the URL first.
  5. Fill out the “tags” with key words about the specific video and your channel. Aim for at least 5-7 relevant words or phrases. Tags associate your video with other videos that use the same tags so when people watch a different video, your video will get highlighted as a “related” video and garner more views. Tags work best when they are written in a logical order – the way someone might type into a search box, so think through your strategy before putting them in randomly.
  6. Take advantage of annotations and captions to link to other videos or drive people to your related social media tools (like Facebook).
  7. Don’t forget to fill out the location for your videos. Part of YouTube’s analytics is geographic and you will get more information if your location is identified.
  8. Encourage embedding, don’t restrict it. When someone embeds your video on their site it counts as an inbound link and boosts that video’s rating in search engine results.
  9. Encourage viewers to rate your videos. Higher ratings and more comments indicate that videos are better/more interesting. Use Facebook and Twitter to encourage your viewers to rate your videos and leave comments.

Who needs traditional advertising when YouTube is available?

First Frito-Lay eschewed the Superbowl and started running commercial contest on YouTube, Crash the Super Bowl.

Now, Ray Ban is taking viral video marketing to to the next level. If you haven’t seen the most recent video in Ray Ban’s campaign, Guy has Glasses Tattooed on his Face, then you are rapidly becoming one of the minority.

The video was posted just a week ago; already there are 1,099,435 views! Not to mention the media coverage this has generated. Did he? or didn’t he?

Actually this is just the latest in Ray-Ban’s campaign. The videos are posted on Ray-Ban’s YouTube Channel under the moniker Never Hide Films.

Each of their videos is clever, entertaining and gets people talking.

So, what do you think? Is the tattoo for real? or is it a well done fake?

Video is changing writing forever.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, what is a video worth? It’s incalculable. YouTube and the plethora of video that it offers are changing the way that we communicate and I believe will profoundly influence the course of mass communications.

Take for example, the simple communication of instructions.

With video you essentially have a private tutorial with an infinitely patient teacher. You can watch the difficult parts over and over again until they make sense. And with YouTube, you have the opportunity to interact with that instructor through comments so you can get answers to your questions.

I’ve seen this play out in small ways. When my son got a new calculator — one that allows him to solve math problems that I’ve never even heard of — he didn’t read the instruction manual. Instead, he went to YouTube where he found a demonstration of the exact task that he wanted to perform. In less than five minutes he was completely empowered.

I use YouTube for its instructional properties as well. I’ve been teaching myself how to knit and crochet. When I need help with a technique or a stitch, it’s all there — in slow motion and high definition. Instructions that were indecipherable in their written format become clear and (frankly) obvious when shown in video.

How will that impact mass communications? In general, I believe people are reading less and that by using video to communicate thoughts, ideas and instructions, this trend further diminishes the impact of the written word.

That does not mean that our job as communicators is becoming obsolete; rather we must learn how to use video as an effective medium. People listen differently than they read. We need to understand that dynamic in order to create videos that use words and images together in a way that both educates and entertains. Writing isn’t going away. It’s just taking on a new form. One that is potentially even more powerful and influential.

YouTube Best Practices

So much of my attention is now focused on YouTube that I’ve launched a new site with my partner in this venture, John Samellas. is a site that discusses how to get the most out of your enhanced YouTube Channel. It provide updates on the special features available only to Google Content Providers like John.

Of course, it also will address integration of YouTube with Twitter, Facebook and other social networking media. It just didn’t fit in the title.

Check it out and let us know what you’d like to see. We’ll be featuring the best (and worst) of YouTube along with tips and suggestions.

Make your video shoot successful

Recently I responded to an RFP to produce a “virtual plant tour” video. As part of the proposal each team was asked to identify best practices to follow and pitfalls to avoid. Here’s some of what I wrote:

Best Practices

  • Plan well: the videos that are the most successful are the ones that are planned properly. This means using storyboards and shot lists to plan out exactly how each portion of the script will be illustrated.
    Shoot additional b-roll while you’re on site. Today’s viewing audience is used to fast-paced video with many transitions. You never have too much video but it’s easy to end up with not enough.
  • Spend enough money to make the video look good. Your video will be around for a long time. Many of our clients are still using videos that we shot a decade ago. Hiring a cinematographer who knows how to light properly and use equipment that will produce a quality product that will warrant your investment.
  • Shoot in High Definition. Some clients believe it isn’t really necessary but we disagree with you. HD is now the standard – even on YouTube. If you shoot it in another format you immediately label your information as dated. Even when shown in smaller formats it is apparent as HD is a different aspect ratio than standard video.
  • Think small as well as big. YouTube is now the second largest search engine and one of the largest broadcast channels for video in the world. When you plan your big corporate video, think about how you can break it into modules and show them on YouTube. This approach will help you reach a broader audience very quickly. If you don’t have your own YouTube Channel, this would be a good time to set one up.

Biggest pitfalls:

  • Not hiring a professional scriptwriter. Conveying information via the spoken word is different from writing articles or brochures. Including a scriptwriter on the team – someone who is familiar with how to meld words and images in a package that is easy to listen to – makes a huge difference. I know many folks think they can do it themselves but if you’re hiring a camera crew and spending the amount of time necessary to do a video, don’t skimp on the writing.
  • Trying to shoot it yourself. Don’t kid yourself. Your customers can tell when you shoot your own video and they are generally not impressed. Think about the message that it sends: we don’t (or can’t) invest the money in doing this professionally. Flip videos are great but unless you’re going for that Blair Witch Project effect, will backfire.
  • Shooting “from the hip”: if you don’t plan your video shoot it’s easy to end up in the editing suite with not enough footage to illustrate your script.

Video is definitely making a comeback now that the bandwidth exists to watch it online. With some pre-planning and vision, your next video project will be a success that lasts for many years.