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Five Online Video Don'ts

There are plenty of "do" lists for online video, but it's just as valuable—and usually more fun—to look at the "don'ts." To find out what mistakes you should absolutely avoid when shooting and editing, we spoke to Tim Plum, the director, writer, and camera operator behind Plum, a Chicago-based online video production company. Plum had plenty of ideas about what you shouldn't do. Unfortunately, he wouldn't fess up as to what online videos he's seen make these awful mistakes.


  1. Don't Go too Long
    If you're making a promotional video, five minutes is way too long. While that's nothing compared to standard television shows, it's an eternity in online time.
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    "When is the last time you watched a five minute promotional thing on the Internet?" Plum asks. "I bet the answer is never."
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    Viewers can't view your message if they've clicked away, Plum says. Companies often go long because they think viewers need time to absorb their message, but people can get more information in a short time than you're giving them credit for, he adds. Keep your work snappy. Hook your viewers and keep them engaged.
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  2. Don't Neglect Production Values.
    Poor production values make a video look cheap and turn the viewer off. You want a clean contemporary look, Plum says. Be sure your lighting and sound are professional. You don't want people to sound like they're speaking into a tin can. Tell-tale production value mistakes include rocky camera zooms, sound that seems to have been recorded with the camera's built-in microphone, shaky camerawork, and footage that looks like it was shot in someone's house.
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  3. Don't Hire Someone with Questionable Taste
    If you're hiring someone for a video project, think twice about going with the lowest bidder. Sure, that person might be professional enough to be a professional, but he or she might have poor taste. Symptoms include poor font choices, unattractive colors, and narration with a booming voice-of-God delivery. You want your video to look fresh and cool, Plum says, not hacky and slightly wrong.
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  4. Don't Go off Message
    Think about the message you want to convey with your video. Plum asks his clients, "What do you want people to think five minutes after it's over? What do you want them to feel?" Think about an action you want your viewers to take, or think about an image you want them to remember.
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    Clients tend to want to sneak in a lot of other messages, Plum says, such as the history of the company. That's fine if it supports the video's goals, but often it doesn't. He's seen clients want to promote their company to people who have never heard of it, remind existing customers why they like the company, and make employees feel good about working there. The problem, though, is that the video becomes generic. People won't know what they're supposed to do with all that information. Keep your goal simple and stay on topic.
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  5. Don't Try to Go Viral
    It's easy to make a bad viral video, Plum says. Just try to make something ragged and rebellious, but make it clear you're really promoting a product. Try to sound anti-corporation, when you're really corporate. Viral successes are cool and hip and mind-blowing, he says. That's hard to pull off, and you risk patronizing your audience. Not everything needs to be the next viral video hit in order to be successful.

Troy Dreier's article first appeared on OnlineVideo.net

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