EMBRACING FAILURE: Risks and rewards of online video creation

Santa Cruz Pier

Santa Cruz Pier

If I fail more than you do, I win.”  - Seth Godin

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about failure.  These days, when I think of something and want to kill some time productively, I tend to check out YouTube to see if someone else is thinking about what I am thinking about.

Last week, when thinking about failure, I ran across a video interview of Seth Godin, author of 17 best selling business books, on Entrepreneur Magazine’s Behind the Brand.

My favorite quote of the interview was “If I fail more than you do, I win.”  In business we’ve been taught that many successful companies started after many failed attempts.  

But many people are afraid to fail when it comes to online video.  They think their failure will be immortalized.  The reality is that so much content is posted online and never seen, and you always have the ability to remove your video.  The risk is relatively minimal, but the upside can be extremely rewarding!

Godin continued, “Built into that notion is you get to keep playing.  If you get to keep playing you get to keep failing, and sooner or later you’re going to succeed.’

How to play in today’s world of online video

How does this relate to online video creation?  In today’s business environment, video is the new blog.  Not everyone is going to have a blog or video, but those who do will have a great advantage.  They will have more opportunities to connect with larger audiences, demonstrate their value and  build relationships, leading to greater number of conversions with customers, allies and advocates.

Unlike blogs, however, videos require more equipment, more time and more skills.  The level of investment is higher, which creates a perception of more risk.  There are ways to mitigate this risk.

For those people who are hesitant to create their first online video or video series, I wanted to share some thoughts on failure as it relates to my own video web series.  I created the Mind the Gap video series to support my in-progress feature length documentary, a film about sustainable urban transportation.  

My initial idea for the series was to create three strands:  

- Tips for Urban Biking

- Car Free Alternatives

- The Politics of Transit

In evaluating the series, it is clear that the Tips for Urban Biking segments have been ‘successful.’   They have higher than average views for their category (being informational rather than entertainment), up to 73,000+ views, and higher than average engagement (showing that people are passionate about their transit choices).

Now let’s look at my political video ‘failure.’  I did a piece about California’s Senate Bill 375 (SB 375) which I named ‘California’s Climate Change Initiative - Re-thinking Transportation.’  For non-transit / environmental geeks, this might seem esoteric but it was a really big deal and there was a lot of media about this topic over the last several years around California.  I therefore thought there would be a large audience.

The video is a primer of sorts, featuring ‘famous’ people in the field and breaking down the concepts for everyday people.   I posted it to Vimeo where it had only 352 plays, and one like.  I was so disappointed that I didn’t even post it to my YouTube channel.

Yet, although my non-biking tips videos did not receive the level of viewership or engagement I had hoped for, I didn’t think of them as a failure until I heard Seth Godin speak.  They were just part of learning how to reach various audiences with various content.

Here is what I’ve learned from creating an online video series as well as from watching other series online.

Know your audience

Urban biking is hot right now, therefore an urban biking series is naturally going to attract more viral growth than a policy video.  Does that mean I can’t reach a larger audience with my policy video series?  Not necessarily.

Know your goal

If I did have a goal to reach a really broad audience with my policy videos, it might mean a different approach. First, I didn’t even put the video on YouTube.  As a platform, YouTube garners a greater amount of organic viewership than Vimeo, and more people looking for educational content.  

The right approach for the right goal

Maybe creating a shorter, more controversial piece first would peak people’s interest, and drive them to watch the longer more informative piece I created.  The goal of SB 375 is to get people to drive less in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  If I had created a piece on ‘why we don’t love the electric car,’ and tied that message to reasons we want people to drive less maybe that would have grabbed people’s attention and got them to look at information on SB 375.

Test your message

Many of the most watched informational videos are ones where the message has been tested and honed over weeks, months or years.  How do you test your video message?  You are doing it all the time. Whenever you tell someone about your product or your idea whether that be at a networking event or a sales meeting or on the phone.  Listen to how people react, modify your message based on your desired reaction and use this feedback to create a concise, powerful message.

Start small

If you are thinking of doing your first video, I recommend starting small. This doesn’t mean putting up a 30 second video (see my earlier blog post, ‘The Optimal Online Video Length’) but it does mean thinking of creating video as something that evolves over time.  Rarely will one company create one video that is the be-all-end-all of their video content.  First of all, one video will not cover all your video needs.  You may want to educate your audience on how to use your product by creating a use case video.  Then you may want to tell them about how your product/company came to be by creating a profile piece.  And you may want to start a series where you can continue to provide useful content as a way to build community around your brand.  

Starting small may mean doing a well crafted but simple web cam video.  It may mean training your team to do a simple talking head customer testimonial video.  Or it may mean hiring a crew to create a well-crafted, beautifully-shot profile video to tell your story.  

Small varies with your budget and level of in-house experience, yet the mindset of testing and looking for what works and where you can improve is something that can be brought to all initial (and later) projects.  

Celebrate your viewers

Once you launch, celebrate your views!  Someone picked your video to watch and that is no small accomplishment.  Your title, or your thumbnail, your description or the way you presented your video on your website caught someone’s eye and they chose to watch your video.  They clicked.   And hopefully you brought them something worthwhile.

Appreciate being at the beginning

I launched by Mind the Gap series on YouTube back in 2012.  It was exciting to see the viewership grow and to test what was working best.  Now I face a new possible opportunity for failure as I test a new type of video on my channel, a piece about biking in Buenos Aires which focuses on great biking infrastructure rather than tips for biking.  Having a good thing going, I wonder how my subscribers will react to this new type of content.

Being at the beginning, you have the opportunity to dream up and test new content without worrying about an existing audience.  You can fail quietly while learning and growing into your success.  

Of course, people who like your work will not look at one video with lower viewship and then judge you based on that fact.  Failing to get thousands of hits does not reflect badly on you as a business, just like failing to get hundreds of blog comments doesn’t mean you won’t sell any products or gain any support.

Photo Credit:  demandaj via photopin cc

Photo Credit:  demandaj via photopin cc

We need to try.” - Jodorowsky

Jodorowsky is a film director who spent two years recruiting top talent of the time (Dali, Moebius, Orsen Welles) and created artwork and film ideas for the science fiction epic Dune that was, in the end, never made but whose ideas influenced generations of films afterward.

Here is someone who created the best film never made.  He had great ambition and I feel his ambition is contagious. Great things come from trying.  For a bit of inspiration, check out the trailer for Jodorowsky’s Dune.

In a strange way, I got excited thinking about my ‘failures’ because it gives me the opportunity to reflect and look back on what I have learned.  It is also a sign that I am moving forward, which is undeniably the right direction.

For a free tool to help you conceptualize your video, check out my free Checklist for Success and Worksheet here.  And subscribe to the newsletter for more tips on how to create online video that has impact.

Do you have a story of what you learned from launching your online video?  If so, share your lessons learned in the comments below.