The YouTube effect cont.

How are social media-savvy companies rising to the communication challenges presented by YouTube?  One way is by recognizing and embracing YouTube’s emphasis on content versus presentation.

“In the midst of a fabulous array of historically unprecedented and utterly mind-boggling stimuli … whatever.”  Thomas de Zengotita

Put in less poetic terms, we’ve been so bombarded by high-def, high-speed, high-concept content, less really has become more.  Sincere, unscripted content will stop us in our tracks and grab our attention.  We find raw or casually edited footage somehow more believable, and in some cases more enjoyable than its polished counterpart.  And it’s a lot cheaper, which means corporations can afford to do more communicating closer to the events which trigger it.

Enlightened companies also understand that YouTube-enabled, ridiculously honest communication runs in both directions.  At once beautiful and frightening, comments (aka “What did you think of my video?”) give us an unfiltered view into the minds of our audience … instantly.  It’s hard to assign value to the heartfelt words “You suck!” in response to your latest product announcement video.  If you’re truly fortunate, the commenter will elaborate on your product’s shortcomings in a way that is genuinely useful.  And thanks to tools like YouTube’s Insight, companies can access a plethora of demographic data, statistics on content popularity, hot spots within videos, etc.

Then there’s SEO.  We can’t get enough of it.  So preoccupied are we with how much traffic comes to our websites from Google, we hardly noticed that YouTube is now the world’s second largest search engine.

So what is to become of slick and scripted video content?  Well, I still have suits and ties hanging in my closet.  I look forward to most occasions that still call for them.  Likewise, I can’t imagine a Super Bowl Sunday populated exclusively by homemade videos of somebody’s cat falling on a bag of chips.  The world has changed, that’s all.  It’s gotten faster and easier to communicate in the visual medium, but there will always be a place for professionally produced content.  In fact, I can attest to the fact that a steady diet of hamburger heightens one’s appreciation for steak.

The YouTube Effect

That all-too familiar shaky cell phone video has changed forever how information and ideas are shared.  Once the bastion of the MTV generation, YouTube has now enabled (or forced) the evolution of corporate communications.

Ask any recent MBA grad and they’ll extol the virtues of timely, relevant communication in motivating a company’s workforce.  During the 1990’s, only the largest corporations could afford the luxury of widespread video communication to keep employees and investors informed about the latest products and strategic initiatives.  This was a time when corporate communication managers were the gatekeepers of information flowing from the mountaintop.  Whether in the form of a live broadcast or a professionally produced video, information was vetted and polished to a high corporate gleam.

Then, in 2005, three friends launched and changed everything.  By the summer of 2006, YouTube was the fifth most popular site on the internet.  Every minute, 20 hours of video is uploaded to the site.  That’s 1,728,000 minutes of content per day … every day.  It’s hard to imagine anything that can’t be found on YouTube. There’s everything from changing a tire, to heart bypass surgery, to the latest Beyonce’ video, to Tim Cook’s first message to Apple employees as their CEO.

But why is an Apple internal corporate video even on YouTube?  Perhaps the more interesting question is “how many people put it there?”  Corporate Communication Managers are no longer gatekeepers of information.  The cell phone camera and YouTube have effectively RIF’d that job title. Today’s Corporate Media Coordinators have necessarily evolved into wranglers of information, guardians in the battle against misinformation.  New media have created new ways of relating ideas and facts, and the sheer speed of information flow makes it all too easy to confuse ideas as facts.

Whether it’s a revolution in Libya or a layoff in Finance, people (employees) are turning to social media for insight and answers.   And just because your company is small doesn’t mean a video of last week’s fist fight on your loading dock isn’t about to go viral.  Now, more than ever, in corporate communication … speed can kill.  A slow response to a negative video can kill reputation, brand equity, and employee morale.

So, how are enlightened companies rising to this new media challenge and even benefiting from the YouTube effect?