Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Making an Effective Video Without it Costing the Earth

After my last post, I’ve been thinking some more about what makes a good video, whether it’s possible to produce one without it costing the earth and whether, in fact, it’s worth the effort.

Andy Jenkins, a Grand Master of video production, is of the opinion that “Video can give you a fighting chance against the giants of the industry . . . Large and established companies are often quite careful about their marketing strategies, because having built a reputation for themselves, they are quite careful about how they do things.”  Smaller companies, he says, are likely to be more creative, or even controversial.  And he declares that as far as promoting a brand is concerned, video is the next best thing to SEO.

However, the video has to be done right.  Andy Jenkins lists some vital strategies:
●    be creative - the concept needs to attract the viewer’s undivided attention
●    the video needs to create an impression that’s hard to forget
●    videos work better if you can produce a series rather than a one-off
●    it’s important to make it easy for people to share your videos
●    and your videos need to be promoted to where your audience is, not just on YouTube
●    the video must be optimized with keyword tags
●    and you need to use the right tools

So what are the right tools? Well, if you want to make a simple cartoon-style video, there’s GoAnimate.  I tried out the free version and, quite honestly, wasn’t madly impressed.  It was quite fun but the electronically produced dialogue sounded very stilted and unnatural.  However, it’s possible to upload your own dialogue and music (although I think this may only be available in the paid version) or to show dialogue as speech bubbles.  My feeling is that it would take quite a lot of work to get a professional-looking video, but at $18 for three months or $58 for a year it’s not expensive and, if you like cartoons, probably worth a try.

But most people, when they think of videos, think of Camtasia, and certainly, in my experience, it’s the software that the gurus tend to recommend.  When I started to make my own videos, I had a look at it and I thought it looked quite complicated.  Great if you want to make videos with lots of bells and whistles . . . but for a simple video to put on a sales page or to upload to YouTube to advertise a website, was it really what I needed?  After all, at $299, it’s not cheap. 

On the other hand, it had been recommended by the person whose course I was following.  I decided that the best thing to do would be to look at some of the online reviews.  Now, it’s only fair to say that CNET gives it a five star editors’ rating.  But with users who registered their opinions on that site, it only scored an average of three and a half out of five.  I had a look at some of them and the glitches they described were quite off-putting.  One said “Crashes. A lot.  Sometimes when you add audio tracks . . . you cannot save, export, or even PLAY your movie so far. It will also at random remove a large section in the middle of your film.”

Another wrote “Just 5 days in to the 30-day, free trial, I have had to un-install and re-install Camtasia twice . . . Today, am having to re-install AGAIN because over 2 days worth of recording and editing have been invested and now when I play the video it runs for between 5 and 15 seconds before crashing. I have sent 7+ error reports . . . other videos produced by other people also cause Camtasia to crash. The videos don't even have audio. Just basic videos with basic editing.”

A third called Camtasia “a piece of junk”, while a fourth listed a whole sheaf of complaints such as “freezes and loses files”, “awkward file structures, naming conventions and editing processes”, “doesn't support common audio devices”, “sucks up HUGE amounts of system resources” and “the longer the video and the more edits, the greater the risk of losing the file.”  This last user was also singularly unimpressed by the customer support provided by the parent company, Techsmith

Obviously a lot of people found Camtasia excellent - maybe they were the professional video makers who knew how to deal with the glitches, or maybe they were just lucky, I don’t know. But from what I’d read, I wasn’t going to invest $299 in a piece of software that might not work perfectly.  So I looked around for something else - something that would do the basics and that wouldn’t cost the earth.  And I found Screencast-o-Matic.

For $15 a year you get a bunch of editing tools, which include resizing, cut out or insert, trim, speed change, zoom and adding captions.  For my first videos I used PowerPoint with a spoken commentary - and they couldn’t have been easier to make.  On my most recent video, though, I used a PowerPoint background and, in the bottom left hand corner inserted a small video of me talking.  Again, it was very simple to do.  (And if you'd like to see the finished article, click this link.) 

I suspect that the difference between Screencast-o-Matic and Camtasia is the same as the difference between Photoshop and one of the cheaper photo-editing programs.  If you need loads of tools to produce fancy videos and you are clued-up enough to sort out any glitches, then probably Camtasia is worth a try.  But if you just want to produce simple, effective videos to put on your sales page, I reckon that Screencast-o-Matic takes a lot of beating.

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