Jun 20 2008

Getting Started With Web Video, Part 1: The Art of Screencasting

Published by Loren at 5:57 pm under Web Video

(Part 2 is here.)

At the current rate, there are 10 hours of video uploaded to Youtube every minute. “Who has time to watch all that video?”, you ask incredulously. And you’re right:  this trend represents an abysmal signal-to-noise ratio.  But as a savvy web professional, you also know that this should inspire you to action, not inaction. Not only should you be participating in the new video landscape, but you should also be avidly marketing your content!

The time for web video is now, and this goes for most any person or business with web properties and a message to spread (I’ll assume that includes you, humble reader, or else you wouldn’t be reading this, right?)  But many people still see video and have a knee-jerk reaction of “Oh, that’s not for me,” or “Video just doesn’t make sense for what I do!”  But I beg to differ!

In Part 1 of this 3-part blog series, I’m going to talk about screencasting:  what it is, how easy it is, and how you can use it for your business.  In Part 2 and 3 I will be discussing web video distribution, and live video on the web, respectively.

The Art of Screencasting

Ok, maybe that’s a little bit melodramatic.  Screencasting is really just the practice of recording your actions and voice while you use a computer. It is a means of demonstrating software in order to easily share information so other people can enjoy it and learn from it later.  Let’s start with an example.  This video was recorded and post-produced in under 10 minutes by my 2 partners, Charles Lumpkin and Josh West:

The web marketing particulars he discusses here aren’t important, but the notice the cool effects we’ve utilized.  You get a nice view of Charles’ face to start off, and then the content takes center screen.  This is just one example of using a screencast for training/education purposes, but the applications are virtually endless.

Here are some other examples:

  • efficiently sharing knowledge between your gurus and your staff
  • inexpensively training your staff in new software
  • profitably training someone else’s staff in new software
  • explaining features of your site or software to your users in a simple way
  • getting the attention of would-be customers in a compelling way
  • etc…

What it all comes down to is the cost of communication.  If you are paying your guru $100,000 a year, you really can’t afford to have her spending 60% of her time training every new hire.  Instead, have her do the training once, with a screencast, and let her get back to being productive.

If you add a new feature to your web site, but you can’t explain it without an 8 paragraph essay, you will have considerable drop-off in adoption.  However, if all your user has to do is click a “Play” button and enjoy a pleasurable video demonstration, you may have the highest adoption rates you’ve ever seen.

Screencasting Software

So that’s the cost of communication, but what about the cost of production?  Is screencasting going to break the bank and waste hours of the company’s time for 5 minutes of video?  Absolutely not.

If you’re going to get started creating your own screencasts, you’re going to need software.  For Windows, there’s Camtasia, which comes in at $300.  Not too bad a price, and it seems like everyone in the world uses it, so there’s no shortage of (you guessed it) videos explaining how to do various things with it.

My favorite screencasting software is called Screenflow for Mac OSX (Leopard only.)  What I like about Screenflow is its extreme ease of use, its facial branding, and its price-tag of $100.  This software is seriously slick, with an amazing interface for both recording and post-production.  You can literally just sit down and start using it, and in almost no time have something worth publishing.  It also records your face while you demonstrate, making it really easy to create a brand for yourself, if that fits your situation.  It’s also really fun!

Screencasting Hardware

Now, if you don’t already have a webcam, I don’t suggest you break the bank to get one.  You don’t need one at all if you don’t plan to show your face, but it can really help make things more personal if that suits your situation.  A typical $25-$50 webcam is all you really need, and truthfully, all of the extra bells and whistles that typically drive the price up just get in the way and cause compatibility issues. A built-in laptop camera is actually ideal!

Lastly, you’re going to need a suitable microphone to do your voiceovers (no internal laptop microphones allowed!)  You will at least need something external, even if you keep it cheap.  Here at the Lab, we use the excellent Blue Snowball, a USB microphone which you can purchase at your local music shop for ~$100.  This microphone is amazing, suitable for a number of uses ranging from podcasting/screencasting, to musical instrument recording, to live recording in a public or group setting.

“Okay, I’m Making Video, Now What Do I Do With It?”

Now that you’re cranking out stunning videos with aplomb, it’s time to get some exposure with them!  In Part 2 of this series, I discuss the ins and outs of getting your video hosted, embedded, and happily playing along with the rest of the web.

All of the oh-so-important marketing happens when actually putting your video on the web, and I’ve got a couple of tricks up my sleeve that will blow your mind as they give you the reach and audience that was previously reserved for major players with major bankrolls!

What kind of projects are you considering for a screencast?  Are you stuck in the process somewhere?  Leave some comments and let’s get this discussion started!

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