Video Essentials

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.
    “When is the last time you watched a five minute promotional thing on the Internet?” Plum asks. “I bet the answer is never.”
    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.

  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.
  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.
  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.
    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.
  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.


Comments are disallowed for this post.

  1. Great comment on the risk of trying to go viral. It’s hard to predict viral success.

    The good news is that there is, in fact, a sure-fire recipe for viral success. The bad news is that it ALWAYS involves a Blend-Tec blender 😉

    Posted by Russ Somers | July 20, 2010, 10:42 am
  2. You should put point #2 in BOLD!! As a video production professional myself, I am amazed by how many people think just putting any video on their website is a good idea. It’s like a fine dining establishment using paper napkins. It’s just bad business. The difference between a cheap video production and a more costly one isn’t just price; it’s quality. See the difference on our website .

    Posted by MIke Perlow | July 20, 2010, 3:19 pm
  3. Unless your audience is truly general, then audience analysis should be right near the top. So I guess in the terms of this article, ignore your audience.

    Posted by Steven Washer | July 20, 2010, 10:25 pm
    • I agree with production value. Most people can spend less than a 1000 dollars to get a video produced but it will show it and will reduce the image of your company in the potential client’s eye and make the video not only a waste of money, but it may hurt your reputation.

      Posted by Chicago video production | July 29, 2013, 9:33 pm
  4. I challenge the premise of #1 Dont go too long. I have watched promo
    videos that have used a story telling format to imbed a message and provide useful information. Sometimes these have been up to 30 minutes long. I know this is the exception, but it seems to work.

    Posted by Gieo Pensoneault | July 21, 2010, 1:36 pm
  5. Couldn’t agree more about keeping it short and to the point. There is a fairly popular online marketing ‘event’ each year that involves daily video pep talks. They tend to be 10 minutes of self-congratulatory fluff with 30 seconds of actual content. Viewers will respect you more if you respect their time.

    Posted by Martinize | July 21, 2010, 4:17 pm
  6. Great article. We are sharing it with our clients.


    Posted by Jeff Allen | July 21, 2010, 7:14 pm
  7. Excellent advice — especially #2. As a videographer specializing in 1-minute videos for small business I know the importance of showcasing business with a quality product. It always amazes me how business are willing to shell out big money on some advertising projects, but when it comes to online video they think their neighbor’s kid who just bought a Flip can shoot it for them. A professional videographer can work within your budget (even if it’s very small) and make you look good.

    Posted by Michael Garcia | July 21, 2010, 8:16 pm
  8. I think putting hard numbers on length of a video is good…but we need to be flexible. It really depends on the content. I don’t think it matters if it is short or long… Boring or interesting however will make it or break it. Know thy audience, know thy content. Don’t be any longer than you have to. Long bad video is made by people who don’t take the time, and work with the pro’s that can help them, to refine their message. I am guilty of it more often than I want to admit…writing a one minute message takes MUCH more time than a 5, 10 or even 1 hour message. Its harder to refine.

    Posted by Robb Boyd | July 22, 2010, 1:58 pm
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