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Will Video Kill the Still Photo Star?

When Pink Floyd released The Dark Side Of The Moon  40 years ago, it was a complex, continuous collection of songs meant to absorb the listener for almost 43 minutes, with or without mood-altering help. But times and attention spans have changed.

Today, everything must be instant, on-demand and shareable: Modern music enthusiasts skip through millions of disparate songs on Pandora, Spotify or iTunes, sharing playlists with friends. News articles once spanned hundreds of words, but Twitter has condensed breaking stories to 140 characters. And while advanced cameras enable photographers to take 200-megapixel pictures, most of us prefer to quickly snap and share mobile photos instead.

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So in a world where billions of hours are spent on YouTube each month, it’s no surprise the mobile-social-simple trend has come to video as well. Don’t be left behind!

What is social video?

Social video refers to apps that allow users to easily capture and share snippets of video from their mobile device.

Acquired by Twitter in late 2012, the Vine app was launched in January 2013 and quickly became a mainstay among the most downloaded free apps. Not to be outdone, just five months later Instagram—owned by Facebook—announced its version of mobile video capture, and seized a dominant portion of the market.

Both services contain all the hooks you’d expect from a modern social media app, including the ability to follow, tag and share with friends, leave comments, and view popular or trending videos.

The key for both is simplicity—just launch the app, click record and take aim. As you press and hold the screen, a meter indicates how much of your time has been used, so plan accordingly. Vine videos can span only six seconds and play on a loop, while Instagram allows users to stretch their artistic legs for a full 15 seconds, with more customization options, like filters. Once you’re done, click “Next” to add a caption and share.

Social Media Evolution

Social video has followed a familiar social media adoption path: First, people made Vine videos of their kids and pets. Soon to jump on board were creative types—artists and storytellers harnessing the service to inform and inspire; even the Tribeca Film Festival had a call for Vine entries this year.

Ultimately, companies catch on. Does social video make sense for your business?

“Vine received the same quizzical looks as those delivered when Twitter first came on the market,” says Mitch Joel, president of the digital marketing agency Twist Image and author of the book Ctrl Alt Delete. “Shooting a six-second video and sharing it? What’s the point? However, these things tend to be scoffed at, admonished, and then eventually adopted as core to businesses’ success. What most people don’t see is these are new forms of communications and expressions. Brands get inventive with these new channels, and that’s when heads begin to turn.”

As always, early adopters rushed to these new platforms and jumped into unknown waters headfirst. Let’s see how they’re doing it for some ideas that could be useful to your business:

1. Teasers

Whether you’re launching an eagerly awaited summer blockbuster or have a new product to highlight on your retail shelves, everyone likes a sneak preview.

James Mangold, director of The Wolverine, shared a six-second Vine movie trailer with fans back in March, calling it a “tweaser.” Two days later the full trailer was released. In the magazine world, Rolling Stone regularly asks Twitter followers to guess who is on its cover (however controversial), revealing just enough to pique readers’ interest.

Let’s say you run a bridal shop. You don’t need the marketing budget or name recognition of Vera Wang to build anticipation for your new spring line. Capture just enough of your designs on video to generate some buzz for future sales.

2. Demonstrations

Six to 15 seconds is surprisingly enough time for a “How-To” video, useful if you have a product that is easier to watch than describe.

Cadbury chocolate has a delicious video showing how to consume its “Egg ’n’ Spoon” delicacy, while Bacardi rum demonstrates three simple steps to making a “Blonde Rum & Coke”: Ice+Bacardi+Sprite.

Herschell Taghap manages social media for Tom Douglas Restaurants, a group of 15 establishments based in Seattle. Unlike so many bombastic celebrity chefs, Douglas is rather shy. “He’d much rather cook a meal for five people in their home and make a personal connection than put out a press release,” Taghap says. “Social media allows him to extend his handshake on the Internet.”

Social video allows Taghap to try something new, reaching a hip demographic while capturing the feel of Seattle. “In less than a minute and without any editing, I can jump into a busy kitchen and show how a cook builds a dish from scratch—the searing of halibut, the preparation of Dungeness crab,” Taghap says. “We’re able to share a little behind-the-scenes magic. You can’t do that with a picture.”

3. Content That Connects

In social media, the appetite for content is insatiable. If you have one great quip or photo to share, your burgeoning audience will need more, day after day. Video provides another outlet.

A social media marketer and bass player for a Nashville-based indie band in her spare time, Megan Kellar can teach small businesses a thing or two about keeping customers engaged and happy.

“We use Vine for skits to promote our shows, clips of our performances, videos of our practices, teasers for new songs—anything we think our fans would enjoy,” Kellar says. “Although we have a lot of fun, we still treat it like a business. We use social video to promote our merchandise like any other retail brand would.”

Will a single social video for your company capture the customers’ imagination and stay as relevant as The Dark Side Of The Moon? Probably not. Yet the mobile-social-simple trend suggests you’ll want to check out social video and use it where it makes sense. It’s not that social video will make online photo sharing or text-based communiques with customers obsolete, but it’s just another tool that should be part of your varied social media strategy.

“Our main focus with social is connecting with customers through Facebook and Twitter,” Taghap says. “Videos enhance that.”

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