A Beginner’s Guide to Web Video

Web video is hot. From YouTube to Skype video chat and all that falls in between, it’s everywhere. You may be wondering if video can help you do your job — or even find a job. But you may also find it daunting. Don’t you need to have a film degree to do video on the web? Don’t you need to spend thousands of dollars on cameras, lights and microphones to make anything worth sharing? Luckily, the answer to both of those questions is “no.”

All you really need is a good idea and a goal.

Think It Through

The big caveat to this post is that you shouldn’t do video because:

  1. you think it’s cool;
  2. everyone else is doing it; or
  3. for kicks.

While this post outlines some easier entry points to using video to help you do your job or grow your business, it still takes time and effort. You should only embark down the road of video if you think it will ultimately help you achieve your goals. Ask yourself the following questions before getting started:

  • Is video a relevant medium for my communications needs? Do I have something visual to share?
  • Will I be able to create a quality product?
  • Is this what my audience wants — or needs?

The Tools

There are millions of cameras out there, 98% of which are probably more “camera” than you need if you’re just starting out. The Flip line of cameras produce good video and are highly portable. In the same vein (but slightly more powerful) is the Kodak Zi8, which retails for approximately $150, or its cousin the PlaySport. Invest in a memory card, a table tripod and a small electret condenser microphone (good video is about 75% good audio) and for about $200, you’ve got a powerful starter video kit.

Online Video Editing

If you don’t have the budget to purchase video editing software (or if you aren’t completely confident in your skill set), there are a few good online video editors that are both easy and free. YouTube recently launched YouTube Editor, a simple and intuitive web-based tool that allows you to edit together clips you have already uploaded to YouTube. JayCut and Kaltura are slightly more robust online video editors with additional options, such as Kaltura’s video-PowerPoint syncing.

That said, if you have a Mac, iMovie is already at your disposal and is an easy and powerful editing tool. You can also purchase Adobe Premiere Elements or Final Cut Express at relatively affordable prices.

Simple Does It

Not every video has to be a complex production. Sometimes, simple says it best. Just sitting in front of the camera and sharing a story can be powerful — or better yet, sitting someone else in front of the camera and have them share their story. Have two people interview each other or discuss a topic. Interview your boss — or your intern. Describe why you want a job in your chosen industry, maybe sharing a personal anecdote or two. Do a quick demo of how a product works, or give a tour of your office, neighborhood or production facility.

Stay short — two minutes is a good guideline — and sketch out a preliminary script or storyboard before you flip the on switch. Even if you don’t have editing capability, a raw video can be powerful as well…if the content is good.

Video Hosting

So, your video is all done. Now, where do you put it? YouTube is the most popular video hosting service, though the majority of users cannot upload videos longer than 15 minutes. Vimeo is another popular service that is known for the high quality of its video display, and it offers an affordable Pro account option. Blip.tv is more geared around episodic content, while the TubeMogul service can distribute video content across multiple platforms. You have a multitude of choices, so decide which one suits your video (and your business) best and get it uploaded.

Text Is Still Important

Let’s say you’ve created the perfect little video. You upload it to YouTube… and nothing happens. No hits, no buzz, no nothing. The first thing to check is the text you published with the video. What’s the title? Description? Tags? Category? People watch video on YouTube, sure, but they find video through searching. Make sure the text around your video is appropriate to help people find it. Add relevant links to the description field. Also, if you have a blog, Twitter account, e-mail newsletter or other channel, share the link to widen your audience.

Search Stories

Do you want to create a quick, slick high-impact video for absolutely no cost? YouTube offers one option with its Search Stories feature. You may remember the Google commercial that ran during the Super Bowl detailing, through Google search terms, a Parisian love affair — that was a Search Story. You can pick your search terms and types and select from a varied library of quality background music clips.

Skype Video Conferencing

Skype is a software and service that allows you to make voice calls over the internet, but another key feature of Skype is video conferencing. Tools like Vodburner or IMCapture let you capture Skype video conversations to video that you can edit and publish later. This can be helpful if you want to preserve video of a long distance teleconference or record and publish a discussion between two individuals who are in separate locations.


If you have a software product or a website you are trying to market or teach, screencasting is a method of capturing on-screen activity to a video file, so you can create video walk-throughs of website or software features. TechSmith’s Camtasia or Jing software can do this well, as can the open source CamStudio and the higher-end Adobe Captivate. Most screencasting tools allow you to perform basic edits on the captured video. It is also possible to capture video from videoconferencing services such as WebEx and GoToMeeting.


If you have a webcam — preferably one not built into the laptop — you can publish live, streaming video of an event. Services such as Livestream, UStream and Justin.TV provide platforms at a range of price points. Some services couple moderated chat alongside the live video so you can offer your audience an interactive experience.

For a simple laptop setup, you probably don’t want to webcast anything too ambitious, like a large seminar. But if it’s your boss announcing a new product launch or company name change, that’s simple enough to do. Be sure to acquire a condenser mic to plug into the mic jack of your computer, since good audio is critical.

Don’t Worry About Viral

If you go in planning to create a viral video, in all likelihood you will not end up with a viral video. The producer does not define viral; the audience does. The best (and only) thing you as a video producer can do is create great content that speaks to your audience. The rest is out of your hands. But if your content is good, you’ve set yourself up for a possible success.

Want to Learn More?

Videoblogging pioneer Steve Garfield’s book “Get Seen” is a good entry-level overview of how businesses can use video.

Can video help you do your job, find a job or build your business? Let us know if it can – and how it can – in the comments.

Popular search terms for this article:

web video guide

Georgiana Cohen is a freelance writer and blogger who has contributed to publications including the Boston Phoenix and the Boston Herald and works full-time on web content for Tufts University. Her blog at georgycohen.com covers a variety of topics relating to web communications and content, while her blog Safe Digression covers life, music and adventures around Boston. You can also follow her mobile photolog.


  1. Laneth Sffarlenn on the 7th September

    This is brilliant and so very topical for me right now – thanks guys! Will be devouring this many times over in the coming weeks!

  2. Vincent Veri on the 7th September

    I totally agree with this “The producer does not define viral; the audience does.”. Interesting post for who’s a beginner like me.
    Thanks for sharing!

  3. Jeremy Campbell on the 7th September

    Lots of great information here, thanks for sharing it Georgiana!

    I really think that lots of people want to create better quality video entertainment but can’t afford to pay for talent to add to their team. At Spidvid, we’re creating a community where people can partner up together, leverage each other’s skills, and create quality videos capable of reaching large audiences. Check it out if you have this problem, and are looking for a collaborative, community based solution.

  4. Georgiana Cohen on the 7th September

    Thanks, all! Here is another blog post you may find relevant:


  5. Jeroen Breugelmans on the 7th August

    If you want to embed a youtube video in powerpoint, just follow this short tutorial (downloadable file included).

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