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How Do You “How To?”

“How to…” are two words that end up in search engines quite frequently. The Internet is 100 percent information transmission – someone has something to share, and others have things they want to gain. The how-to phenomenon exemplifies this dynamic like few other events can. People no longer have to go out to the store to get a book on car maintenance or pot roast recipes – they just hop online and grab the information for free.

Ah, but that’s not to say there’s no money in how-tos. How-to celebs like Kimberly Clayton Blaine and Michelle Phan have made substantial headway in the world of how-to videos, with their once quiet video sites gaining major cooperation from organizations like Lancome and Yahoo! as a result of their rapidly-growing popularity.

But what exactly makes a good, solid how-to video? What parts need to be included in a proper series in order to encourage people to keep coming back for view after view?

Part 1: Choose a Topic People Care About

It might seem like a given, but a lot of marketers seem to forget that people have emotions and minds of their own, and they can tell when someone isn’t giving their all. Someone who is obviousy “honing in” a performance is likely to get dismissed out of hand compared to someone who obviously is knowledgeable and passionate about their chosen topic.

There are a lot of ways for a presenter to show they care about a topic. Great how-to artists – and when done well, it truly is an art -like to diverge from the main discussion to give a very short aside, such as a recipe specialist sharing an anecdote about mixing up salt and sugar in an icing recipe. Others might offer tips about how to circumvent official channels for acquiring supplies and share knowledge about secondary, less expensive sources. In short, the great ones don’t just share the hard details, they also behind-the-scenes information to help spark their audience’s interest.

Part 2: Ensure Purity of Purpose

That said, small asides that showcase personal interest in the topic are good, but the stress must be o “small” or short. The average attention span of most web users is not terrifically long – there’s so much to see, do and learn, so a how-to video must capture interest and hold it without fail for the duration. Thus, make sure that every element included in the video is absolutely necessary to the message being conveyed and/or to capturing the audience’s hearts and minds.

If a small aside illustrates a more personal interest and helps the viewer connect, great – keep that in. If, on the other hand, it’s just kind of funny, nix it. Focus on the details and make sure that everything in the video is bent to the task of fulfilling the how-to process. Always remember that the viewer is present for a reason: to learn what information is available.

Part 3: Allow for Style

Each person has his or her own style, without question. Style is a complicated thing: It’s composed of accent, pattern of speaking, physical mannerisms, personal attire and more. Does the presenter actually show up in the video, or does the video conceal his or her face? Is the video shot in real time, edited for sectional content or does it use a stop-motion process so that the presenter is never visible throughout?

No one style is appropriate to every venue, and styles can be stretched to odd degrees. One might find it odd to adopt an exceptionally formal tone when presenting a how-to on baked beans and cornbread. On the other hand, this kind of style might be exaggerated for comedic effect, and this human element of irony might keep the viewers coming back. In short, don’t be afraid to experiment with a few different styles, possibly under alternative accounts, until finding one that works.

Step 4: Take the Time Needed; No More and No Less

YouTube is a popular venue for video how-tos, for obvious reasons. The default length for most videos is 10 minutes, which provides a reasonable benchmark for simpler how-to guides. It also has become a benchmark for video tolerance in general simply because of the sheer number of users growing accustomed to videos based around this length. That said, YouTube recently increased its maximum video length to 15 minutes, so be sure to keep an eye on viewers’ habits.

Indeed, the issue of time can be a bit tricky for a how-to. Ideally, unless the procedure is a particularly long one, the how-to should be kept to a single video. This may mean taking multiple shoots to see how various treatment lengths work for the project. On the other hand, don’t be afraid to let the video expand to severl “episodes” if the how-to in question is large enough. Something as complicated and involved as building a backyard deck can reasonably be expected to require several videos to encompass.

Step 5: Cross Promote

The currency of the web is reputation. If people think poorly of a site, it gets poor views. Having a good attitude and a cooperative spirit is often the best way to get a good promotion off the ground, and this includes how-to videos.

For example, a site might consider promoting a fellow though unaffiliated how-to expert if their videos cover a gap in the site’s own knowledge. A cooking site whose patrons ask about a type of cooking none of the site’s staff specialize in could refer them to a colleague who just happens to know what he’s talking about. Additionally, one might promote webzines and non-how-to sites that cover similar topics.

Enzo F. Cesario is an online brand specialist and co-founder of Brandsplat, a digital content agency. Brandsplat creates blogs, articles, videos and social media in the “voice” of our client’s brand. It makes sites more findable and brands more recognizable. For the free Brandcasting Report go to or visit our blog at