IT looks for online video to boost corporate training, collaboration, marketing

Some firms are taking advantage of technology that's banned from many corporate desktops

While some companies are struggling to keep employees from watching online YouTube videos in the office, others are turning to video technology to improve internal training and collaboration, and to expand external marketing programs.

For example, Rohm and Haas Co., a Philadelphia-based manufacturer of specialty chemicals, construction materials and other products, later this month will launch what it calls a "corporate YouTube" site for its 15,000 employees around the world.

Other companies are taking a less expensive route by posting internally created videos on YouTube and other social networking sites to market themselves and their wares.

Rohm and Haas said the internal site will be used to give workers access to training and information about a wide variety of topics from their peers.

Charles Wallace, chief technical architect and IT director for global architecture and infrastructure at Rohm and Haas, said that a searchable library of online videos supports the natural tendency of workers to "bypass the knowledge base and go to their next-door neighbor [at work] or to the employees who know" to get answers to questions.

Wallace said company officials expect that the system will help the company achieve an important goal -- a cutback on travel -- by providing Rohm and Haas employees with access to one another via video programs.

The company's internal affinity groups -- workers with common interests in performance management, career development and mentoring -- were among the creators of the first videos for the library, which will be called PrimeTime, Wallace added.

Rohn and Haas said it expects 50 to 75 Prime Time videos to be available to employees when the program debuts.

The company created the system and will run it using the Studio hosted webcasting service from Interactive Video Technologies Inc., Wallace said.

The hosted Studio tools combine and synchronize audio and video, PowerPoint presentations and screen captures with "one-click publishing," according to Interactive Video officials. The system can also track the use of those videos, the company said.

Over the long term, Rohm and Haas plans to expand access to Studio so additional employees can make videos for the library, Wallace said.

Greg Pulier, founder and chief technology officer of Beverly Hills, Calif.-based Interactive Video, described the efforts of Rohm and Haas and other companies as moves to "democratize webcasting" by allowing more employees to create and view videos on their corporate desktop systems. For example, a top salesman could create on his own a video that demonstrates his process for selling products, he noted.

Pulier described the video sites created by companies such as Rohm and Haas as a kind of second-generation corporate video strategy.

"A lot of organizations start [out by] using YouTube to post corporate videos," he said. "When they reach a point where there is too much stuff on YouTube, they start to look for another solution."

Several companies are still in the first stage of video use, posting marketing productions on YouTube and other sites to improve external marketing efforts -- and to respond quickly to potentially negative news stories.

Dunkin' Brands Inc.'s Dunkin Donuts unit in late January launched a YouTube channel to host a marketing contest that called for customers to post their own videos that explain the company's marketing slogan that Dunkin' "Keeps America running." The channel generated more than 208,000 views before the contest ended on March 1, according to the Canton, Mass.-based restaurant chain.

And Southwest Airlines Co. last month created a YouTube video to dispute the assertions of two female passengers that they were escorted off a flight in Tampa in mid-February and banned from the airline for life for being too attractive.

Analysts say that more and more companies are launching such YouTube-style videos to take advantage of a massive increase in traffic to video sites over the past couple of years.

According to a research report released earlier this year by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, traffic to video sites increased considerably over 2006. Almost half -- 48% -- of the 1,300 Internet users surveyed said they visited a video-sharing site during 2007, compared with 33% in a year-earlier survey.

Just Grapes, a wine shop in Chicago, upgraded its blog site late last month by adding videos on topics such as how to select wines for specific occasions and advice from wine tasters around the world.

Don Sritong, sommelier and owner of the store, said that he decided to create the video offering, called GrapeTube, in the wake of the popularity of various videos he has posted to YouTube. Those videos provided customers with a look at wine seminars in the store, his own observations after visiting various wine regions around the world and other information.

Sritong found that more people were viewing the videos than were reading the company's e-mail newsletters. The company also determined that the return on investment from video marketing was 10 times higher than that from its print-related advertising, he noted.

"Wine is such an intimidating topic for people; it has been seen as this elite beverage," Sritong said. "That is not true. Video allows [us to] translate that better than print. Video is really the next step of closing the gap between those who felt wine was an elite beverage and those who are super intimidated by it."

Itzbig Inc., an online job site, launched an internal contest in January to judge employee-created YouTube-style videos promoting the company's goals.

"It was our way of getting the whole company as part of the marketing team," said Denise Court, vice president of marketing at Austin-based Itzbig. "It was a way to cut through a lot of the corporate-speak and bring an authentic voice."

The contest attracted 15 submissions. The winning video, created by a member of company's customer-service team, recommended new ways to promote Itzbig.com's policy of letting job seekers to anonymously post their résumés. The winning video will be posted to YouTube later this month, Court added.

Court noted that the cost of producing online videos has declined significantly in recent years. She estimated that several years ago, making a corporate video in a studio for distribution at trade shows could cost $15,000 to $20,000. In contrast, the winning video cost $2,500 to produce and will be distributed for free on YouTube, she said.

"Given the rich digital media we have today, we all of a sudden have an opportunity to use a platform that is inexpensive and easy to use for companies to express themselves, share ideas and collaborate," Court said.

Oliver Young, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass., said that external marketing will likely be the most popular use of video technology among corporate users in the coming years.

Training videos, like those Rohm and Haas is planning to use, may also become common professional development tools at very large companies, but they probably won't be as widely used in small and midsize companies because they require that users learn new work processes, he noted.

Wallace also pointed out that the "internal YouTube approach" requires significant network bandwidth and that not all companies have that capacity.

Rohm and Haas in recent years has installed a Multiprotocol Label Switching packet-switch network and compression technology, which should easily provide adequate bandwidth for the PrimeTime video network, he said.

"We've had a very successful, stable performance environment," he added. "If the infrastructure wasn't set up and put in place, [PrimeTime] would have come apart very quickly."

"The external side is really where video is going to have a permanent home in the enterprise," Young predicted.

"The cost of distribution on YouTube is free, and the cost of production is [affordable] because people don't expect a high production quality," he said. "The consumer expectation has been set -- this can be low-quality video."

Young did warn that once companies open the door for their customers or other external users to post videos about their brands or products -- an important feature for online audiences -- they should be prepared for criticism.

"Honest, open dialogue is the way to really tap into the community and gain the trust of the community," Young said. He did note, though, that "it is a strange mental shift for a lot of brand marketers who have felt like they have kept such a tight control over brand and message."

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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