Learning to embrace the YouTube revolution

Video featuring Sarah Silverman painted older Jewish Floridians as balking at supporting Barack Obama because of his race. (The Great Schlep)

Video featuring Sarah Silverman painted older Jewish Floridians as balking at supporting Barack Obama because of his race. (The Great Schlep)

LOS ANGELES (JTA) — Making videos is an essential step for Jewish organizations interested in getting their message out to a younger audience, new media marketing experts say.

“Unfortunately, many people are not reading newspapers anymore and watching TV — there’s only one way to get people’s attention,” said Jason Frank, co-founder of Giving Tree, the marketing, production and consulting company for Jewish nonprofits that he runs with Molly Livingstone.

Frank said organizations should post videos to YouTube instead of just distributing them through an organization’s network or a niche site such as YidTube or JewTube, which has faced legal action by YouTube.

“No one’s really interested in watching only Jewish videos,” he said. “You have to promote something in the secular world.

"Finding a Passover rap is funnier if you find it on YouTube than on a Jewish video site,” Frank said, referring to the video "Matzah Ball Rap," which he and Livingstone made as one of a series they produced “to help promote Judaism and holidays in a fun way.”

Of all the new technologies — e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, podcasts — videos are still the best way to communicate a message, said Matt Dorf, managing partner of Rabinowitz/Dorf Communications, who consults with many organizations and helps them make videos.  “It spreads far beyond the reach they’d otherwise have. It gets their brand and message out there and it reaches the people they want to reach in a young and fun way — and it’s cost effective,” Dorf said.

But some established Jewish organizations don’t understand the new culture of YouTube and its economics, saidFrank, who works with many Israeli nonprofits. Many established groups, he said, are "more interested in traditional videos" — meaning a 30-minute video that might cost $20,000 and take three months to make. “They think it’s better if it’s more expensive.”

Dorf said American Jewish organizations want to tap into the market but aren’t always sure how to use the new technology.

“This is the new hip — they all want to be doing this. They just don’t know how,” he said. Also, “once you make it, how do you get people to watch it?”

That’s the question many artists ask when posting to YouTube, which in the past few years has exploded with tens of thousand of videos posted daily. Some are good, some are bad and some are so bad they are good — like the most watched video, “The Evolution of Dance,” which has registered more than 115 million hits. And all of them are competing for “eyeballs,” the term for numbers of people watching a video.

“The biggest misconception is that if they make a good video and they put it on YouTube, it will explode,” said Oren Kaplan, who runs his own production company that makes experimental videos.

“You have to spend a lot of time pushing it on a social networking site. You need to be a big part of the YouTube community, to have its members care about other members,” he said, referring to registering on the site and posting your own videos and commenting on others’ videos. “It’s not an overnight sensation. It takes a lot of work — unless it’s your dog running into a mirror.” (“Puppy vs. Mirror,” got at least half a million hits on YouTube.)

Rob Kutner of "The Daily Show" has a built-in audience from his job, but said he is also “growing his distribution list” using YouTube lingo. He also recommends cross-promoting to other Web sites — he posts to Funny Or Die, Gawker and Defamer. An organization can send its videos to like-minded Web sites such as political, social action or Jewish.

What makes a good YouTube video?

“Simplicity is the mantra — you don’t get anyone’s eyeballs for more than 3 minutes,” Kutner said. “It has to have some sizzle or a star or something sexy” — for example, parodying something well known, as he has in his Jewish-themed spoofs of “Mad Men,” “Juno” and “Jewish Girls Gone Wild.”

Essential ingredients are a catchy title, good thumbnail (the still picture) and a controversial or timely subject, Kaplan said. For example, his company’s video “Writer’s Strike Gets Violent” came out within days of the 2007 strike. While it only received about 100,000 hits, Kaplan said, 80 percent were in Hollywood. And that’s an important lesson Jewish organizations can use: Sometimes videos can appeal to a niche market.

“The Great Schlep,” the edgy Sarah Silverman video, was aimed at urging younger Jews to convince their grandparents to vote for Barack Obama.

"The goal was to get people talking about it,” Dorf said.

That it did, going “viral” — the term for catching on quickly with a large audience — to the tune of 3 million hits.

Not every video has to be edgy, Dorf said. Hadassah, another of his firm’s clients, does videos showcasing its programs geared to an audience older than 20-somethings.

“Videos are not the be-all and end-all," he added. "They have to be good and smart, carry a message and be well targeted.”

The overall verdict from these experts is that YouTube is here to stay — and Jewish organizations should get on board.

“This is the way people will have to start promoting themselves,” said the Giving Tree’s Frank.  “It’s unfair, but that’s the reality.”
 

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