An Online Video Strategy That Hits The Mark

I just returned from my second trip to Toronto in the last two months and was again impressed with the Web-savviness of the Canadian audience. Did you know, for example, that Canadians are the world’s most active users of Facebook? Or that Canadians spend, on average, two more hours per week viewing online video than their counterparts south of the border?

And don’t give me that “Of course! It’s cold up there!” cliché. Canadian homes are wired and its businesses are doing some very innovative things to reach those web-savvy customers.

Take Future Shop. Canada’s largest consumer electronics retailer is using online community not only to learn more about its customers, but to help sell products and support customers. It has built an online advisory and customer support service that is like nothing I’ve ever seen.

“Ask an Expert” is formulated on a high-touch model in which sales associates are taught to be valued customer advisers. The company has come up with a strategy to duplicate that real-world experience online. The screen shot shows “Aaron,” one of the video avatars who guides customers.

“We’re trying to blur the lines between the offline and online experience,” says Robert Pearson, Future Shop’s director of e-commerce. “Our goal is to become the largest technology community in Canada.”

Future Shop is well on its way to that objective. In less than a year, the site has signed up 50,000 members, which would be equivalent to about 450,000 members in the much larger U.S. market. But the community isn’t just a discussion forum. Future Shop co-developed a ranking system with Lithium that lets customers provide feedback on each other and on the quality of information offered up by sales associates. Customer contributors can earn discounts and status in the community. The most helpful sales associates can earn cash.

Next up: Facebook-like functionality that gives contributors their own personal spaces and ties sales associate profiles to store locations. Success is measured by a survey of customer affinity with the brand. It’s still too early to draw measurable conclusions, but all the trends are pointing in the right direction. “We’re getting about 250,000 visitors a day out of a population of 33 million,” Pearson says. “That’s many more than come into a store. We actually see people walking in with printouts and asking for specific experts they’ve met online.”

Future Shop isn’t using video to be cool. It’s using video to reinforce an in-store experience that is essential to its business strategy. It has also bound its customers to the company in a way that is rewarding for both parties. The company is now owned by Best Buy, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see a similar capability showing up on a retail website near you.

How to Find Influencers on Photo and Video Sites

In the first four parts of this series on finding online influencers, we focused principally on blog search. However, a variety of other social media outlets can point us to people whose preferred medium is photos, video and the spoken word. These people can also be important influencers. It’s just that their chosen media isn’t text.

As in our previous examples, we’ll pretend we’re a mythical resort in Quebec, Canada that’s looking to promote itself through influencer marketing.

Start by heading over to Yahoo’s Flickr, which is one of the largest photo-sharing sites. Type Quebec resort into the search box and select “Tags only.” This returns 272 results. Scroll to the list of photos and look for the photographers whose names come up most often.

One of them is “ash2276,” who’s submitted more than 1,100 photos and who belongs to more than 100 groups. Look at a sample of ash2276’s photos and note the large number of comments. This is someone with a following. Look at the photos tagged “Quebec” (there are 98 of them) and click on some of them. Note the enthusiastic comments. Ash2276 is an accomplished photographer, the kind of person you might want to invite to your resort for a photo weekend.

Flickr has over a half million groups, and while some are small or inactive, others are very large. Search for groups about Quebec and you get about 1,800 results. Most aren’t about Quebec specifically, but if you sort by group size and scroll down, you come across a group called “Canadian Beauty” with nearly 1,800 members, another called “Photo Quebec” with 144 members and a group titled simply “Quebec” with 483 members. Wade into the discussion forums and photo galleries for these groups and look for user names that appear frequently. These are also potential influencers.

Of course, there are plenty of other photo sharing sites on the Web, including Snapfish, Shutterfly, Photobucket and Kodak Gallery. They all have different features and nuances, but they all do basically enable people to categorize and share their photos.

Video and Audio Connections

We’re not done yet. Go to YouTube, the premier video-sharing site, and type Quebec resort into the search box. You’ll get 29 results. Looking at the user names, you note that “zenwaiter” has posted several videos. Click through to his profile and you read, “In the winter I travel all over Quebec…and I shoot video clips.” He even has a link to his website,

Remembering our earlier search techniques, we look up that URL on Technorati and find 131 posts linking to it. Some of these bloggers might be good targets for you. The activity certainly indicates that zenwaiter is a promising influencer.

While we’re looking at multimedia, let’s check out whether there are any good podcasts in this area. Podcasts are Internet audio and video programs that you can download and play on computers or portable media players.

The Who’s Who of podcasting is Apple’s iTunes. Searching on Canada travel podcast, we come up with 150 results, which iTunes lets you sort by popularity. The service will also tell you which programs are explicit or clean, which is something you want to know.

The trick with podcasts is to identify programs that are still active. Many series go dormant after just a few episodes but they aren’t removed from the iTunes directory. The only way to tell, unfortunately, is to click through to descriptions or websites and see when it was last updated.

Podcast Alley lists 200 results for the same query, but they’re in no particular order. You need to look for promising titles and click through to the details page, where Podcast Alley provides a nice summary of popularity and recent episodes.Beware: many podcasts are produced by businesses – even your competitors – and probably aren’t good targets for you. We do quickly find a couple of good candidates, though, including Travelrific and The Travel Advice Show. Most podcasts have accompanying websites, so it’s pretty easy to find contact information.

We’re almost through the process of identifying influencers. Next week, we’ll look at social networks and social bookmarking sites.