Tout it out: 15-second films amplify social media
If a picture is worth a thousand words, social media just got way chattier.
Here is Tout, which promises a more up-close-and-personal experience. For lack of a better analogy, think Twitter, but with short videos. Instead of 140-character messages, users post movies of 15 seconds or less.
It's a video status update service, encouraging users to share their little films on Facebook and Twitter.
Thanks to a recent Pittsburgh Steelers contest, the depths of black-and-gold fandom is on global display. Steelers Nation has gone international, and it is a sight to behold.
"As a fan of a different team, even I wanted to be part of the Pittsburgh traditions," said Gardner Loulan, director of community and content for San Francisco-based Tout Industries.
"We really wanted Steelers fans to be creative and have fun with the contest," said Burt Lauten, the team's communications coordinator.
More than 400 entries were submitted; contestants were asked to creatively describe the Steelers in three words. Some used more than three, but really, who's counting?
Flipping through the entries online at Tout.com, provided a whirl of images: man-caves festooned with Terrible Towels, kids dressed in Jerome Bettis jerseys, a dog wearing a scarf of team colors.
A random sampling from #MyPGHSteelers:
• A camera pans slowly up the Steelers-centric tattoos of a man's arm. He's wearing a team jersey and around his neck dangles a license plate reading Steelers No. 1 fan.
The kicker: He holds up a piece of paper reading: "YINZ GET IT."
• Some submissions featured someone holding big flash cards or papers, a la Bob Dylan's film for "Subterranean Homesick Blues." In one notable contest entry, a man flips through "Me, you, Antonio Brown, the Rooneys, 'We are family!', Myron Cope" and "Hines Ward" before getting to "My neighbor."
This is followed by "Well not my neighbor."
"He's a Ravens fan."
• For the truly devout, consider this: the camera pans slowly around a football field. In the end zone stands a long-haired, bearded man in flowing robes and sandals.
He is waving a terrible towel, and holding a sign. A voiceover says "My Pittsburgh Steelers" and the sign reads "Are My Religion."
In Western Pennsylvania, this is not considered blasphemous by any measure.
There was a stunning array of Steelers-themed homes and gardens. None of this would seem particularly odd to the casual, local observer, but what might they make of it in Italy? Tout is now available in 209 countries.
"I was incredibly impressed with the creativity, with the vociferous nature of the fans," said Mr. Loulan, whose team is the 49ers. "It's not just man-caves, it's family caves, it was the bedroom, living rooms. Amazing to see how dedicated they are to that tradition ... so cool, so fun."
"We were fully aware that introducing our users to Tout would be a win for both our fans as well as Tout. Social media is a conversation, and the ways to speak in that conversation are increasing by the day with so many new technologies," Mr. Lauten said. "Tout gave us a great avenue to actually see and hear what they had to say during the promotion."
Beyond the usual amount of enthusiasm for anything Steelers-related, fans had an added incentive. Those who sent in the top 10 video submissions -- winners were announced late Saturday -- not only earned tickets to one game at Heinz Field this season, their image will be printed on all of the tickets to that particular game.
Winners were: Chris Pittman of Easton, Pa.; Steve Harrison of Johnstown; Angelo Cammarata of Pittsburgh; Deb Neil of Grindstone, Pa.; Benjamin and Brian Neas of Cinnaminson, N.J; Andre L. Brown of Pittsburgh; Quinn Hoerner of Astoria, N.Y.; Theodore M. Broadnax of Memphis, Tenn.; the Dearing Family of Lordstown, Ohio and Mark and Corey Christofel of Minneapolis.
Ten home games, 10 winners. Pittsburgh native Mark Cuban's Dallas Mavericks are working on a similar promotion.
Mavs winners, Mr. Loulan said, "get your face on the Jumbotron during the playoffs."
Since Tout released its app/platform to the public roughly a year ago, it has been embraced by television programs, sports teams, even companies such as Rosetta Stone, which encourages fans to practice their new language skills via "touts."
Tout is a spinoff company with its roots at the Stanford Research Institute, the good folks who brought you color television and Siri, Apple iPhone 4s' genie-in-the-bottle.
CEO Michael Downing was an SRI entrepreneur-in-residence when a small team began working on what would become known as Tout.
Twitter has become a worldwide standard for posting bite-sized bits of news, opinions, links to longer stories and photos. But, said Mr. Loulan, "a picture and words can only show so much."
Chief marketing officer Scott Epstein said Tout is not about replacing Twitter or any other form of social media: "We augment them, so people are able to shoot and easily share.
"I guess we sort of view ourselves as the missing link."
In development, there was much debate over how long the videos should be. They had to give users time to say or show what was important to them, but short enough that others following them would not be bored.
Finding a catchy name also proved somewhat difficult. After combing through huge lists of available domain names, they came across one -- Tout.com -- already registered to someone in China.
It was worth buying because, among other things, "Tout" is a French word that can mean "any" and "all."
The next step in marketing was getting the brand out. It helped that former NBA star Shaquille O'Neal was an early adopter. He chose to promote the service by announcing his retirement last year via Tout. Mr. O'Neal received no monetary compensation, but is now an adviser for the company, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Seventy-five million touts have been shared, and according to the company, traffic has been increasing between 20 percent and 35 percent each month. Contests built around holidays and sports teams is a key marketing strategy.
Dozens of broadcast network affiliates are using Tout as a video status update.
Cast members from television shows such as "NCIS" and "White Collar" have Tout accounts. Kelly Ripa is especially involved; one Tout taken backstage shows her on the "LIVE! With Kelly" set with guest co-host Joel McHale.
She introduces him to guest John Slattery (of "Mad Men" fame), who evidently makes quite an impression. "Wait," Ms. Ripa says to Mr. McHale, "did you just genuflect?"
Unlike some other forms of social media that feature "fake" celebrities, the video aspect confirms that @ali_sweeney is "Biggest Loser" host Alison Sweeney.
Video touts are an especially effective way for fans and football players to connect, said Mr. Loulan: "Shrouded in battle gear, we don't really know them on the field. It [Tout videos] is useful to them to show their personality, their sense of humor."
James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley are among Steelers using Tout.
Mr. Lauten said the team is pleased with the response to the contest, and that future promotions will involve the service. "They went above and beyond."
"Tout is a platform that can be dropped into any website," Mr. Loulan said. "It's kind of the next stage of online communication."
For anyone needing confirmation that Tout is the Next Big Thing, consider this: Ryan Seacrest has an account.
First Published April 29, 2012 11:25 am