I just sent 555 personalized video holiday greeting cards-How I did it

by David Spark on December 27, 2008

Last year I got the idea to send personalized holiday video greeting cards (see I just sent 325 personal video holiday greetings-How I did it). The response was so overwhelmingly positive (see I just sent 325 personal video holiday greetings-The Response) that I decided to do it again.

Do you really have that much free time?

No, I don’t have that much free time, but December was a really weird month as many of my clients simply couldn’t make decisions on anything. So it was really hard to get projects to move forward and forget trying to get new business. Everyone was completely shaken up over the economy.

Instead of hounding my clients or trying to stir up new business, I decided it was a good idea to just work on building some good will. I had so much success last year with the video messages and it really helped kick start 2008 so I decided to do it again.

How long did it take me to record and send 555 personalized videos?

I figured over a period of 2 1/2 weeks (you HAVE to spread this project out) it took me somewhere between 45 to 55 hours worth of work. That was almost four times as much time as I spent last year. But that includes a lot of other stuff that doesn’t include the recording of videos. Such as managing the spreadsheet of recipients, finding updated email addresses for people, updating my contact database, and my mailing list. Plus, I responded to many of the people who responded to the video.

What did people say when they received the video?

I got many similar responses as I did last year, but I would say you could categorize this year’s responses in two groups. Here’s a sampling of responses in those two groups:

Thank you so much for the personal touch

  • “Thank you for the video message – it’s my first personalized video holiday greeting! What a treat. It was a bright spot in my hectic day.”
  • “This is fantastic Dave!!!!”
  • “Just had to say that I LOVED your video – that was so sweet of you and such a wonderful surprise!”
  • “Your message was spectacular. Also…but in short wanted to say, a) you rock, b) I love you, c) loved this message.”
  • “Thanks David – such a personal touch (so much better than a card)”
  • “You’re the best!! I’m honored that you call me your friend.”
  • “This is as freaking cool as last year.”
  • “You absolutely put a smile on my face! How many personalized greetings are you going to be doing I wonder? It certainly adds a great touch.”
  • “Awww! Your super personal video greeting totally makes up for having been left out last year :) thank you!”
  • “Too funny. I loved your video card. Very very cool. My kids, did too.”
  • “LOL! This is awesome! Thank you for my personal message :-) So cool! (LOVE that video!!!)”
  • “Hey! That was the coolest thing, you’re such the King of tech–I loved it.”
  • “WOW…that is my first video message. I feel very special.”
  • “Wow, this is my first video holiday greeting!! Thank you so much — that put a smile on my face!”
  • “Ah thanks David!! I love getting messages from you!”
  • “I am always impressed with your videos. You are amazing.”

One of these days I’ll figure out how to use a Web cam

  • “I loved it! I should learn how to fire up the damned Web cam.”
  • “Cool way to send a message! My camera hasn’t working on my laptop in awhile.”
  • “Thanks for the amazing message. I’m not as cool with the video responses yet… Give me time, give me time!”
  • “I tried to return the favor of your very kind video message with one of my own, but god help me, my $2000 ThinkPad with web cam cannot make it work.”
  • “Thanks. Facebook can’t find my camera. :-(“
  • “What a little delight! Now if I had a cam on my PC I’d be leering back at you,”
  • “I read your Spark Minute piece about video cards and thought ‘Ooh, I wanna get a Dave video holiday card!’ You have inspired me to do the same, but first I gotta buy a webcam.”

Of the hundreds of video messages I sent out, I only received about ten personal Web video responses back. Ironically, many of the “I can’t get my Web cam to work” responses came from some very techy people, many of whom are in the business of producing Web video.

Some Twitter responses

A few people broadcasted their sentiments to their followers on Twitter.

  • “@dspark sent me a wonderful personal video holiday message.”
  • “@dspark just sent me a really nice holiday video on Facebook. Nicest holiday greeting EVER!! @dspark ROCKS!!…”
  • “@dspark Just watched a hilarious video holiday greeting card from my man, David. :)”
  • “@dspark THK U for the wonderful video holiday greeting. Very thoughtful, much appreciated. Happy holidays! Look fwd to working w/u sometime.”

Close with a joke

My favorite response was from a comedian friend of mine in LA.

  • “You obviously send this to everyone you know in Santa Monica who has a girlfriend who works for Fox. This is clearly generic. Thanks for nothing, jerk.”

Was it worth it?

Ultimately, the purpose of this effort is to spread good will to my friends, colleagues, and people I have done business with/want to do business with. While I believe the above responses indicates that I successfully spread good will, I won’t know about how it helped business until the end of 2009. Here’s what one friend said:

  • “Thanks for the personal greeting. These must take you a year to make, and I’m sure it’s worth it.”

I hope he’s right. I’ve already got a follow up list set for January to restart conversations with many people.

While this project did take a long time, I can definitely say all the hours I’ve spent communicating with people over the year has never generated the positive results as this project does. So related to all that other communications, it’s very effective.

An update on tactics to send personalized videos

This article is to update last year’s experience. I’ll explain why I sent so many more, what I learned from last year, and what I did differently this year. Please read last year’s “how to” and “response” article first. I’m not going to repeat the information that already resides in those two pieces. All this information is an update to what happened differently this year.

Here’s a summary of what I learned and did differently.

Better management of my list of recipients

Last year I began just looking at my Facebook friends and started selectively sending videos to certain people. At the time I had about 600 Facebook friends and I had far more people in my contact database. Yet, I just chose to use the Facebook list as the list to work with and unfortunately realized after the fact that I missed a lot of important clients. I did use TokBox for many other people who weren’t connected on Facebook. But the problem was I used that initial Facebook friend list as my core list and I relied on my memory to include everyone else.

In just one year, my Facebook list has doubled to about 1200, but I decided to use my mailing list (about 1700) as an initial base because that’s the most definitive list of people I still communicate with. Some are on Facebook and some are not.

I exported the list from my mailing list program, Campaign Monitor, into Excel and selected the people I would send messages to. I had four columns ordered alphabetically by last name. First column was the person’s name, second was email address, third was the service I used (Facebook video or TokBox), fourth was the response.

My criteria for picking people to receive personalized video holiday greetings

This is a dangerous decision because I know I’ve definitely excluded people. There were plenty of good friends and colleagues I wanted to reach, but there really is so much I could do. I should note that if anyone was insulted, they didn’t send me a personalized holiday card. Mass mailed e-card’s don’t count, nor do they have any impact. And believe it or not, I didn’t send any personal videos to my own family. I talk to them so much already.

Here was my criteria for sending a personalized holiday video card:

  • People I did business with that year.
  • Good friends.
  • People I had opened business discussions with, but nothing happened.
  • People I hadn’t spoken to in a year or two, but wanted to reconnect with.
  • Fellow colleagues in tech journalism and social media.
  • People who have been strong supporters of my work.

Things I said differently in the videos this year

I actually didn’t change anything. It worked well for me last year, so why mess with a good thing? See Step 4 from last year’s post about how I did it for a list of what I included in each video.

The huge increase in sent videos

I almost doubled (from 325 to 555) the number of personalized videos. This is just a function of business going well, and all the networking I’ve done over the past year.

Victim of being the first

I have a mailing list for which I send out mass mailed emails. On those messages, I get about a 30% open rate. But for these personalized video messages, I wanted a 100% open rate. Like with any personal email, you want the recipient to open and read it. We’re not so concerned with 100% open rate on mass mailed emails.

The problem is that most holiday cards are mass mailed. It’s not strange for people to assume that a video message from me would be mass mailed. Seriously, why would David Spark send me a personalized video message?

I had to try to convince people that the message I was sending was not mass mailed. That it was specially made just for them. I used the same personalization tactics (e.g. name in the subject line) as I did last year. Still, I fear some of the messages were not seen as evidenced by these responses:

  • “Heya — didn’t realize that was “just” for me! thanks!”
  • “That was awesome! I was expecting a canned video card and I got to talk you talk at me for longer than we usuallly do.”
  • “You totally caught me.  I was not expecting a personal video and am truely touched that you took the time to make one.”

One of the great advantages of using TokBox for video messages is that the program sends you an email to let you know if someone has seen a message. Facebook doesn’t offer that kind of alert. But if the person was a heavy Facebook user (I could tell that by clicking over to their profile page and seeing if they had recent activity on their wall), then I preferred to use Facebook because I figured the chances were higher that they would actually see the video than from an application (TokBox) they had never heard of.

At the end of the project, I went through all the people who I had sent TokBox videos to who hadn’t seen the video and sent them two messages. One was a follow up message that let them know that I had sent them a personal video message and did they get a chance to see it. And then the second one was the personalized video message forwarded again. With that two message follow up combination, I got almost 100% successful opens and responses.

Lastly, this year I also used a macro text tool called Texter (only works on Windows) to autofill in common phrases I had in subjects lines and in the body text. This tool actually has been invaluable to me all year as it autofills phone numbers, addresses, Web addresses, and other items I type over and over again.

Please, I look forward to your comments and suggestions of how you’ve sent personalized greeting cards. I share my successes and failures over the past two years with this project in hopes that others start this tactic as well. The holidays is a time of good will, but I’ve never felt that with mass mailed greetings. I like it when people tell me specifically that they’ve appreciated my business, work, or friendship over the past year.

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