Video had a rough ride but here’s how to use it

Facebook declared it was 'the future,' and while the vision never materialized, it's still an important format for brands

video-illoBy Sean Stanleigh

A tweet recently passed through my feed that made me pause the firehose of information and dive deeper into the subject. It was related to executives at Facebook declaring, as of 2015, that video was the future. Within five years, they said, the company’s news feed would be almost exclusively in this format.

I’m paraphrasing, but in a nutshell @Chinchillazllla noted on Twitter that a number of websites ‘went under’ because the pivot Facebook was preaching ran counter to the desires of the audience.

The social-media platform later admitted it had overstated its video viewing metrics, a number of lawsuits followed, and the company reached a $40-million (U.S.) class-action settlement.

There’s been a lot of fallout related to the industry in the past five years, but video remains comfortably seated in the mix of preferred formats for content marketers, including Globe Content Studio. It’s important to consider when and why to choose video, and how to create it effectively.

Audiences have always wanted to consume video in environments that were built for it. The growing popularity of TikTok is the most recent example of a trend that’s mostly been dominated by YouTube, Twitch and Vimeo. The challenge is when you try to force video into places that didn’t design for it.

Creative factors to consider

  • Begin with the “story first, format second” mantra. Instead of saying “we want to create video content,” ask “what is the message we want to get across and is video the best format to do it?” Do you want to transport the audience to a location that has visual appeal? Plan a site visit. Are there interesting places to shoot footage? What will elevate this content above and beyond what you could accomplish through text and photography? Avoid ‘head shot’ videos unless the speaker is well known to your audience.
  • Videos often live or die on personality. People connect with people. How will your story be told? Strong visuals with a behind-the-camera narrator? If so, does this person have the right tone and delivery? Will your lead speaker be in front of the camera? Are they appealing to see and hear? Are they capable of engaging guests as well as the audience? Take a broadcast approach by testing potential hosts, particularly if you want to feature them as a brand spokesperson over the long term. Interview guests in advance. Are they comfortable when you hit record? Do they have interesting stories or knowledge to share? Can they articulate them effectively?
  • Who will produce, shoot and edit the work? Do you have in-house experts or do you need to hire externally? If you’re creating content on behalf of a brand, the audience will expect a reasonably high production value. Poor lighting, sound or editing will turn audiences off. From the beginning, keep in mind you want to create a consistent look and feel for all of your video work. It’s a visual stamp for your brand. Make sure your internal team has a hand in helping establish your identity, and maintaining and evolving it over time. Hire vendors that are open to working within your guidelines.

Distribution factors to consider

YouTube is still the elephant in the room. Streaming services like Netflix aside, when viewers want to watch video content, YouTube is likely where they wind up. Not only is it designed specifically for video, it’s also a primary search engine. Brands, however, do have other considerations when it comes to hosting content there.

First is the sea of competition. It’s tough to stand out. For that reason, it’s best to cross-post to your own website to boost awareness. Second is that you don’t want competitive advertising to appear on your videos. Set up an AdSense account to manage those preferences. Third is to learn about your audience. Keep a close eye on your metrics. In the short term, don’t worry about views, but pay attention to time spent. If it’s high, keep doing what you’re doing. If not, adjust your approach.

This is going to sound counterintuitive, but social media is still your friend. Digging further into the distribution piece, you’ll want to share social cutdowns, or very short snippets of your video, on (yes) Facebook and Instagram that link to the full video elsewhere. Snapchat and TikTok are better served with native video, produced specifically for those channels.

As a further brand extension you might also want to consider live social broadcasting on Facebook, Instagram or LinkedIn, where it’s relatively simple to engage audiences in real-time conversations around topics of brand expertise. You can also record and share those discussions off platform.

Get creative. The Globe and Mail is a content platform, but the bulk of its storytelling is packaged in a text-and-photo format. Those stories can be used as vehicles to ‘sell’ video by embedding it within contextually related material. It adds depth and promotes engagement. How can you repurpose your video work by peppering it across other media?

Length: The final frontier

A lot of ink has been spilled on this and there’s really no right answer, other than “it depends.” Short form video continues to reign supreme, but how short is platform dependent.

With TikTok emerging as the dominant social video channel, 60 seconds or less is required, which should be standard on social media. For most brand initiatives, I’d recommend trying to fall between two and three minutes (in fact, TikTok has started testing three-minute lengths with some top creators).

Beyond the four- to five-minute mark I’d argue you’re moving into digital mini-doc territory and that’s a whole other kettle of fish. One step at a time.

Sean Stanleigh heads up the Globe Content Studio, the content-marketing division of The Globe and Mail, elevating brands and driving their business results through premium, journalistic-style storytelling. The team of content strategists, designers, video and podcast producers also have expertise in research, data analysis, social media and influencer campaigns. Contact GCS@globeandmail.com for more info.