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8 Tips for Social Video Storytelling

Amy DeLouise is a video director-producer who specializes in telling real people stories that help nonprofits and companies tell their brand story. Her new book is The Producer’s Playbook: Real People on Camera (Focal Press).

1 – Tell a Story.

Even if you are telling a nonfiction or “real world” story, you still the essential story arc elements to keep your viewer engagement. Start with a hook that hints at the main climax or challenge, proceed to a brief introduction of the topic and characters. Then you need to build to the climax—some challenge or issue that needs to be overcome. Finally, you reveal the resolution, and perhaps add a call to action if you are selling a product or trying to engage people with a charity or issue.

2 – Be Brief, With Exceptions.

amy-delouise-headshot-by-levi-simWistia has done several useful studies on viewer drop-off, and it looks like a couple of trends are worth watching for social video makers. First, you need to grab your audience in the first few seconds with what we call a “hook.” If you’re planning to use Facebook’s new video tool, you’ll want a silent hook—meaning, a striking image, sequence of images or words that really grab people, since videos play in the Facebook feed without sound until someone clicks. See more on how to create a hook in item 6 below. If you can tell your story in under 2 minutes, great, because the first big viewer drop-off occurs right after 2 minutes of viewing time. But wait—if your audience is willing to hang in there for 5 mins, there’s a solid group you can keep engaged. Then it gets interesting. While viewers do leave, there is substantial engagement for much longer content. Viewers may be switching platforms—that is, they will start viewing on a mobile device, then switch over to a desktop or large screen to continue consumption. Longer viewing sessions tend to happen with content the viewer is already pre-disposed to care about: a documentary on a subject of interest, a training video they need in order to accomplish a task, a story from a charity they like to fund. So this leads to my next suggestion.

3 – Know Your Audience.

This goes without saying, and yet I’m often confronted with projects that want to be all things to all people. By definition, this means you are ignoring certain audience characteristics and needs, and risk diluting the story for everyone in the process. If you want to reach tech-saavy millennials, build your content for Snapchat and Twitter with links for extended viewing on other platforms. If you are reaching out to boomers and grandparents, go for Facebook. Youtube is still ubiquitous as a platform (more than 100 hours of video uploaded every minute!), and remains the #2 search engine, so including this platform in your audience outreach strategy is generally advised.

4 – Know Your Platform.

Speaking of platforms, always assess a variety of distribution tools before you go into production. Each one has different “isms” (tech term!) and compression codecs that may affect your design and your acquisition choices. For example, if you’re going to broadcast, you’ll need to acquire in a minimum 1080i, at 29.97fps. But if you know you’re compressing for YouTube or web distribution, you’ll want to acquire video in progressive, at a bare minimum of 720p, but these days I recommend 1080p. And shooting 24fps will save you a lot of compression frames for every second of footage. If you will ultimately be cutting up the video and using some or all of it projecting on large screens at a live event, consider shooting in 2K or 4K.

5 – Think Mobile.

75% of the world’s mobile data traffic will be video by 2020 (Cisco). That’s huge. So consider what your video will look like on a mobile device when planning your production. Gone are the wide shots. Medium shots don’t play much in my videos any more, either. The story must be compelling in a close-up medium. Avoid tiny type. Avoid flashy swish-pans and zooms which, when compressed, turn to mush. Do your audio mix for several possible platforms and listen to it on a mobile device before you release!

6 – Care About Audio.

If you have gorgeous images with bad sound, your video will be skipped over before you know it. Always hire a professional sound engineer for video shoots. Don’t expect a videographer to be able to acquire high quality sound with a camera microphone or inputs directly into the camera, as these cannot be monitored for over-modulation or other problems. A sound engineer will use a mixer, listen to every take, and own a variety of microphones for different circumstances. For my productions I also usually send our final edits to a sound mix studio for additional sound design work, plus mixing voices and music properly for our different distribution platforms. The mix for a 10,000-person audience at a conference isn’t the same as the mix for desktop computer speakers. If you are handling audio mixing yourself, aim to output at -6dbfs. And always create mono-compatible audio–ever noticed how people will share earbuds while watching a video? That means each person is only hearing one channel of your show! Avoid over-compressing voices. And ALWAYS listen on a mobile device before outputting.

7 – Manage Your Assets.

If you’re shooting one video, you should be planning for the next 20. Be sure to shoot some “evergreen” footage that can play in other projects. Metatag footage with keywords plus the date of the shoot and initials of the DOP (Director of Photography/Videographer). Take the time to add additional metadata such as locations and people’s full names–not “Shawna and Bob talk”–so you can track images down for re-use in the future. Get interviews transcribed. This is extremely inexpensive and saves hours of fishing for soundbites in the video editing room. Plus you now have quotes for easy use in social shares, blogs and newsletters. Hire a BTS (Behind the Scenes) photographer for a few hours to shoot the video shoot. You’ll get incredible mileage out of these photos for social shares, and you may even need some shots for coverage within your video.

8 – Reward Engagement.

Give viewers tools to engage with your video after they’ve viewed it. For example, Facebook has added a feature that allows you to post exclusive video content to your pages to “reward” viewers with added content. YouTube allows you to embed links to take viewers to other content, as do various hosting platforms such as Wistia, Sprout Video, and Vidyard, which also help companies by tracking user engagement with powerful analytics.

Social video is exploding. With a little planning ahead, you can harness its power to share your story.

 

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