How to make better videos for social media
Updated: Aug 23, 2019
Recognising the platforms that you’re sharing videos on is crucial. Once recognised, optimising and creating this content to fit is the next step. I’ve worked on a few projects where I have really focused on keeping all this in mind - let me explain my thought processes.
Ultimately, the fundamentals to what I’m explaining here are very simple, but I believe its effect can be quite significant. The majority of social media use is on phones and mobile devices, and their form factor is quite different to that of a television or cinema screen. Posting a vertical video not only feels more natural on these platforms, it also uses more screen real estate on the consumer’s end. More of your image means less of others, giving you more impact. As a video creator, I see it as an interesting challenge/experiment to shoot and edit something which may feel nontraditional and unnatural, but can work quite well when people or portraits are involved.
This also relates to other supposed constraints of these mediums, such as time. Being able to get a message across in a 15 second instagram story, or a 60 second post, or a 140 second video on twitter, is extremely crucial. And yes - sponsored posts can be longer, and IGTV now allows longer videos posted to the feed which act as a preview for the full IGTV video. But these methods miss the point. The point of making a promo video only 15 seconds isn’t to fit to the constraints of the platform, but to the behaviour of the users. Instagram counts a ‘view’ on a video as 3 seconds or longer, and users definitely aren’t watching every video on their feed in its entirety. This puts extreme value on the first few seconds of a video, if not the first few frames. I would argue that generally the shorter the better, and that you can’t take the incredible access that the platforms give creators for granted. Respect the fact you can reach such a wide audience by respecting their time. I know others may disagree, and show the effectiveness of other approaches, but I’ve found this the most logical.
The point isn’t to fit to the constraints of the platform, but to the behaviour of the users
I’ve only touched on vertical video so far, and that’s just the start - there are a myriad of inventive ways to optimise video for social platforms. Another which works specifically with Instagram is the popular layout utilising the tiled view of an account. I have used this myself for clients who aren’t looking to update their feed regularly, so want a static business card feel to the page (see @performancejk example). In this case, it gave the client the ability to showcase what they have done as a personal trainer, while they can update more regularly via Instagram stories. The top three ‘tiles’ play videos once you click on them, and I find that the best way to use this approach. This is because it adds more value to the post, so that it is not just a random mosaic of a larger photo but reveals a whole video also. I’ve linked a few other pieces of Instagram-specific content below. One to mention is the account @eva.stories, which is a video project that tells the story of Eva Heymann during the Holocaust. This uses the instagram story highlight feature to keep a daily diary from her perspective. Along with the other examples below, this goes to show that there’s endless ways to approach video for social media - whether it is an ad or a narrative piece.
I do find that explaining these methods are a bit like explaining how jokes work - “Analysing humour is like dissecting a frog. Few people are interested and the frog dies.”. While I think more than a few people are interested in video marketing, as there’s a lot of money to be made, I still feel that it can kill or at least take away from the authenticity of such social media platforms. Many people are still creating great, meaningful and entertaining content without a product to sell. And ultimately this is what makes a platform great, whether it’s seeing your friends wedding photos or a budding young filmmaker’s passion project. Advertisers should not only respect their audience on these platforms, but their position in the platform as a whole. This is not to play down advertisers’ importance on such platforms, but to aid them in getting the most out of this relationship between consumer and advertiser.
I like to see videos optimised for social media as another useful way to maintain a mentality of adaptability and openness in such an ever-changing industry and medium. With the current pace of development, it seems so logical to be excited for new forms of connection through the medium of video. Plus, its fun and I love the experimental aspect of it, so it’s a win win!
Here's a few mentions of work I have come across on Instagram, which use the platform in a clever way:
An Instagram story utilising vertical videos for an interesting portrait composition, with a 'Learn More' click-through to watch full documentary style promo for new line of sunglasses.
A daily IGTV vlog showing Paul Ripke's daily life and work. Note the innovative use of a screen record to display not just what a camera sees, but also his 'Instagram of the day' and a collection of photos on his phone.