Social video users. Photo: Maskot

Developing social video at the TUC

We’ve been doing some work at the TUC to improve our own social video output. The digital comms team got together recently to take stock of what we’ve learned and where we’ll go next, and we thought it could be useful to share more widely for other unions looking into their work in this area.

What are social videos?

When it comes to social, video is still recognised as being a more effective form of content. A video’s reach can be huge when it’s timely and says something that resonates.

Social video is different to traditional video formats, and is something that’s grown up hugely in recent years, as a meeting of trends in mobile internet use and new social media platforms. As with most things that are evolving, there’s no hard and fast rule, but here’s a quick outline of how online videos differ:

  • Traditional videos are longer in length, have a captured audience (depending on platform, cinema, TV) and are usually high in production value. They’re commonly used as documentary, as a briefing, or as a record of events. Often they’ll be widescreen in format, as they’re likely to be viewed when a user sets aside time specifically to watch it, using a larger screen on a PC or laptop.
  • Social videos tend to be shorter with stronger hooks, especially at the start of the video. They can work with sound or without. And they cater to the requirements of specific social platforms, such as vertical videos (stories on Instagram) or square formats for Facebook, optimised to fit into a social feed as people scroll through it. People are likely to watch them on mobile, and come across them rather than seeking them out.

Social platforms, Facebook especially, prioritise video in users’ social feeds. Users like it, but it also keeps them inside the network for longer. This means Facebook will be more likely to show a video to your followers than it would be to show a link you’ve posted out to content on your website.

However, things move fast on social platforms and the rules that might apply could change depending on the direction some of the big contenders like Facebook want to take their platforms in. For example, Facebook is now prioritising longer videos, and Instagram has a sister platform IGTV that helps you host longer videos. So it’s important to keep that in mind too.

As well as aspect ratio, there are other conventions you often find in social video. Adding subtitles directly to the video makes it easier for users who’ve got the sound turned off on their phone. But this means thinking about how you use the screen when designing the video – setting aside prominent screen space for big, clear subtitles.

What makes a good social video for us?

When it’s values-based, focussed on people, tells a compelling story and when we know what emotion we want to evoke in the viewer.  

Professional production is good, but all those things can be more important.

Audience expectations differ too. Sometimes a good piece of social content means you don’t even need to play the video to understand the message. It’s already captured in the title and post message. Think about how you are going to present the video as an overall social post, not just the video itself.

Your social channels will show you how much of each video your viewers actually watch. Typically it’s only a few seconds unless you can hook them in early. Beware of reading too much into the total number of plays – some of them will be people scrolling through their feed, whose phones automatically start the videos, but they don’t spend any time actually watching them. Looking a bit deeper at the numbers of people who watch more of each video than the first few seconds, and those who comment and share, will help you evaluate it better.

When should we be using social video?

When it’s really important to our strategic goals and our digital purpose. We need to always remember that video can take up a lot of time and resources, so it’s not something we can do as readily or regularly as other types of content.

So we use video when it chimes with our definition of ‘what makes a good video for us’ and when our priority is to reach as many people as possible.

For political messaging, video works best when we have a big announcement to make. It’s also viable when we are saying something on an issue of national importance, or of widespread interest for your audience, and where we expect our position will stay the same for long enough for us to get mileage out of the video.

Seeding videos

When deciding how to use social video, we also need to make decisions on seeding. This is paying to promote your video to a wider audience. It can sound counter-intuitive if you don’t already do this, to pay for people to watch something you’ve already spent money on, but where you don’t yet have a strong enough audience in the segment you are aiming at, it’s something to consider.

Supposing you make a video that cost you £1,000. If you get 10,000 views of it through your own channels (social, website, email), each view costs you 10p. If you’re aiming for wider reach within a given audience, paying for delivery makes sense if you can buy additional views for less. Paying 2p per view for an additional 10,000 views would cost £200, but it brings the overall cost per view for the video down to 6p.

This video from NEU was heavily seeded. Originally it went through several versions, each seeded to a small audience until they found a version that got activists sharing it heavily. By budgeting for a major spend on this, they managed to get a Facebook audience of millions in a cost-effective way.

If we have good quality content with a good relevancy score on Facebook and we’re strong with the audience we want to reach, we don’t necessarily need to devote much to this. But where we’re trying to stretch our reach it makes sense for us to consider budgeting to promote each video accordingly.

Facebook tends to work best for our own videos – due to ease of targeting, low cost to display, and the right kind of audiences for viewing and sharing video.

When we shouldn’t be doing video

  • When video is suggested at a starting point to an idea. Conversations can sometimes start with “we need a video”. Initial thinking needs to be focused on what we’re trying to do, rather than how we’re going to do it.
  • When there are more timely ways of getting the same message out. We have worked on developing templates to make video creation easier (here’s an example), but it still takes hours to source, edit, compile and publish even a simple video. If you need to get a response to breaking news, consider posting a clipping from your spokesperson’s broadcast interview, or just a snappy text post.
  • When there’s a better way to reach that audience. Union comms teams can advise other staff on what might be the best way to deliver the right message to the right people. TUC affiliates can also contact our digital comms team to talk through ideas if it’s useful.

Type of videos we make

Here’s a diagram of formats of video that we might produce for our digital channels. We aim to make much more regular use of the formats at the bottom of the pyramid, saving the higher (and more resource intensive) formats for occasions when we might need them.

This may vary for your organisation, but it’s worth having a think in advance about how you would use different types of video, and how easy they would be for you to produce and distribute. For example, at the TUC we’re now trying out how “social documentaries” might work on our channels, though this is very much in initial stages.