We’ve been expanding our use of social video at the TUC, to make the most of networks like TikTok and YouTube. These networks give us the possibility of reaching beyond the more politically engaged people that we regularly get to on Twitter. But for a video to land well with different audiences, we’ve had to tailor our approach a lot.
Here are a couple of things we’ve learned, and four distinct formats that we come back to over and again when we’re trying to generate popular video content.
Nobody cares and nobody knows
Whatever content we’re making, we have to assume that the person watching it doesn’t care what we’re talking about, and mightn’t even know the basics about it.
As people get more insulated in bubbles of the kind of content they like, they’ll be less aware of other issues and perspectives. Amongst the kind of people who do comms for unions, it’s easy to assume that everyone is as up to date with current affairs as we are. If you’re already wondering whether it’d be necessary to explain something more fully, then you can assume it definitely would be.
Some topics it’s going to be impossible to get people to be interested in from a standing start. And if you’re attempting to make something very niche go very popular, you should factor that in before committing work and expense to trying it.
Or if it is something you’re aware might have a problem captivating people, you need to work to make it as interesting a possible, or as relevant as possible to your audience.
One way this manifests is in who we choose to front our videos. We might think a union leader or politician would be a good choice, but they’re unlikely to be recognisable to anyone outside those already engaged.
Even a video from a well known person in the movement needs to be saying something genuinely new and interesting, rather than relying on who they are. And sometimes it might be a better choice to pick a spokesperson who’s relatable and a good presenter.
Don’t lead with an advert
When you have something you need to promote, it can be tempting to want to get that up front. For example if you’re running a rally next week, calling on people to come along to that.
We always turn that on its head and try to start with something which is as interesting and as appealing to as many people as possible to get them engaged. Then at the end we can come in with the plug.
@tradesunioncongress Have you had enough? Come to our rally on June 18. #inflation #borisjohnson #ukpolitics #money #budget #costofliving #union ♬ original sound – TradesUnionCongress
And of course what you’re wanting people to do might be relevant only to a few who see it. But if you engage them in the content and they end up sharing the video because of it, then you’re getting a shot at finding a few more people for whom the ask is relevant.
Getting a strong hook up front
The first few seconds of any social video are critical, where you hook people into whatever will be happening in the rest of the video. We try not to make any bit of content until we can think of what the hook is. Sometimes it could take a whole day.
Just think of what the first opening 2 seconds will convey, because that’s the most important bit when you’re competing against the rest of the Internet – against every single bit of content that someone could be watching in the rest of the social feed that they’re scrolling through.
When we’re talking about the first one or two seconds, we really have to be pretty brutal. It’s something that we’ve had to tell freelance videographers that we’ve used who have come from a more documentary or TV background. They’ll open with a really nice, beautiful establishing shot. That looks nice, but it’s not going to stop someone scrolling past? Cut straight to the key line first.
Format 1: Comparison videos
We’ve had a lot of success with comparison videos, trying to get across a sense of “Have you heard this? This is something really shocking”.
We do this by directly juxtaposing two different things, often simplifying it by using actors to personify an idea.
So we’ve done videos in the past where someone personifies the gas company and someone else the average customer. Or where people represent different countries in order to show different governments’ responses to something.
This is a comparison of Britain versus France over work rights. We made two of these videos and both of them did very well.
@tradesunioncongress French retire 62. Brits retire 68. Sound fair? #learnontiktok #britain #france #retirement #protest #freedom ♬ original sound – TradesUnionCongress
We filmed this with actors and a green screen. You might not have the budget or tools for this, but the format can be done really simply. Even with one person doing both roles by filming from two perspectives, with a text box above their head saying “UK” or “France”.
It’s a really simple way to dramatize the core story behind a union news story that’s about figures and might otherwise be quite dry.
Format 2: Presenter videos
There are two types of presenter videos. The first is what we call a scripted video.
This is a script that we wrote and we had two union activists speak it through, explaining why they were going on strike. This is very scripted and supposed to be emotional. The assertive straight to camera stance and strong opening line mean people might not scroll past.
@tradesunioncongress Key workers’ message to the Prime Minister. #uk #ukpolitics #primeminister #rishisunak #tories ♬ original sound – TradesUnionCongress
The advantage of a presenter video is you can you can show exactly what you want to say, unlike an interview, speech or news clipping. You’ve just got to make it grabbing. So every single sentence in that video is very, very short, very to the point.
To make it we got our two activists to record the whole speech, and then we’ve just cut between them both. It’s easy to do with two or three people. And it’s generally fine to film on a phone if you can isolate background noise. We’ve used a lapel mic that connects to a smartphone to get clearer sound for phone videos. But people are often willing to overlook technical quality a bit if the content is good and it has powerful emotions.
This next type we call an authentic presenter video. It was just shot by an activist on the phone, standing in the rain. They just did that themselves and we put it out on our feed because it was so powerful. It’s had close to 2,000,000 views I think on TikTok.
@tradesunioncongress Scottish postie sends a message to the CEO of Royal Mail. #pay #union #money #strikes ♬ original sound – TradesUnionCongress
We’ve noticed that videos like this often go well where the presenter is combative but actually quite polite. In this one, he does say stuff which is direct or harsh, but at the end he’s saying “cheers”, making him seem human and likeable. That’s quite a nice combination and people seem to go for it.
If you’re filming someone, try and bring them onto the path of speaking really plainly. Normally when you put a camera in front of people they aren’t used to it and they get a bit formal or go into technical details. But with this Scottish postie it’s using language which pretty much every worker can relate to. If they start veering into technical arguments, maybe just say “can you do that one again, but shorter and just focus on the bigger picture?”
Format 3: Montage videos
A montage video is splicing different clips together to make a bigger point.
@tradesunioncongress Numbers don’t lie. #food #money #rich #pay #poor #learnontiktok #borisjohnson ♬ original sound – TradesUnionCongress
We’ve done a lot of videos like that, and they can they often do very well. Something I’ve added recently has been the ticker at the top – It’s another way to hook people’s interest because that numbers constantly going up, so it keeps them constantly paying attention.
This can be harder to do practically in house, and it helps if you’ve been able to build up a bank of useful clips over time.
Format 4: Clip videos
The last the last format is clips from the Internet – often from TV appearances – which honestly are one of our best performing best performing formats. They’re especially good if you have low budget cause it’s really cheap and easy to clip and produce.
If there’s a bit of the footage that’s quite attention grabbing, we always use that first and then work backwards to explain it, so the hook is clearly up front.
It doesn’t mean the overall video can’t be longer. For example, with a video of the Royal Mail CEO being grilled in parliamentary committee, we started with the awkward moment that people would notice. It’s a 2 minute video and it gets a bit dry at parts, but because people were already hooked at the beginning then they might stay for the rest.
@tradesunioncongress Royal Mail CEO GRILLED. #mail #post #learnontiktok #awkward #interview #union #strike ♬ original sound – TradesUnionCongress
So with this we started on Simon Thompson’s bonus, and you get the viewer’s attention because, like someone’s been given £140,000 bonus and they want to know why. Highlighting conflict makes something appear more dramatic, and it can be powerful in something that might be too dry if viewed from further out.
Written by Declan Seachoy and Paul Nicholson from the TUC’s social media team.