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How we're winning with social video

The future of social media centers around video. 

In June,  Facebook Vice President Nicola Mendelsohn said in five years the social media platform would “definitely” be mobile and would “probably” be “all video.”  

Wait … what?! All video?! Are you sure, Nicola? 

To be honest, at West Virginia University, we’ve seen this coming. Ever since we produced our first, short social video series in early 2015, we’ve seen a trend showing video works much better than any other visual form of communication on social media. 

From August to October of this year, our video posts on Facebook have earned 300 percent more impressions per post compared to one without a video. In fact, when comparing posts with and without videos, our posts with videos outperform by at least 200 percent in every major metric. 

Video works, and at WVU, we are making social video work now. And five years from now, it will surely will become an even more important part of all of our strategies if Mendelsohn is correct. 

Why video, though? 

Well, it entertains in a completely different way, because it incorporates visual movement with audio and text into a single visual. It can capture attention better than any other form of communication. And it stands out. 

From Aug. 1 to Oct. 15 this year, we developed 28 different videos that were posted on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. While our unit developed additional videos during this time, these 28 were developed with social media in mind (I’ll get into what that means later on). In that time, we have seen nearly 2.5 million video views.

video is winning

When it comes to the newest generation we’re trying to reach, Generation Z, its attention span  lasts for about eight seconds . In that eight seconds, you must make a favorable impression - one that lasts. Video gives us the best chance to do that thanks to its combination of sensory stimuli. 

What makes a great social video?

Here at WVU, we’ve been redefining what is a “successful” video. While number of views are important, what may be even more important to the success of a video is what happens while it’s being created. Tone and timing is crucial. 

At WVU, our social videos must be: 

Conversational, informal and (mostly) fun: We’ve learned quickly that a video that looks stuffy and feels institutional doesn’t work for our social media audiences. We strive to make our videos feel light; we want our audience to connect with the subject or topic and not simply just see or hear them but engage in what they're saying. 

In general, we stick to videos we'd consider "fun," as well, because we're trying - in the end - to entertain. That's the only way a person watches an entire video anyway and then comes back for more. 

Does that mean we stay away from serious topics? No, absolutely not. But that’s where the informal nature comes into play. With those more intense topics, we make sure our subject feels comfortable in front of a camera - no matter how long it takes. It's important that they feel OK opening up to us and to the lense. 

Short and sweet: No matter the subject, it's important to keep our videos as short as possible. On average, our videos are viewed for about 25 seconds. So we strive, when possible, to keep our videos to that length. 

The video must be visually stunning and change quickly over that time to really keep people engaged. You want them to not be able to look away, especially when you are producing video longer than 30 seconds. 

And don't be afraid, because you can absolutely tell a good story in 30 seconds. And at times, it may even be more focused than ever before. 

Sure, you may not learn everything about a person or a subject in 30 seconds, but you can find out what makes them unique. 

What are some tips to make video work? 

Your first five seconds are the most important: Thanks to the autoplay function on most social media platforms, you have about five seconds to stop people from scrolling past your video. So, make sure that first shot counts. And, when it fits, change to a different shot within the first five seconds to pique a person’s interest, as well. 

Develop a consistent team: More than anything for us, we’ve been able to keep a core team focused on social video. Together, we understand the goals, what works and how to move forward in the quickest way possible. It has helped us develop our tone, which we keep throughout every video. 

Embrace 30-second stories: Good storytellers have the ability to edit themselves, and that’s exactly what social video needs. In an interview, spend time loosening them up, learning about them and finding what makes them tick. Then, ask them, based off what you’ve learned, to sum their story up into a sentence or two. That is, in the end, what you want for your video. 

Motivate through video: Our most popular video ever came out in August, and it was basically a “hype” video focused on the traditions of our University. It was a simple video, really. It combined old footage with a powerful song and a couple of goose-bump inducing phrases. After more than 2.5 million people watched it, we are now working to develop more videos that motivate in a similar way. 

Not every video must be “social”: Let’s all be clear, the best way for someone to find and view a video is through social media. It’s not through an email, campus information screens or a print piece. So, we all must strive to create videos that work on social media. However, there is a caveat. Sometimes, videos are not for social media and should not be put there. Draw a clear line between videos that are “social” and others that should not be featured on social media. The key is to have a definition of what a “social” video must be. 

The future of social video at WVU

For a long time at WVU, we considered video to be its own separate entity. They worked to produce videos, and those were shared in various places. Now, our video team and our social team work hand-in-hand to develop video content that will work for our audiences. 

Video isn’t just video anymore. Video has become social media … or social media has become video. Either way, we need to embrace that change as we move toward the future with that in mind. 

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