This article was first written in March 2019, but we gave it a spring clean in September 2020
…without going bankrupt.
You already know that social media is one of the most effective forms of marketing available. You already know that when your potential customers are scrolling through their news feeds, the thing that’s going to grab their attention – and satisfy those pesky algorithms – is video content. But on a limited marketing budget, how can you create decent social media video?
This guide will go through the reasons why video is crucial, some options for creating video content on the cheap with no prior production skills, some best practices and some examples of excellence. I’m assuming a basic working knowledge of the key social networks and how they operate. If you’re not particularly social-savvy, there’s lots of free courses you can do through people like Udemy and the Google Digital Garage. This guide is primarily aimed at small businesses and non-profit organisations, but the information is relevant (and essential) to any person or organisation that doesn’t have the budget for a full-time social media video producer.
But first, a quick disclaimer.
What follows is a write-up of a social media video masterclass I ran in March 2019 at the Google Digital Garage in Manchester. All the information was correct at the time, but the nature of the digital landscape means that some of it will become outdated in the coming months and years. The basic principles will remain more or less consistent, but the facts and figures may not. Either way, I’ll try to keep this page updated from time to time. By the way, I’ve linked out to some products and third-party apps but there’s no incentive for me if you sign up.
Marketing is about telling your story, and video is the most popular form of storytelling.
It’s no secret that online video needs to play a part in any serious social media strategy. Facebook and YouTube have an ongoing battle for dominance. There are new formats like Stories and live video. LinkedIn is increasingly interested in video content. Silicon Valley is KEEN to push video, to say the least. Here are a few quick stats, to illustrate the current state of play:
- 86% of businesses are now publishing video content, compared with 75% in 2018 (Source: Buffer)
- Half of customers get most of their video content from Facebook (Source: Forbes)
- Tweets with video attract 10x more engagement than without, and LinkedIn posts with video get shared 20x more (Source: Twitter and Buffer)
I suspect that if you’re reading this, you already knew this stuff. But maybe you don’t know where to start. Maybe you’ve had a few quotes from video production companies and they’ve been prohibitively expensive. Maybe you’ve tried creating social media video yourself and you felt out of your depth. If any of those statements is true, keep reading because this guide will really help you out.
Three myths about video content
Before we get stuck into the nitty gritty of social media video production, I want to quickly address three big myths around video content. By the end of this blog post you will understand why they’re not true.
Myth 1: You need to buy expensive kit
A phone camera is no match for a professional video camera, but in most cases it’s totally fine. In the right conditions (which I’ll go into later) your phone footage will look and sound great. Trust me, I’ve produced news VTs containing large chunks of iPhone B-roll, which have gone out on BBC World News to millions of people. I’m also going to look at some of the best apps for quickly editing social media video on your phone, in some cases automatically. There’s a place for beautiful cinematography and deft editing, but in practice the content of the video is the most important thing.
Myth 2: You need to hire a professional
OK, if you need to create social media video content with real polish, then yes. You should speak to a professional videographer or video production company. Preferably one that will help you develop a creative idea, rather than simply churning out a bland corporate video. Take the hint – drop us an email and let’s chat. However, remember that on social media it’s important to deliver good content consistently. I’m not saying be sloppy. I’m not saying quantity is better than quality. But I’m also not saying every post needs to win awards.
Myth 3: You need video footage to make a video
Even if you’ve not currently got a social media video strategy, you’re probably posting content using images and text. At least I hope so. I’m going to show you some really easy ways to turn those static elements into compelling video content. This adds value to your images and copy, and makes them more attractive – both to the casual scroller and to those pesky algorithms.
Three examples of great social media video
Now you know what video production ISN’T, let’s look at what it should be. When you think ‘corporate video’ you think of bland footage of people smiling at nothing in particular, bland voiceover, and bland slogans. That’s not how it has to be – not if you want your content to be successful, anyway. Let’s look at some examples of where brands have got it right. I don’t have exact figures for how much these campaigns cost, but I’m confident that they could all be delivered on a super low budget.
Example 1: boohooMAN – Cyber Monday balloon
The concept is simple. A poor innocent team member. A giant water balloon suspended over his head. Every time someone comments “pump”, a balloon inflates, inevitably bursting after enough pumps. That’s fun enough on its own, right? But to spice things up, there was £500 worth of boohoo vouchers up for grabs for whoever’s comment finally popped the balloon. This campaign is the work of Social Chain, a social media content agency based in Manchester. It clearly involved some technical wizardry on Social Chain’s part to hook the comments module up to the balloon pump, but can you think of a way to do something similar on no budget?
Example 2: Wholesome Culture – tofu scramble
Wholesome Culture is a vegan store in New York, which posts simple recipes on its Instagram page. This looks like it was really straightforward to put together; they’ve simply cooked the food, filmed it with a phone, done a nice quick edit and added some text. This whole thing could be done in an hour or two with nothing but a kitchen and a phone – including the edit. It puts their product front and centre without being overly salesy, which is arguably the best kind of branded video.
Example 3: Dollar Shave Club – Our Blades are F***ing Great
Incredibly successful despite its tiny budget, this viral hit reportedly led to 12,000 people signing up to the subscription razor service in its first 48 hours.
Social media video: best practices
Now that you know what sort of content you should be making, let’s explore how you’re going to do it.
First, let’s deal with the weirdly silent elephant in the room.
These days we love to watch video without any sound. I find that a little bit infuriating as someone who loves good music and sound design and puts a lot of effort into making my projects sound beautiful, but that’s the way of things!
So how do we get our message across in spite of this? Ideally, the video should be visual enough that it would make sense without text (think about the format of Tasty videos) but in most cases you’re going to need subtitles of some sort. We’ve got another very helpful blog to help you create your own subtitles for little or no money.
The biggest publishing platform on the planet has been in a battle with YouTube for years over who has dominance in the video space. And, depending on which metrics you look at, it seems Facebook has won. Forbes claims that 47% of customers say they get most of their video content from Facebook, vs 41% for YouTube.
- Be consistent
- Create conversation
- Analyse the data and adjust accordingly
Best aspect ratio: portrait or square
The main thing to keep in mind is that Facebook is looking for meaningful social interactions. People think that just means they favour personal posts over page posts. Yes, that’s true, but there’s also an opportunity to create a conversation around your content. It’s not enough to make nice videos, it’s not even enough to make videos that people want to engage with your brand on social media. You need to be creating conversations between people around your content and your products.
Examples like the boohooMAN water balloon stunt will become less effective, because people commenting “PUMP” does not constitute meaningful interaction. I recently posted a video telling the story of a dad who went above and beyond. He couldn’t find bedtime stories that reflected and affirmed his daughter’s black heritage, so he took matters into his own hands and wrote his own. This resonated well beyond the tiny audience (approx 100) of my fledgling page, and was shared 341 times. Compare that with the boohooMAN video, which received hundreds of thousands of views but was only shared 422 times.
How long is a Facebook video/piece of string
I often hear people say that videos need to be as short as possible on Facebook, around 30 seconds. This isn’t strictly true any more. Naturally, if you’re wanting to put out video content on a daily or weekly basis then you might want to keep it short for the sake of your own time and resources, but your Facebook videos don’t have to be short. If your content is good quality then there is an appetite to spend upwards of three minutes watching it. Facebook Watch has a heavy focus on longform TV-style content (content you can stick ads in the middle of) although the jury is out on whether people are ready to watch TV on Facebook.
Pay attention to the audience retention stats in Facebook Insights. These will tell you where in your videos people stop watching, and potentially pinpoint specific shots that are causing your audience to tune out. Chances are, most of your viewers will tune out in the first 10 seconds; don’t be disheartened, that’s the nature of auto-play!
Remember to add tags to your video and to put keywords in your title and description, so that your content comes up in search results. Ask questions in your title/description, preferably ones that allow for a wide range of responses.
Be prepared to shell out for ads/boosted posts
Ultimately, to get decent numbers on Facebook, you need to consider paying for the privilege. I would especially consider boosting video if you’ve paid a video producer to make it; John Lewis wouldn’t spend millions on a Christmas ad and then not put it on TV. I really like Hubspot’s approach to boosting Facebook posts; they only boost posts that are performing brilliantly on their own, so they can make their budget go as far as possible. They make the valid point in that blog post that ads and organic posts should always be thought of as two completely separate marketing strategies, even though they’re on the same platform.
Instagram is a strange beast, in that it started as something very simple (nothing but square stills) and is now three very distinct social media platforms: Stories, IGTV and the regular feed.
- It’s not essential to have video in the feed
- Stories don’t need to be polished
- Use IGTV for longer content
In the feed, stills are *still* king
Videos do attract more comments on average, but get less engagement overall than photos. So by all means experiment with posting videos in your feed, but only if they fit in with your grid in terms of style and quality.
Stories are a place to have fun
The 24-hour disappearing posts are set to be a big growing trend in the coming months and years, and it’s clear why. Vertical video is the most natural way to view content on a smartphone, so there’s no wonder it’s so popular. Stories works well as a standalone video production tool, without the need for other apps unless you want to fine-tune the edit.
You’d think this would go without saying, but think about how you can actually tell a story. You could show how a product is made, or take your audience on a tour of your workplace. Having one member of the team take over the story for the day is a great way of communicating your team’s personality. Whitworth Art Gallery recently let their work experience person take over; I loved seeing the gallery through fresh eyes, and how this young person was experiencing the art.
The most liberating thing about Instagram Stories is that they don’t have to be polished! Buffer ran an experiment to see how well professional-looking Stories ads would perform compared with DIY ones that anyone could make. They found that the results were as good, if not better, with the homemade-style content.
Brands are underusing IGTV
Buffer’s ‘State of Social 2019’ found that just 12.2% of marketers are currently using Instagram’s longform video platform. There’s a big opportunity here to create more polished vertical video content that reaches a younger audience, but beware that IGTV has yet to take off in the way that Instagram were hoping.
Probably my favourite platform for social media, although still not ideal for video, Twitter specialises in short content that is pithy and timely. Twitter itself offers a host of video best practice resources which are well worth reading.
- Short and to the point
- Include faces where possible
- Use video as part of a balanced diet
Best aspect ratio: square
Twitter users want to consume a lot of content in a short space of time. They’re not willing to dwell on one video for a long time like YouTube users do (and Facebook users to some extent). For that reason, it’s crucial that your videos are succinct, impactful and draw people in in the first few seconds. Personally, some of my most successful video tweets have been a single shot, unedited, that simply takes people somewhere they’ve not been before or shows them something they haven’t seen.
A nifty trick is to make sure you include human faces in the first few frames. This has been proven to increase view rates and drive 2x higher retention.
By the way, don’t just do video on Twitter, use a mix of different media. Sometimes the best way to start a conversation is with a simple text tweet.
The professional social network is really ramping up on the video front, with videos reportedly shared at least 20 times more than other content. Don’t miss out on this very effective marketing platform, particularly for B2B brands.
- Find a personal angle
- Tell your brand’s story
- Provide context in the post copy
Best aspect ratio: square or landscape (portrait videos will be cropped in the feed)
The LinkedIn algorithm is unusual compared with other social networks, in that content gets reviewed by actual humans in order to decide whether it’s worth showing to more people. Right now they’re very keen to promote personal stories where people honestly open up about their work. So why not do that in the form of a vlog?
Don’t forget to provide context and hashtags in your caption. Try to minimise the amount of information you need to get across in the video itself.
LinkedIn recommends these four approaches to video content: teach us something, share a project, take us somewhere, or go behind the scenes. Focus on one of those things, and get started.
YouTube is obviously still a huge player, but be prepared to be working at it for a while before you see any traction. If you already have an audience on Facebook, start your social media video efforts there instead. Pinterest remains firmly focused on links and stills for the time being, although don’t be surprised if it’s the next big frontier of digital video.
Snapchat and newer platforms like TikTok are something you may want to experiment with, but I wouldn’t bother unless you’re specifically wanting to target a younger audience. And by younger, I mean “has only lived in one century”.
How to produce video content with a mobile phone
As far as social media video is concerned, your phone is the only production kit you need.
There is so much you can do with just a mobile device. If needs be you can complete the entire video content workflow – shooting, editing, publishing – on a phone. (Provided your thumb has enough stamina.) I’m going to go through the basics of mobile videography, then list some great apps that are available for editing video for social media.
Let’s look at the filming side first. This is just a very brief overview, but if you want to go deeper there are some excellent guides out there on shooting with a phone. I would particularly recommend Film Riot on YouTube. By the way, a common misconception is that you need the latest phone model with the best camera. It’s really more about using things like natural light to your advantage, putting thought into your framing, and possibly getting some accessories.
The basics of filming with a phone
Portrait or landscape?
Firstly, before you start filming, think about whether you need to be shooting portrait or landscape. That depends on which platform/s you want it to sit on. I’ll talk about the ideal aspect ratios for each platform later on. If you mainly want a square video, but feel you might also need a landscape version, film in landscape but be mindful of making sure everything will fit inside a square frame. Whatever you decide, STICK TO IT. There’s nothing more off-putting to your audience than a video that mixes different aspect ratios. You should be aiming to fill all the real estate available to you on whatever platform you’re on. Be aware that the video editing apps generally aren’t very flexible when it comes to aspect ratios, so check what’s possible before you start shooting your project.
No, I’m not saying you need to pay for a lighting kit, although I wouldn’t recommend filming in the dark on a mobile phone unless you have to. Usually, there is a perfectly good light source available if you know how to use it…it’s called the sun. If it’s too dark, move near a window or go outside. If there’s too much of a glare, try changing your position so that the sun is behind the camera operator.
Framing and eyeline
If you’re filming a human subject, a really good rule of thumb is that their eyes should be a third of the way down the frame. Think about where the camera is in relation to the subject: the camera should be roughly level with the eyes. It can be a little higher if you want the Insta model look, but having the camera lower than the eyes is never a good look. Where do you want the subject to look? In an interview setup, it looks good if the subject looks at the interviewer, to one side of the camera. If the subject should be looking at the camera, make sure they (or you) look at the lens, not at the screen.
Mix up your shots
This is particularly important for something like a highlights video of an event. You need to be getting close-ups, wide shots, shots of faces, any cool-looking objects, and anything else that catches your eye. Think about shooting from unusual angles so that you’re showing your audience an exciting point of view; e.g. is there a high point you can shoot down from; have you tried going low and capturing people’s feet; is there something you can shoot a bird’s-eye view of, like a plate of food? In an interview set-up, get “b-roll” shots that you can cut away to; these could include the subject from a different angle, the subject’s hands, or the subject in a different setting that gives context to what they’re saying.
Most phones have great slow-mo built in, so use it! Not only does it look sleek and professional, it also makes your shots look steadier. Use it sparingly though, mixed in with full-speed shots, and be aware that if you’re recording slow motion then you might not be recording sound.
Avoid using the zoom, as you will lose picture quality. If you can, just move closer to the subject. Some phones (like newer iPhones) have 2x optical zoom, but if in doubt don’t zoom.
When it comes to filming with a phone, the right accessories can make a world of difference without costing the earth. Some essentials:
These are essential if you’re doing interviews or vlogs, and they’re perfect for shooting time-lapse footage as well. Either get one designed for mobile phones, or buy a regular lightweight tripod and phone clamp. The Manfrotto tripods and clamp are good but there are plenty of others available too.
Yes, it’s the butt of many jokes and the favourite of tourists the world over. But if you want to move around while shooting selfie-style video (e.g. for vlogs, Instagram Stories) then you will look a lot better with a selfie stick than holding your phone directly in front of your face.
There are lots of good quality clip-on mics that can plug into a smartphone. Again, these are essential if people will be speaking in the content you’re making and you want it to sound good. Rode’s Smartlav is one of my favourites, despite unfortunately sounding like a high-tech Japanese toilet. It’s designed for phones but can also be used with a DSLR camera via an adaptor.
This is a generic term for devices that stabilise your phone (or any camera). They’re an easy way to get gorgeous smooth movement if you don’t mind paying a bit of money. I use the DJI Osmo Mobile, which you can pick up for £110.
This is what I use for filming, because it offers a lot more control than the native camera app. It’s expensive as apps go, but well worth it if you’re planning on doing a lot of video. It gives you full control of your focus and exposure, rather than letting your phone attempt to interpret what it’s seeing.
Best apps for editing social media video
There are so many options out there for putting your video together. Some do everything automatically, others give you complete control. Think about how you want to strike the balance between having control of the outcome and the amount of time you can afford to spend.
Really good all-rounder which seamlessly combines an iOS mobile app (sorry Android users) with a desktop website. No vertical mode yet but great at switching between landscape and square. Adds a watermark in the free version, but the premium plan is £8/month on its own AND it’s included in any Creative Cloud plan (e.g. Photoshop CC). It’s part of the Spark suite, which includes things like Spark Post for making really nice social graphics on the fly.
If you’re less bothered about telling a story with text, and just want to cut a quick highlights reel (e.g. of an event) this is a great option. You can drop in video or photo assets and create a video instantly, or you can spend time fine-tuning the duration of each shot. It comes with several free music tracks, which the app automatically cuts the video to. Landscape video only. Works on iOS and Android.
Only available for iOS, and unfortunately only does square video, but it does that very well and with a very simple interface. It’s got lots of cool features, my favourite being the ability to film yourself speaking and add text automatically through voice recognition.
This is a web-based service, specifically designed to quickly create professional-looking Instagram Stories using text and images. All you do is pick a theme, write a bit of text, and add an image. It plugs into free stock image sites like Unsplash so you can literally do the whole process in seconds. It’s made by Shakr, which also offers a paid service for video in general (not just Stories).
Available for free if you don’t mind the branded watermark, but their pro plans start at £6.99 which is brilliant value. You can also pay £1 to download a single video without the watermark. It works in an app and on the web, and all your content is shared across any platform you use it on. Works in landscape, portrait and square, depending on what format your assets are in – so again, make sure you decide on an aspect ratio and stick to it.
If you write blog posts then I would 100% recommend this. It can take a web page or chunk of text and turn it into a really nice-looking video automatically. You can tweak it to your heart’s content, but honestly I was amazed by what it does on its own. The free plan is OK if you don’t mind the branded Lumen5 end card, and pro plans start at $49/month.
A very popular option, with similar features to Magisto but with more options for things like customising text. There’s no free option apart from a 14-day trial, but the personal plan is £8/month and the pro plan is £22/month.
Three quick wins for social media video
I don’t blame you if you’ve read all of the above and feel a little bit overwhelmed, unsure of where to actually start. Don’t worry, because I’ve got some solid quick-win ideas for you. They can all be done with no prior experience, no special equipment, and virtually no planning. They might not all apply to what you do, but at least one of them will be perfect for kick-starting your new video strategy.
Idea 1: Time-lapse
These always look awesome, get a lot of love on social media platforms like Instagram and Twitter, and involve very little effort. You could do a time-lapse of a product being made, setting up an event, a car journey, or just behind the scenes in the office. Lots of phones have time-lapse functionality built in, although you may want the extra control that Filmic Pro or a dedicated time-lapse app will give you. Also, consider getting a tripod; it’s either that or prop your phone up in a precarious position and risk it getting knocked over halfway through the shot. (Speaking from experience.)
Idea 2: User-generated content
This is my number one recommendation if you already have a decent-sized customer base, particularly in the B2C sector. If you’ve got customers who love your product and identify with your brand, then the chances are they’re talking about it on social media, along with photo and video posts. All you need to do is repost! They are literally making your content for you, for free, and it’s more meaningful because it’s real recommendations from real people. That’s why UGC is a big part of the social strategy for big brands like Sharpie and Nike. It’s best to check you’ve got people’s permission before using their stuff, although most people are happy if you credit them. Consider actively pushing a specific hashtag that people should use if they want you to use their content.
Idea 3: Live video
I’ve not particularly touched on live video here, beyond the brilliant boohooMAN example, but it’s a hugely popular video format and definitely worth considering as part of your strategy. You could do a live Q&A, take your audience behind the scenes at an event, make a product live…there are so many possibilities, and the best part is that you don’t need to edit anything because you can’t! Live video works on Facebook, Instagram Stories, Twitter, YouTube and more. At the time of writing, LinkedIn are running an invite-only beta.
So, in summary…
It’s easier than you may have thought to publish good quality video content on a regular basis. Social media content doesn’t have to be perfect, but more polished videos should be used every so often alongside self-shot day-to-day content. Now go away, experiment with the various approaches I’ve explored here, see what works for your brand, and turn that into a viable sustainable plan as part of your overall marketing strategy. Create content that people will want to engage with, that encourages them not just to talk to you, but to talk to each other. Try and have some kind of call to action at the end of each video – not a hard sell necessarily, just something that nudges people towards your brand. Get in touch with me if you have any questions, otherwise…happy experimenting!