Video production for social media, made in Manchester
I've been producing digital content since 2012, primarily for flagship BBC brands like Blue Peter and BBC News. Now I run Studio 91 Media, a video production agency on a mission: to create content that is good for platforms, good for people and good for the planet. When I'm not behind a camera, I can often be found playing cello at weddings or riding a three-wheeled cargo bike called Babs.
We recently delivered this vision video for Interserve, a Christian charity that serves communities in Asia and the Arab World. Alongside a major rebrand, the organisation approached us to produce an explainer video that demonstrates what they’re about. They wanted to focus on the people they work with, which is where ‘Sarah’ came in.
The challenge from Interserve
Sarah (not her real name) has been supported by Interserve, and with their help she has made it through some extremely tough times. Sensitivities around the place where she lives means that her identity needed to remain secret. The challenge, then, was to tell this one woman’s story in a compelling way, without compromising her security. We couldn’t use her voice or image. We couldn’t even hint at her ethnicity. And yet we needed to make the film personal and engaging.
Generally we shy away from animation. It’s not where our expertise lies, and it’s prohibitively expensive for many clients. In this case, though, we felt like animation could be the perfect solution. We searched high and low for an artist who could sketch natural-looking images in Photoshop. It turned out that artist was hiding in our existing network – the brilliant and multi-talented Charlie Barber. Back when Jamie and I worked at Blue Peter, Charlie was there too as an Assistant Content Producer. We sent him a list of ‘scenes’ for the Interserve film, and a series of reference images to explain the kind of style we were aiming for.
How we did it
Charlie sketched the images in Photoshop while recording his screen, resulting in a dynamic image without the sky-high costs associated with traditional animation. After the animated opening, further context is provided through a filmed interview with Dan Challis, Interserve’s Initiatives Co-ordinator.
A common occurrence for Studio 91 is clients coming to us with a budget and a list of requirements, but uncertainty over how to accomplish what they need. If that sounds like you, don’t panic. We LOVE a creative challenge, and will bend over backwards to find the solution that perfectly fits your needs. Drop us a line and let’s get started.
Once upon a time, back in May 2020, I was meant to travel to Eurovision to film social content with the EBU’s digital team. Of course, that wasn’t to be, and 2020 became the first year in the history of the Eurovision Song Contest that the Contest didn’t go ahead.
Thankfully, I still had the chance to get involved in the 2021 edition of the Contest. Sure, I only got to travel as far as Media City in Salford, but it was a lot of fun all the same. The BBC’s Eurovision social media team commissioned me to produce a video of children reacting to classic moments from Eurovision’s recent history. It was part of a wider campaign to pique young adults’ interest in the Contest, and boost its already plentiful viewing figures.
Along with a small crew, we interviewed about 20 children in a day, asking them questions and capturing their reactions to everything from Finnish rockers Lordi to a dancing gorilla. I turned around the edit in a couple of days, in time for the big build-up to the Eurovisional final. It made a big impact on social media, garnering over 200,000 views on Facebook as well as a tonne of engagement. Here it is – enjoy!
Recently we’ve been working with The Lily Jo Project to produce some brilliant in-depth video content for schools. The aim is to create resources that appeal to children and young people, and that don’t shy away from tricky mental health topics.
Ben was a pleasure to work with, his calm nature put me at ease and his turnaround times were quick and exactly what we had set out in the brief. I was blown away by the quality of the shots, and I would recommend Ben and team to anyone needing media services.
Lily-Jo, founder of The Lily Jo Project
Lily Jo is a singer-songwriter and mental health professional. She started The Lily Jo Project because she’s passionate about talking to kids about mental health. Her unique skill is bringing a wealth of experience and expertise to the table, and delivering it in a clear, non-patronising way.
Each month, The Lily Jo Project puts out a new series of mental health resources based around a different topic. So far we’ve filmed and edited over 2 hours of content for them. These have been on the subjects of racism and creative expression, and how they relate to our mental health.
Before the COVID pandemic, Lily Jo and her team focused on face-to-face teaching in schools. In 2020, they pivoted to a video-first approach, and it’s led to them expanding internationally. They now deliver mental health resources to schools as far away as Canada. We’re really proud to have been part of this journey, and to be working on something that will genuinely improve young people’s lives.
From mental health to classical music to parenting, we’ve got a lot of experience producing all sorts of educational content. If you’d like to work with us on something like this, drop us a line any time.
Bury Council have been really interesting to work with, because we’ve been producing video content for them throughout the pandemic. Think back to April 2020. The early days of the first national lockdown. That’s when my path first crossed with Nicola Appleby from Bury Council’s comms team. She mentioned that she had come across my guest blog for Mike Pye + co about how to film yourself using a phone. She had adapted it to send to councillors. Suddenly these people had a need to film themselves that had never really been part of their jobs before.
By the end of the month, we were editing films for Bury’s social media. The content used footage shot by various staff and volunteers, thanking “#TeamBury” for all the amazing work they were doing.
We’ve produced several films for Bury Council since then, using a mix of user-generated content and professional footage. The latest piece of work involved two videos. The aim was to thank volunteers and carers, and mark a year since the pandemic was declared. I spent three days travelling around Bury with Nicola, gathering footage, and Will spent the weekend editing the footage.
The result is two pieces of content we’re extremely proud of, featuring some truly inspirational people. People like Tina, who is risking her own health to run a food bank, the lovely smiley volunteers at Trust House in Whitefield, and retired nurse Elaine who goes above and beyond to care for her husband.
We love producing video content that tells real stories, with clients who want to make the world better. This project in particular is one that will stay with us for years to come. It marks a period in history when times were hard but when staggering numbers of people stepped up to look out for those around them.
Together with my almost-two-year-old and Ellie, my wife and co-director, I moved to Cheadle Hulme at the end of 2020. This leafy suburb in the Greater Manchester’s Stockport borough is a big change from Moss Side. Still, that area was our home for just over 10 years and will always have a place in our hearts!
We’re not saying goodbye to Manchester – far from it. Our registered address and main base will still be the wonderful Colony Piccadilly. We have a lot of clients and partners based in town, so it makes sense to keep those relationships up and keep accessing all the great events and resources that the city centre has. It’s only 20 minutes away by train, but I’m enjoying the longer cycling commute too.
That said, moving to the Stockport (SK) area has given us chance to get to know the very friendly and welcoming business community down here. Earlier this week I posted on LinkedIn asking if anyone could help me build relationships with the businesses in the area. Immediately I was being invited to all manner of networking events and virtual coffee meetings. It was such a warm welcome! It was so lovely to chat to people who have never met me before but were totally open to giving me advice and introducing me to their contacts. We’ve already got a few Stockport-based video clients, including St Ann’s Hospice in Heald Green, but we’re hoping to pick up a few more in the coming months.
So now it feels like we’ve got the best of both worlds. One foot in Stockport’s tight-knit local community, and the other in the heart of Britain’s second city*. We’re excited about what 2021 will bring, hopefully including meeting some new people in person!
*Apologies to any Brummies who wrongly think they live in the second city
We’re really proud of our work with St Ann’s Hospice, one of our longest-standing Stockport video production clients. It was an honour to produce their annual Light up a Life service. Every December they help people remember and celebrate their loved ones in a really beautiful way.
Normally there would be multiple live events in different parts of Greater Manchester. Given the pandemic, the charity decided early on that a pre-recorded video format would be the best alternative. It meant the service could be available to anyone who wanted to access it, but would hopefully feel as special and important as it would in any other year.
We first got involved with St Ann’s Hospice in 2019 – sometimes filming and editing, sometimes repurposing existing footage. The Light up a Life service was a mix of both approaches. It combined pre-recorded video messages with professional footage shot in the Haven, a multi-faith chapel at the Heald Green hospice. The pre-recorded messages came from various public and religious figures, including Andy Burnham and David Walker, the Bishop of Manchester. There were songs from amateur choirs, and carols sung by a chorister in Manchester Cathedral. In the beautifully decorated Haven, I filmed video messages from the chaplain and hospice staff. As always, I grabbed plenty of ‘b-roll’ shots to help me piece the whole thing together.
“You’ve captured the feel so well”
I’m really pleased with the resulting video, which you can see below. Here’s a lovely bit of feedback I received from the St Ann’s team after they watched my edit:
Thank you SO much for bringing our service to life. Everyone who has watched it has absolutely loved it – there’s been quite a few tears! You’ve captured the feel of our Light up a Life service and the hospice so well, it feels really Christmassy and warm but also poignant and a special time of remembrance, whilst still being hopefully and looking ahead.
Everyone has asked me to pass on their thanks to you, and Pete, Jo and Rachel especially for making the filming so smooth and making them all feel a lot less daunted than they thought.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Like it or lump it, most social media video content is viewed without any sound. In most cases, that means some form of subtitles is absolutely essential if you’re hoping to get any reach or engagement. This handy guide will show you how to easily add captions to your video content. But first, there’s one thing you need to understand.
What is the difference between Open and Closed Captions?
There are two types of subtitles: the first is Open Captions, which are ‘burnt into’ the video. They are part of the video file itself, and cannot be turned off. The other type is Closed Captions, where they are attached as a separate file. Closed Captions are generally on when videos autoplay in the timeline, and off when a user taps in to watch the video with sound.
Facebook, YouTube and LinkedIn allow for Closed Captions, in the form of an SRT file. This file can be attached during the upload process, or added later. This is our preferred approach as it gives the user more control. If they want to watch with audio and not be distracted by subtitles, no problem. Another advantage is that the text size will adapt to suit the size of the video window. In other words, your subtitles will be easily legible on a mobile screen, but won’t be distractingly large on a TV or computer monitor.
Unfortunately, Twitter and Instagram don’t allow for Closed Captions. Instead, for these platforms the subtitles will need to be ‘burnt on’ to the video. Keep reading to find out the easiest way to add subtitles to your video, either as an SRT file or as Open Captions.
How to create subtitles as an SRT file
As with most things in life, there’s a fiddly way that costs you nothing, and a simpler way that you have to pay for. Fortunately, in this case, the fiddly way isn’t that fiddly and the simpler way is very cheap!
The free but fiddly way to create an SRT file
Or, if you like, friddly. I just thought of that. Good, right?
It doesn’t matter if you don’t want the video to be publicly available on YouTube. It doesn’t even matter if your brand or organisation doesn’t have an existing YouTube channel. Just create an account if you don’t already have one (a personal one is fine) and go to youtube.com/upload – you’ll want to do this from a desktop computer if possible.
You don’t need to add a description etc. if you’re not going to make the video public. The only thing you need to do is select “No, it’s not Made for Kids” and hit Next until you get to the Visibility screen. At this point, make sure you set it to Private (unless you do want it to be public). Then hit Save.
Step 2: Transcribe
After clicking Save, click Subtitles on the left sidebar, then on the video you’ve just uploaded. Then hit Add on the right hand side. On the new screen that comes up, select “Transcribe and auto-sync”. Now you can either type out everything that’s spoken, or paste in a script if you have one.
Click Set Timings, and YouTube will automatically match your transcript to the timing of the dialogue.
Step 3: Adjust timings and download
Click on your new captions under My Drafts, then watch the video on the next screen to proofread your subtitles and adjust the timings.
Now click Actions in the top left, then Download.
Step 4: Convert SBV file to SRT
Just to make things difficult, the file YouTube gives you will be in SBV format. This is similar to SRT, but won’t be accepted by the likes of Facebook and LinkedIn in its current form. The easiest way to switch it to SRT is using a free online caption converter, of which there are several.
Facebook requires a specific naming convention for the SRT filename. This is filename.[language code]_[country code].srt – for example, myvideo.en_GB.srt. You need to change this before adding your subtitle file to Facebook, otherwise it won’t be accepted.
Step 5: Attach subtitle file to your social media
That’s it, you’re ready to go! You can now easily add your Closed Caption subtitles to your video in Facebook and LinkedIn.
The cheap and simple way to create an SRT file
If you don’t fancy delving into the slightly convoluted process described above, there’s a better way. It’ll cost you money, but not much, and is our preferred process when creating captions for clients.
Simply sign up for an account with Rev.com and upload your video file. One of their army of transcribers will add subtitles for you, at a cost of $1.25 per minute of video. Then you can proofread/tweak the captions if necessary, and download them in your chosen format – we recommend ‘.srt (Facebook)’. That’s it, you can skip straight to Step 5 above.
Rev also offers a cheaper option, using automatic voice recognition rather than a human transcriber. This is dirt cheap at $0.25 per minute of video, but will of course require some tweaking on your part. They claim this method has 80% accuracy, although it does depend on the quality of your audio and whether the speech is fighting with a music track.
How to create burnt-on subtitles (Open Captions)
Sometimes your subtitles will need to be burnt onto the video itself, especially if you’re uploading it to Instagram or Twitter. These platforms don’t currently have a way to add separate subtitle files.
If you need both Open and Closed captions (for example if your video needs to be on LinkedIn and Twitter) then we strongly recommend using Rev and ticking the ‘burned-in captions’ box at checkout. For an extra $0.25/minute, you’ll get a copy of your video with burnt-on subtitles as well as the separate SRT file.
If you only need Open Captions, one cheap and easy way to do it is with the MixCaptions app. Available for iOS and Android, it automatically transcribes your video and adds subtitles. You can then edit them (chances are, they won’t be right first time) and add customisable styles. The app is free to try, but you’ll need to purchase credits (at a very reasonable rate) if you’re using it a lot.
Hopefully the prospect of creating subtitles for your self-shot video content isn’t too daunting. Trust us – it will be well worth the boost in reach and engagement that your content will receive. Every time you add subtitles, the internet becomes a little bit better and a little bit more accessible, and an angel gets his wings*.
When we’re producing video content for our clients, subtitles are something we can take care of. Not only does this save you time, it also means we can add Open Captions that complement your brand. Get in touch with us if you’d like to find out more about our video production services.
*We make no guarantees as to the accuracy of this claim.
I spend just as much time editing other people’s footage as I do my own. This has always been the case, especially given the cost savings involved for many of my smaller clients. But for the last few months, editing self-shot footage is all I’ve been doing; that and advising people on how to film themselves. Along the way, I’ve been learning a lot about what you can realistically expect from this sort of video content, and how to get the best results. I work with a lot of comms and marketing teams, either in-house or on the agency side, so they’re often the ones pulling everything together. If you’re finding yourself in that situation quite a lot at the moment, this guide will hopefully be useful for you. OK, let’s get stuck in.
1 – Keep it simple
During lockdown I’ve worked remotely with all kinds of people, from teenagers to people in their 70s. Clearly, the levels of tech knowledge are not going to be the same across the board. Some people have had full camera setups, or professional audio equipment that can be synced with phone video. Some people simply didn’t how which buttons to press on their phone to record a video. That kind of thing is not easy to teach over Zoom, trust me. In many cases we’re asking something to do something completely out of their comfort zone. Actually, two things – operate a camera, and talk to it.
That’s why it’s crucial not to be too ambitious with the way you capture your video content. That means keep it simple, keep it brief, and keep the camera static.
You want a screen full of people to say a message at the same time? Great – how are you going to make sure they say it in sync?
You want a bunch of people singing the same song? Lovely – what key do you want them to sing it in?
I’m not saying don’t be creative – it’s about figuring out how to make the filming part super simple, so a professional like me can do the heavy lifting in the edit.
Here’s an example of a video I produced for Bury Council to thank their key workers. To minimise any risk, we asked the key workers to do the filming themselves. We gave out a very short, simple shopping list of the shots we needed, e.g. waving to camera, wide and close-up shots of someone doing their work. Some people did more than that, but the edit was planned in such a way that it would still have worked even if all we had was people waving.
2 – Set up a Dropbox file request
You need to get the original footage wherever possible, and to make this an easy process for people who might not be tech-savvy. Most smartphone cameras will film in HD quality, or close to it, but if you were to send an HD video over WhatsApp, for example, the quality becomes much lower. WhatsApp heavily compresses the file so that a) it will send quicker and b) it won’t obliterate your data plan.
Dropbox file requests are an underused tool that lets people upload a file without any hassle. It works on a phone or desktop computer, whether the user is logged into Dropbox or not. They just hit the link, select the file/s, and they’ll appear in your Dropbox. There’s no compression involved, so when you download the video it will be exactly the same quality as what was uploaded.
You can do this with a free account, the only significant restrictions being how much space you have overall, and an individual file limit of 2GB. That’s the same limit as the free version of WeTransfer, and won’t be an issue in the vast majority of cases. You might run into this problem if you’re capturing more than about 45 minutes of HD video.
3 – Direct remotely where possible
Ideally you need to be able to see, hear and speak to your contributor while they’re recording their video. You could simply record a Zoom call with them, but you won’t get the same quality as you would if they were to record locally on their phone. You also run the risk of the video/audio dropping out, depending on the strength of their Wi-Fi and your own.
The best solution, then, is for the contributor to film themselves on their phone, but to also have another device open with a Zoom link. I appreciate this goes against my first point of keeping it simple, but it’s all a balance between minimising friction and maximising quality. If you and your contributor can manage this method, then it’s worth it – trust me.
One of the bigger jobs I’ve worked on during lockdown is the Sandford St Martin Awards, an annual event which celebrates TV and radio programmes about religious and ethical topics. With this year’s edition inevitably being streamed rather than face to face, they enlisted me to record interviews with all their finalists. In the end I interviewed about 30 people, with the participants recording themselves on a phone while also connected with me via Zoom. There were several big advantages to this approach:
I could check the quality of the shot (e.g. the framing)
I could offer live tech support
I could make sure the content itself was right, and encourage the contributor to bring the level of energy we needed
There was no risk of having to ask them to re-record
If you are able to direct, think about how you can get the best possible delivery from your contributor. Will they perform better if they have a script, if they ad lib based on key points, or if you ask them questions? The answer will vary for different people! Always stay positive so that they feel relaxed and confident. Ask them to imagine they’re talking to a room full of people, instead of to their phone in a box room. Listen carefully to what they’re saying, and think about whether there’s a more concise way to say it that will work better in the edit.
4 – Take the time to get it right
As I explained in this blog about how to film yourself with your phone, it’s crucial not to rush into these things. If you take the time to plan the end result before you start gathering content, you’ll know exactly what you need. If you take the time to explain the process properly to the people involved, you’re less likely to end up with wild inconsistencies in what you get back. And if you do have the luxury of directing the content, don’t start recording until everyone is comfortable and the shot is exactly how you want it to look. I’ve previously had to ask people to try and bunch of different rooms in their house before we found the best setting, and I didn’t regret it.
Throughout my career, I’ve always done a combination of filming my own content and editing what other people have filmed. Right now, the latter is pretty much all I’m doing. The big challenge for me hasn’t been the editing itself, it’s been the lack of creative and technical control that comes with it.
When I worked for the BBC, producing digital video content for brands like Blue Peter, there were often times when I would be sent a video that a presenter had filmed on their phone, or given a piece of GoPro footage from the cutting room floor. My job was to assess whether it was worth using, and if so polish it up with a slick edit, some tasty graphics and a bit of music.
In the world of non-profits and businesses, there are always times when remote editing is the most suitable option. For one thing, it’s generally a great way to save on filming costs if a client already has existing footage, or has had professional photos taken that can be reworked into a video. It might be that a charity wants to promote an annual event, and has mobile footage that was shot by their staff or supporters.
That was the case for St Ann’s Hospice, a hugely important Stockport-based charity and one we’re very proud to produce video content for. Their Manchester Midnight Walk is a massive annual event, attracting thousands of walkers and raising millions for the charity. They approached me early in 2020 to create a suite of six videos for them, each aimed at a different type of supporter. They didn’t have any professionally shot footage of previous events, but they had plenty of material that people had filmed on phones, as well as professional still images. I’m a bit of a control freak, so part of me is always a bit terrified when I have to edit someone else’s footage, rather than shoot it myself or with my team. But still, there’s a lot of fun to be had finding ways of taking whatever I’m given and creating something that feels genuinely polished and professional.
The secret sauce in this particular case is my bespoke motion graphics, based on the event branding created by the charity’s design team. These give all the video content a cohesive style, even though each individual video feels distinct. As well as the one above featuring Mr Motivator, there was a video focusing on the fitness benefits, one focusing on the difference the funds raised would make, and so on. The stills, footage, copy and music were slightly different on each piece of content, to make sure it would resonate with the intended audience.
As the pandemic loomed, the event ended up being postponed til June, so I reversioned the video content with the new date. Within a few short weeks, though, it became clear that the event could not go ahead. Instead, the ‘Manchester Virtual Walk’ was born, with participants walking their own 5K route in their own time during the month of June. I went back to the existing edit and created this, the (hopefully!) final version of the video.
If you’re interested in our remote editing services, please drop us a line. For some tips and tricks for filming yourself with a phone, read this guest blog about self-shooting that I wrote for Mike Pye + Co. And of course, if you’re able to, please do join in with the Manchester Virtual Walk and support the fantastic, essential work of St Ann’s Hospice.