Video as a communications channel


Video has quietly been driving the arms race between tech companies and between social media platforms. That’s a race that communications teams can take advantage of.

You’ll learn:

•    Video has become an important channel for how people use the media
•    Most communications teams don’t have the understanding or the skills to use video
•    The days of needing to bring in a film crew to shoot video are over. You can do it

Okay, so if you hear Google saying that 90 per cent of the internet is going to be video within the next few years what goes through your mind? 

If it’s surprise, take a look around your home and see what your family are doing. Mine? As I write this, my son is using his phone to watch YouTube clips of people playing computer games. My daughter is watching Tracey Beaker episodes on iplayer on a tablet. My wife is watching catch-up TV texting her friend.

It’s an everyday story of a family passing the time. 

Go on a train or a bus and the story is broadly the same. People are using devices to watch, play and share.

Now think for a second about what your team is good at. Does that include video? Use your YouTube channel as a yardstick. How’s that looking? There’s more than 40 million users in the UK. What’s your most recent video? How many are there and how many views - a few thousand? A few dozen?

Facebook’s future is video

Let’s put some numbers on that. Ofcom tell us that more than 70 per cent of the UK population have a smartphone and more than 40 per cent of people are happy to watch short videos on it. That’s more than half download TV programmes to watch back.

Earlier this year Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerburg was asked to talk about how he saw the future panning out. That future, he said, was video.

“Most of the content 10 years ago was text, and then photos, and now it’s quickly becoming videos,” Zuckerberg said. “I just think that we’re going to be in a world a few years from now where the vast majority of the content that people consume online will be video.”

Smartphone technology is powering video

The reason why video has grown so quickly is the mobile phone in your pocket. As each new phone’s spec rises you are able to watch more content that chews through more of your bandwidth. So video on your phone is within easy reach. 

Every leading social platform has woken up to the fact that people can watch video on their devices. It has become the new battleground for audience. Currently in 2016 there are rewards for posting video direct to channels. For example, the Facebook algorithm is framed to reward you for uploading content directly to the platform. The rewards and encouragement are even higher for Facebook Live.

Look at how Twitter is pushing video posted in its app. Look at Snapchat stories and how Instagram is upping the limit to 60 seconds of video content.

Video prevented a military coup from happening

Video is also the news. As events happen, often within seconds mobile phone footage is posted online.

Such is the role that video is playing that an entire coup d’état was averted simply through the use of video. When elements of the Turkish military staged an uprising they parked their tanks outside the TV stations. How retro. They’d forgotten that people had the ability to livestream from their mobile phones. So, the President Facetimed and the footage was broadcast. The population responded to a call to take to the streets. As they did they livestreamed it.

Closer to home, newspapers have stripped out their newsrooms and turned into media producers. Video content gets priority shared across online platforms. 

So what does this mean for comms?

For a start, it means knowing your audience really well. It means checking the Ofcom data for what media they are likely to use. It also means checking with them what their favoured channels are. It means that your Facebook strategy has become your Facebook video strategy. It means that you need to be thinking of what video content you can harness and use. 

It means equipping your team with the tech for them to shoot content. For flexibility this isn’t a video camera or a DSLR. It’s a smartphone. It also means devolving access to people across the organisation. In the Environment Agency, for example, having officers on the ground trained-up and able to shoot video as flooding strikes gives an eye-on-the-ground immediacy that works well with social media.

For the public sector, the comms team that upskills people on the frontline will get back footage of real people doing things out and about for the people they serve.

Think this isn’t a private sector thing? How much more effective would your internal comms be if staff themselves could be seen on video talking about their Comic Relief bed push or how the internal change programme was making the job easier for them. 

The first steps are within reach

You don’t need to be a filmmaker to take advantage of video. You can do so yourself. As with any new channel, spend some time getting to know it. Kick the tyres. Experiment. Watch what works and sign-up to the feeds of people who create content you find engaging. Which videos are being shared with you on Facebook? How long are they? What is your 11-year-old son watching? Or your 42-year-old partner?

Good video content that comms and PR people can learn from isn’t even hidden within plain sight. It’s all around us.

Almost all mobile and tablets phones now can shoot broadcast quality footage. The app ecosystem around Android and iOS has pulled away from Windows and BlackBerry. The App Store and Google Play have plenty of good editing software apps. iMovie works well on iOS devices and KineMaster can achieve on your phone what it would have cost more than £1,000 to achieve a few short years ago. 

For the past 18 months I’ve been running workshops with my colleague Steven Davies in which we give people the understanding of where video is so they know the strategy. We then give them the technical skills to shoot good video. This includes the law of thirds which sees what you are filming framed a third of the way along the image. Then we give them editing skills. But the parting advice is always the same.

The advice is this. Don’t make the next video be work related. Let it be your cat, your dog or your journey home. The more you use your phone for video the greater your confidence. 

But what works as a video?

This is the reassuring bit. Human beings interacting with other human beings work. Yes, cats do. So do dogs. Something that looks as though it has had nothing spent on it is very often fine. It’s how the internet rolls.

One video we always show in training is ‘Dr Olivia’s Guide to A&E’. Children play the role of doctors and adults are the patients in a role reversal. Dr Olivia tells each grown up who turns up at A&E with a minor ailment where to get help instead of waiting.

Why does it work? Because humans are talking to other humans. And Dr Olivia’s Mum frantically shared it on Facebook to all her friends. The old newsroom value that ‘news is people’ still works on video. Why would they not follow suit?

Length of video matters. On Facebook, 21 seconds is the optimum time. On YouTube go beyond three minutes or so and you’ll be the only one watching. 

If you’re livestreaming via Facebook Live or Periscope, the advice is to have a good WiFi connection and tell people in advance to build an audience.

On Snapchat, shoot upright. Elsewhere, try and shoot landscape.

Give it a go, the time and investment will pay dividends.

Figure 1 Video: optimum length chart

Dan Slee is co-founder and director of comms2point0. He has more than 20 years experience working for and with the media as a journalist and then in a senior role in a local government communications team. 

Twitter: @danslee