6 unbreakable rules of video

OK, maybe you can bend them a little.


Trying to plan a video can be daunting. There are many questions to answer, many details to understand.

On top of that, your video is competing with the overwhelming amount of information (including other videos) that’s out there vying for your audience’s attention. After all, more than one hour of video is uploaded to YouTube every second; 3 billion hours of video are watched each month.

Maybe you don’t have much (or any) experience producing video, or maybe you have a small budget. With so much competition from other videos, you might wonder: Why bother?

There’s good reason to tackle video—and a good chance you’ll succeed—according to a session presented by TMG’s video and digital experts at the annual Association Media & Publishing conference earlier this year.

In today’s digitally focused world, using video as part of your content marketing strategy is practically a must. Consider these stats:

  • 62 percent of Web traffic will be video by 2015 (Cisco, 2012)
  • The YouTube player is embedded across tens of millions of websites (YouTube)
  • 100 million people take a social action on YouTube (likes, shares, comments) (YouTube)

In their session, “The Unbreakable Rules of Video (And a Few You Can Bend),” Kate Ottenberg, director of video services and media relations, Michael Wolcott, lead producer, and Andrew Hanelly, director of digital strategy, presented six ground rules of online video, advising the audience to first follow these basic rules, and then improvise.

1. Have a clear purpose.

Though it would be fun to produce a video that goes viral, if it’s not reaching the right audience, it doesn’t matter. So, before you start creating your video, you have to know who you are (your brand positioning) and who your target audience is.

Just as with any marketing campaign, you need to define your goals and objectives first. What do you want to achieve with the video? What point do you want to make and what action do you want people to take?

You should make a single point with your video, and have a next step or call to action.

2. Create for people, not job titles.

If you are targeting a business or government audience—that is, people in their workplace as opposed to consumers at home—remember that you are still targeting people.

Your video will have a better chance of success if it passes at least one of the three E’s test: (1) Is it entertaining? (2) Is it educational? (3) Is it emotional?

3. Distribution is your friend.

Perhaps you or others at your organization don’t want the video posted to YouTube or other places because you have concerns about having your brand on YouTube. But YouTube is the second-largest search engine—and you want your video to be found and easily shared.

Hanelly advises, “Don’t wear brand handcuffs.” Get your video in as many distribution points as possible.

“Fish where the fish are, but have a hut, too” Hanelly says. Meaning, get your video out there where the people are viewing them, but have a home to bring them to on your website.

4. Embrace production basics.

When planning and shooting your video, these production basics will help you look like a pro and prevent potential disaster.

  • Use the “rules of thirds.” Divide the shot into thirds horizontally and thirds vertically (so you have 9 imaginary equal sections). The points of interest should occur at 1/3 or 2/3 of the way up or across the frame.
  • Pay attention to lighting; it can make or break your video. Don’t, for example, shoot video of someone indoors who is backlit by a window.
  • Bad audio is worse than bad video. More people will tolerate a poor quality image in a video. But bad audio, says Wolcott, makes the video unviewable.
  • Get a lot of close-ups. Use the 80:20 rule: 80 percent close-ups and 20 percent wide shots. Close-ups is how you are able to convey action and emotion.
  • Test across devices, including mobile devices.

5. Measure and learn.

Before you get started, define what your metrics will be. Here are some metrics to consider:

  • Reach: What is the total audience that your video is reaching?
  • Views: How many views did your video get?
  • Shares: How many times has your video been shared?
  • Subscriptions: How many people subscribed to your channel or site?
  • Click rate (for ads): What percentage of click-throughs did your ad get?
  • Conversion rates (for the call to action): What percentage of people followed your call to action?

6. Steal from everywhere.

That is, get inspiration from everything around you. Wolcott quoted independent film director Jim Jarmusch’s Golden Rules:

Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is nonexistent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery-celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from; it’s where you take them to.”

Now, start producing that video!

A version of this article first appeared on TMG’s Engage blog.

(Image via)

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