6 ways to maximize the impact of your social media videos

A video shared on Facebook and Instagram has different requirements than a YouTube video or other internet offering. Here are some basic rules for mastering video for the small screen.

Facebook and Instagram videos are great for raising brand awareness through storytelling. They can drive engagement and boost shares.

Yet, a video must engage viewers—or it’s a wasted investment.

Videos on Facebook and Instagram are usually much shorter than on YouTube — less than one minute compared to five minutes or more. Shorter formats demand a different approach, including how they are structured and the content they use.

How are Facebook and Instagram different from YouTube or other video platforms?

On YouTube, people usually go for specific videos, whereas on Facebook they find videos in their feed. Most videos on Facebook are concept-oriented rather than “how to” or “talking head” videos. You also won’t be seeing embedded links to other videos on Facebook, and a Facebook video has a shorter shelf-life than a YouTube video.

Over 65 percent of Facebook video views are on mobile devices, while many people still watch YouTube on their computers, where the larger screen can improve the video experience. For marketers, this means YouTube content must be reformatted before it is uploaded to Facebook.

There are also some small but important differences between Facebook and Instagram videos. While Facebook videos have a minimum width of 400 pixels, Instagram videos require at least 600 pixels to be displayed in user feeds.

Instagram videos cannot be longer than 60 seconds, while Facebook videos can be as long as 240 minutes. Conversely, Facebook limits captions to a 125-character limit, while Instagram allows for up to 2200 characters.

Despite the differences, Facebook and Instagram have similar video formats and requirements, allowing savvy marketers to optimize for both formats at the same time.

Whether it’s Facebook or Instagram, quality matters. No amount of tinkering can make a video shine if it’s not well-made and engaging from the start. Facebook users alone watch over 100 million hours of video every day, so there is plenty of competition.

Here are the most effective ways make your video stand out on Facebook and Instagram:

1. Grab attention fast.

Don’t give your audience time to lose interest; make your video count right from the start.

You can do this with rich visual elements that command attention, or you can start with a hook—a question, a fact, or a statement that your audience can’t help being curious about.

The first three seconds of the video are the most important as storytelling for social video is different from the passive storytelling seen in TV narratives. Plus, if your video isn’t played for at least three seconds, you won’t record a “view” in your engagement stats.

An active story arc is your best bet. Start with an eye-catching visual followed by subtle branding cues, which your audience can readily identify because the brain processes visuals 60,000 times faster than text.

Pro tip: Include a big reveal to make the video more rewarding. You can follow up afterwards with the rest of your narrative, making sure your video stays engaging until the end.

2. Choose an eye-grabbing thumbnail.

Given the sheer amount of video content out there, a catchy thumbnail (the static placeholder image for your video) can often make the difference between a video that gets seen and one that doesn’t.

Sometimes the first frame of the video makes for a good thumbnail. At other times, you’ll find that the last frames highlight the product and what the video is all about.

The important thing here is to choose the frame with care, and not just use the random frame the uploader generates.

3. Make sure your video works without sound.

Native videos on Facebook and Instagram auto-play without sound. Eighty-five percent of Facebook video is watched without sound, and most people don’t turn the sound on even if it’s available.

Always envision Facebook and Instagram videos without sound and get your message across using visuals, text, and captions instead.

4. Keep your video short.

Video engagement on Facebook and Instagram tends to drop as the length of the video increases. In general, the shorter the video, the better.

The optimal video length to drive engagement, shares and brand awareness on Facebook is one minute, according to HubSpot. On Instagram, it’s around 30 seconds, and videos that get the most comments are no longer than 26 seconds.

Aim for a video that’s no longer than two minutes. You can also attempt to create videos that are just a few seconds long, especially for video ads.

5. Choose the right call to action.

Use the built-in feature in the video uploader to add a call to action to all your videos, whether they are ads or part of your content marketing. Try something more creative than obvious phrases like “shop now” or “learn more.” Calls to action on your Facebook and Instagram videos like “watch more” or “sign up” can boost social engagement.

6. Upload your video directly instead of sharing a link.

Don’t just share your videos from YouTube, Vimeo, or other video sites. Only native videos auto-play on Facebook or become part of your gallery page. What’s more, native videos are easier to find and generate more engagement.

Herman Poleschuk is a partner at Slon Media, an agency that specializes in video marketing for mobile and social media audiences. A version of this article originally appeared on his blog.

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