In July 2016 Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg made an announcement: We see a world that is video-first with video at the heart of all our apps and services. We’re going to become video first. A year on, and the growth of online video seems unstoppbable. It’s being prioritised in newsfeeds on social media sites because it keeps users there longer, so if you are using video it’s crucial to know how to design it so it cuts through the competition.


This summer the International Broadcasting Trust published a piece of research Video First: Making an Impact which analyses what works and what doesn’t work in online video.

Here is my top 10 list of how to make video content work on online platforms:


 Ask what will your audience respond to?

It’s essential to start from the perspective of what you think your target audiences will be interested in. Different teams in an organisation may want to reach different audiences, so segment your audience, co-ordinate and use different platforms to reach different cohorts; have a range of playlists aimed at different audiences.

Make use of data

Study the data gathered from previous campaigns and use it to understand what works and what doesn’t for your organisation and the issues you’re concerned with. Understanding online metrics and the response of users is crucial for videos to have impact. You need to know as much as possible about who is watching your content and how they react to it. Most of successful online video producers experiment with their content, so if the data shows that a video isn’t performing well they re-edit it and re-post it.

Think about your desired consequence

What do you want people to do next both in the short and long-term? Share, donate, get involved, join a community, be inspired? Identify your target audiences. Identify the best platforms to reach those audiences. Optimise your content to work on those platforms.

Borrow what works from commercial media producers

Children’s content, food and 360 video will all be on the rise on social media platforms in 2017; news, animals, entertainment, ‘how to’ videos and heart-warming stories all continue to perform well. Aim to inspire. WaterAid’s manpon’s video is a good example of a film which bucked the trend and engaged by being funny.

Make it relevant for your target audience

For example, placing the experience of someone in the UK at the heart of the issue if you are aiming for UK supporters can work well. Save the Children’s Most Shocking Second a Day was a good example of this.

Provide useful information and make sure you engage

When is an event happening and where? What can they do to help? Provide engaging content. There is an abundance of content crowding our newsfeeds – make sure that whatever you put up is engaging. Make it easy to share.

Have a clear proposition

Subtlety and nuance don’t work in headlines on social media platforms.

Visual Impact

The opening of a video is crucial – the first 3 seconds determine whether someone will continue to watch or not. Start with a strong character that gets you straight into the story, ideally saying something emotional. Always start with a close up and not a graphic, which is less grabby. If it’s a woman talking, more women will watch; if it’s a man more men will watch, so think about your target audience. Channel 4 News had great impact with its Aleppo videos which were specially edited for social media platforms.

Engage partners to amplify your content and encourage a conversation

One of the distinguishing characteristics of social content is that it is transactional. It allows a two way conversation. The DEC worked effectively with its member organisations to amplify the message in its Nepal video in 2015.

Style and length.

Video has to be native to the platform it is on if it is to be prioritised by the platform; it has to work on a mobile phone, so square or vertical frame is crucial; it has to work with the sound off; the ideal maximum length of a Facebook video is about two minutes. On YouTube videos can run longer.

Check out the full report

The full  report, which can be downloaded from, provides greater detail on all these tips. We interviewed some of the leading producers and publishers of online video content, including Buzzfeed, AJ+ and Channel 4.

Anecdotally we have heard that, having followed the advice of our contributors, some organisations have seen an immediate increase in engagement and views.

Sophie Chalk, author of Video First: Making an Impact, IBT, 2017


About the author(s)

Sophie Chalk

Author of Video First: Making an Impact, International Broadcast Trust


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