What makes web video watchable and persuasive?

Friday, June 4, 2010

Even if, as the cliché goes, a picture is worth a thousand words, that doesn’t necessarily mean moving pictures are worth more. In fact, if done badly, your web video may end up worth far more to your opponent.

These days, every candidate or cause wants a video online to tell their story. But just putting a video online doesn’t deliver you an audience or compel them to see things from your point of view.

You want to get watched and you want to persuade – here are some tips to help create video that does both.

1. Think audience: the shorter the video, the more likely it’ll be watched.

In an age of instant gratification, people aren’t going to sit around and wait for you to get to your point. And the problem usually comes when producers get so enraptured by their own content and creativity, they forget about their audience and its needs. When this happens, everything is included, no content sacrificed, and an “epic” is created that no one will watch.

A good rule of thumb: keep it under one minute, with action from the front end to the back end so your audience doesn’t click away. On YouTube, a view of your video is only counted if the viewer watches it all the way through. You don’t want to lose them before they are counted just because you didn’t keep their interest.  

Case in point, this video taps into the flash mob trend and is fun and watchable, but verses and choruses repeat because producers didn’t want to cut a moment of it. But a shorter, more compressed version would have still made their point.  

2. Plan a video to help you say one big thing well.

Keeping your video to under a minute takes disciplined writing, tight editing and careful attention to achieving a single objective. Decide ahead of time what story you want to use video to tell, exactly how you are going to tell it – planning it out shot by shot, line by line. To just ‘go out and seeing what we get‘ risks an aimless product that people can’t follow. Thinking about your story ahead of time and planning the shots will save you time and money, and get you a more watchable product at the end. Try designating one person in your crew to always look at decisions from the audience point-of-view.

3. Use video’s strengths and appeal to emotions.

Pictures, music, people’s stories told in video help you connect with people’s emotions in ways you can’t in other media. If your video is just words on screen and no human faces, you are missing a chance to make an emotional connection. If your video presents facts with no compelling values to support your cause, you are missing a chance to connect with a message. Human faces, human stories, real problems and solutions keep people watching and move your audience to support you.  

4. Posting bad video is not better than posting no video.

We’ve all seen them – the shaking video with bad lighting, poor sound, and dubious editing. What message does that deliver for people? Who’s going to vote for a candidate that looks shifty and dishonest because of poor lighting and a bad microphone? This is not the place to cut corners.  Ditch the video altogether rather than post bad video.  Hire a pro with a lighting kit and a good camera and microphone. Unless he’s James Cameron, the candidate’s uncle shouldn’t be shooting the web video.

The handheld feel can be effective if used correctly and with creative intent, but that does not mean bad lighting and, worse, bad sound will be forgiven. 

5. If you post it, and they don’t come.

Getting the video made and up is only part of the battle. Using social media to get people to see it and share it is the other part. YouTube is still the most popular video sharing tool out there but there are others to choose from (vimeo.com offers great quality).   

But don’t wait for people to find you, share it and encourage others to share on Facebook, Twitter and the like with a line or two on why audiences should check out your video.  Send it to all your contacts and suggest to them a reason they should share it with their networks. Make it as easy as possible for people to find you and share why your video is interesting. A great helper is Add to Any that offers a fantastic, free sharing button you can put on your web pages.

6. Funny gets forwarded, no question.

People are always looking for new, compelling and funny ways of describing the upside and downside of policies or candidates. But caution is advised.  Political humourists like Rick Mercer and This Hour Has 22 Minutes attack all sides equally so their humourous jibes have balance even when they are based on hyperbole.   

As a partisan for a candidate or a cause, your attacks have to be backed up by truth to succeed in moving undecided voters, not just ramping up your base.  Humour can also be a double-edged sword – driving people to a solution or action you didn’t intend.  Always ask: does the humour reinforce my message?  Does the humour drive people to my candidate or cause? Consider the effectiveness of these videos: Mike Huckabee and Moveon.org contest. Did they get shared? Did they position the candidate well? Did they win votes?  

7. Remember the principles of good political communications.

Just because it is ‘only a web video’ doesn’t mean it shouldn’t follow best practices in political communications. Does it tell me what you are for, as well as what you are against? Is it delivering a message about your biggest strengths up against your opponent’s biggest weaknesses? Is your candidate or cause appearing likable, trustworthy, authentic? Whether it is the script, the production values, the visuals, images, supers or music – all these elements contribute to whether your web video successfully connects with your audience and moves them with your message.

In the days of drug store HD cameras and movie editing software on your laptop, everyone thinks they can make a video. But buyers of online video-making services must beware. If someone says they can make a video for you, ask to see other videos they’ve made and evaluate them on whether they’ve demonstrated their ability in all these areas.  

At the end of the day, an online video is a success if it helps you persuade voters to your candidate or cause.

Originally published in Campaigns & Elections