November 27, 2018

The First Question Marketers Should Ask Before Making Social Video

“Social video” can mean almost anything.

A two-second Boomerang of friends clinking wine glasses is social—but sometimes, so is cinematic storytelling. The spectrum of social video includes both of them, along with recipe videos, sports highlights, reaction GIFs, live streams, and countless other formats and styles.

Despite this, advertisers often use “social video” as a blanket term. Marketing gurus discuss “social video best practices” and tell you how to “optimize video for social,” ignoring the spectrum and treating all social video as the same.

The upside of this approach is that it’s simple, clear, and actionable. But the downside is that it often leads brands astray. Because social video covers such a wide spectrum, there are very few blanket best practices.

For example, it’s widely considered “best practice” is to keep social videos short. However, as we learned in our most recent white paper, long videos are slightly better at driving comments and shares. If your KPI is link clicks, you could follow the “shorter is better” advice and easily meet your goals. But if your KPI includes social interaction, avoiding long videos might box you into a corner and prevent you from finding the best idea.

Rather than treating social video as a blanket term, we recommend dividing it into two types based on objective. Before you develop a video, ask yourself the following question, and don’t proceed until you have an answer:

Are we trying to drive an action? Or build the brand?

Once you have your answer and determine your KPI, it’s easier to picture what your video must accomplish. Guidelines become more specific and accurate, providing a useful framework within which to brainstorm:

Action Drivers
Brand Builders
Primary ObjectiveVideo Views
Link Clicks
Ad Recall
App Installs
Brand Sentiment
View Duration
Video PurposeCapture AttentionHold Attention
MessagingSimple, Direct, and ActionableTells a Complex Story
LengthTypically Short (5-30 Seconds)Can Run Longer (Up to ~4 Minutes)
NarratorMore Likely to Rely on Text OverlayMore Likely to Use Dialogue

Brand Examples: IBM

Now more than ever, you can see how this plays out in the News Feed. New ad transparency tools from Facebook and Twitter have pulled back the curtain on “dark ads,” making visible posts that were previously only served to targeted audiences. This is particularly useful for analyzing Action Drivers, which are more likely to be run dark.

To demonstrate the difference in video types, we can use these tools to study major brands such as IBM. The tech giant relies heavily on video ads as Action Drivers, but also invests in hero videos as Brand Builders. See the examples below:

Action Driving Examples


Brand Building Examples

The Action Driving videos aren’t designed to be shared. They’re designed to stand out in the News Feed, communicate a simple message, and compel users to click and learn more. The video is a means to an end, and an effective one.

The Brand Building videos also stand out in the News Feed—but unlike the Action Drivers, they’re designed to keep you there. The longer you engage with the videos, the more value you derive from them. That’s why they’re considerably longer, and why they don’t use text overlay to reinforce a simple message. They want you to feel like you have more to learn.

Consider how these videos might have changed with different objectives. If the goal of the Mainframe Timelapse video was actually to drive applications for summer internships, it would not have lasted 2 minutes. At a certain point, watching for longer would have made potential applicants less likely to click and convert.

Maybe IBM could have sped up the timelapse, and done it all in 20 seconds. Maybe they would have added some text that said, “Learn How to Build Supercomputers.” Maybe those just wouldn’t look right, and they would have to go back to the drawing board. In any case, you can see how function defines form, rather than the other way around.


The key to success is pushing yourself to commit to either Action-Driving or Brand-Building. One or the other. Not both.

As marketers, this goes against our instincts. We want every post to communicate every message, accomplish every goal—do everything. This approach requires discipline because it forces us to slow down and ask hard questions early, and prevents us from having our cake and eating it too. If your answer to the question is, “we’re trying to drive an action AND build the brand,” you’re not ready to develop a video. Force yourself to define your key objective, and you will find that one is always more important than the other.

Once this becomes second nature, your brand will begin making stronger, more consistent, and often more successful social videos. From there, you can drill down and test how guidelines differ across channels (e.g. Facebook Action Drivers vs. Instagram Action Drivers) and objectives (e.g. ad recall videos vs. link click videos).

This approach is just a starting point, but it’s a very good place to start.

Tags: Best Practices, Big Brands, Content Marketing, Facebook, Instagram, Strategy, Trends, Twitter, YouTube

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