While working as a Content and Social Media Manager I was lucky enough to lead the development of an online video series about the rollout of Australia’s National Broadband Network (NBN). I say lucky because at that time many companies believed you had to contract agencies to create video content. Once upon a time that was true. Recording equipment and editing software was expensive and required training to use. But since the advent of YouTube, the drop in price and complexity of software and the fact that every phone is also a video camera – literally anyone can create video content. So today the main task is understanding why you’re creating that content and ensuring that what is produced meets that need.
A strategy for video content
At my previous company, market research had revealed that many people were confused about the NBN including the technology itself, how it was being deployed and what they had to do to get it installed at their property. This information vacuum was an opportunity to educate the public through entertaining and factual content. We also knew that most people found technical information very dry to digest and would rather watch a video rather than read through reams of paper. So video became the medium of choice.
The company had a few existing NBN videos, created a few years earlier but these were very outdated. They had no interactive elements and were more suited to the traditional TV commercial or training video format with a passive viewer . Moreover, the call to action was simply a static screen (without annotations) that featured the company phone number and website URL. The videos didn’t take into account the fact that most viewers today would be using an internet enabled device, and a mobile one at that.
Our focus was to create short video clips specifically for online consumption that would educate viewers in an entertaining way. We would host these clips on YouTube, promote them using geo-targeted social media posts on Facebook and use embedded annotations to direct viewers to more detailed information on the company website or blog.
I created a user journey map that outlined how video content could help answer the public’s questions about the NBN. Specifically, not just what people were asking but when they were asking those questions, as the timing of the NBN rollout differed depending on a person’s location in Australia. We used SEO data and findings from market research to determine which topics to cover. We then ordered the topics into a specific order, noted the relationship between videos (for subsequent annotations) and mapped how the viewer would navigate through our content across various platforms. For example, one journey looked like this: Facebook post -> YouTube video 1 -> YouTube video 2 -> blog article -> sign up to newsletter for future information.
Everything was done in house and on an extremely small budget. I researched early topics with industry experts, created storyboards and wrote the scripts. Once our format and style had been established, I supervised the process while other copywriters in my team worked on subsequent storyboards and scripts. Talent was selected from staff within the call centre and filmed at the head office in Perth, Western Australia. This fit in nicely with the company’s brand which was friendly, a little bit quirky and made tech accessible for everyone. I worked closely with the Video Producer in my team on direction, editing and interactive elements. Once the live action footage had been shot the videos were created using Cinema 4D (animations) and Adobe Premiere Pro (editing). We also added Google Analytics to relevant online interactions so we could monitor and measure performance.
- Batching. We created the videos in batches. This allowed us to iterate on the format and make improvements with subsequent videos. If you watch the whole series you’ll see how the videos changed slightly as we learned what worked and what didn’t. For example, viewers love to click on annotations! So we included more of them but only where it was appropriate, like learning about different plans or referring to another video in the series. We didn’t want the annotations to be distracting or feel spammy.
- Plan interactions ahead of time. During the storyboard and script writing phase we made note of where interaction elements (links, buttons, transitions) would be included. This allowed us to have some fun (letting the talent point to a virtual button) and made the interactions feel more natural rather than just “stuck on” later.
- Learn from the professionals. There are lots of free resources online depending on how deep you want to get into video production. But there were lots of simple things we did. For example, we undertook location scouting trips around head office. We wandered around and took photos of different rooms and areas at different times of the day. This helped us understand the way sunlight moved through the building, how rooms were used at certain times, chat to people who worked in those areas and learn about other constraints we couldn’t have anticipated (like customers potentially wandering through filming).
- Thumbnails are important. Jack Donaghy from 30 Rock once said, “Your hair is your head suit.” And for an online universe, thumbnails are your video suit. Whenever your video is featured around the web the thumbnail is what people see, whether it’s on a Google search result page (SERP) or embedded within a blog article. To encourage people to click on your video it’s best practice (IMHO) to use a branded thumbnail that’s either an engaging screenshot from the video or a customised image that features the title of the video. Because we were creating educational content, we chose the later. Also, if you have a series of videos (like we did) it’s nice to go the extra mile and create a consistent look using similar colours, fonts, layout etc.
- Music sets the scene. A video of someone talking straight to the camera feels a little flat. Adding some background music lifts the mood and provides continuity when you change the scene. For example, switching from the narrator to an animation and then back to the narrator.
- Just one more change… During the research phase, we consulted with technical experts and product managers, wrote a draft script and then sought their initial feedback. Down the track we occasionally had to tweak the scripts further (adding more information, changing the focus etc). We would then check with the same technical experts to make sure the new content was still technically correct. However we found that people would sometimes take that as an opportunity to request additional changes: things that had been previously overlooked, phrases they didn’t like or additional information they wanted to include. Most of these changes had nothing to do with technical accuracy. It was just their preference. Our team was very collaborative and initially we incorporated these changes. But over time, these concessions slowed us down. A lot. It also impacted on our budget because sometimes changes were requested when we had already started filming or editing. This meant we had to reshoot some scenes. We quickly learned that we had to be firm with requests for changes. We valued our colleagues’ technical expertise but we helped them understand our constraints and challenges by taking them through our production process. We all agreed that changes could be made up to the second version of the script, after that only critical elements that impacted accuracy could be amended. Following that discussion and agreement, things worked much smoother.
The success of this strategy was measured by:
- Traffic from the videos to the company’s main website, either directly or via the blog (Google Analytics)
- Engagement through video view counts and duration of views as well as comments, likes and shares (YouTube analytics), annotation click rates to other content (Google Analytics) and whether viewers joined our newsletter for more information (number of subscribers).
Although I can’t divulge specific numbers, I can say that the videos were very successful and exceeded our targets for traffic and engagement. Even when paid promotion ceased, the videos continued to increase in popularity as viewers found the content informative, interacting and sharing that content. It also provided online publications like Mashable with additional free content to share when they were covering a story about the NBN or the company (which also increased video view counts and interactions). All these benefits were a great return on investment, given our small budget.
I’m grateful for the opportunity to develop this video content in house with my team. I would not have learned so much if an external agency had been contracted to create them. From the overall strategy and researching topics to rolling our sleeves up and getting behind the camera, we learned that video is a powerful communication tool online. But that may only last as long as it takes for virtual, augmented and mixed realities to catch up and become adopted in the mainstream.