5 reasons your video content stinks

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5 reasons your video content stinks

From botching basics to miscalculating mirth, there are plenty of ways you can screw up your video—and with all the competition for eyeballs, you can’t afford any of them.
By Justin Allen | Posted: January 10, 2014
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Good news for digital content creators, particularly those of us who create video content: We averaged nearly 45 billion digital video views per month in 2013.

Now for the bad news: Unless your content features pranks, BuzzFeed-esque top 10 lists, funny commercials, movie trailers, Beyoncé, or silly animals, you’re probably not making the YouTube “Most Popular” page. Not that you’d want to if you’re looking to make some scratch—YouTube’s revenue sharing policy is notoriously stingy to creators.

I believe the better mark of digital video success is finding your niche and creating an engaged audience. If you do this, the views (and money from those views) will come, but not until you find your voice and hone your approach.

To do that, you start with a fine-tooth comb over your current content, and likely find yourself facing a hard truth:

People aren’t watching your videos because your video content sucks.

More gently put, your video content isn’t good enough to stand out and get noticed.

Think about it like this: You upload a two-minute video to YouTube featuring some new product your company is selling. You’re proud of yourself because your boss let you have fun with it and make it “funny,” and in your mind, it’s a lock to go viral. Hooray for you.

[RELATED: Learn more about video creation and production from Justin Allen in his pre-conference workshop at the PR & Media Relations Best Practices Summit.]

Now consider this: If it took one minute to upload your two-minute comedic gem, YouTube says another 99 hours and 58 minutes of content was uploaded in that same minute. That’s roughly 144,000hours of content added per day—and that’s just on YouTube.

Get the picture? Your video must stand out in this ocean of cats, pranks, movie trailers, music videos, and complete nonsense to even begin to compete for viewers’ eyeballs. So if you’re having trouble finding those eyeballs, below are five reasons why your video content probably isn’t cutting it.

Remedy these issues, and you just might find yourself on that “Most Popular” page on YouTube. More appropriately, you’ll find yourself with an engaging piece of content your viewers care about, and will share with their friends. Hooray for you, indeed.

1. You’re getting the basics wrong. Writing, production, editing, and distribution: These four basics concepts combine to tell your story, and you must master these if you want consistent content success. Let’s break ‘em down:

  • Writing: Writing a video script is not the same as writing a blog post, and it never should be. If your script reads like it could be an exposé in The Economist on the economic effects of talking about economic effects on conservative media outlets vs. liberal ones, you’re doing it wrong. Brevity and pithy copy are your friends. Punch your audience in the face with what you’re saying from the start, and remember: You’re fighting for their attention from the second they hit play. Write like it.
  • Production and editing: Technology has taken digital video quality to that of high-end Hollywood films, but you still have to know how to tell a story. If your editing is bad or all you’re doing is showing me rack focus shots and time-lapse sunsets, it won’t be long before I’m gone to the next video. Shoot and edit for your story, and don’t go into overkill to compensate for a weak script. It won’t work. These are tools in the creative process that should help you tell your story, not highlight the fact that there is no story.
  • Distribution: This is the tough one. Take TV news as an example—many outlets have mastered the writing, production, and editing parts, but they are lost when it comes to distribution. They wonder why they’re not getting traction on YouTube, when in reality, YouTube is generally the wrong place for news content. For your brand and content, ask yourself: Is this video part of my own destination website, or am I going to syndicate my content to sites like AOL, Yahoo, BuzzFeed or HuffPost? Determine the best distribution model and platform, and develop a strategy around it. This is one I had to learn from experience (a.k.a. failing), but once we figured it out, the results were fantastic.

2. Your video is too damn long. OK, Scorsese. I get it. This online video of yours is your creative masterpiece. Congrats. Just keep your opus to three minutes or less. The higher you go above that number, the less likely I’ll click on it in the first place. For reference, if I can watch it on my phone while walking to get coffee, you’re hitting the timing thing just right.

3. There is no context for your content. Good PR types pitch stories to media using context. They frame their product with events or topics already in the news or social conversation to get producers and editors to include it in a story. It’s a smart approach to pitching that, as a TV producer, I’ll always listen to. Convince me why I should care about your story because it affects me in some way, and you just made your content valuable to me.

The same goes for producing your own video content. Frame your story with topical context, and you’re immediately increasing your video’s value and improving the chances I’ll click play. This also increases the likelihood your content will get picked up by high-traffic destination sites such as HuffPost and BuzzFeed and, thus, having millions of people see what you’ve created.

This is an abstract concept, so here’s an example from the folks at Dove:

This piece works so well because the issue of beauty and how we see ourselves has been in the social conversation for years. Their approach was a unique one in exposing that women are much harder on themselves than total strangers are on them. At no point did they try to force Dove into the piece to say anything contrived about how the brand can help you feel prettier; they just focused on the story, doing so with flawless execution. This wound up creating a ton of positive media buzz for the issue and for the Dove brand, which would not have happened if they’d forced the context or let the brand get in the way of the story.

4. You don’t have a strong viewpoint (or any viewpoint at all). A key characteristic of successful digital videos is that they have strong points of view and a solid voice. Your main goal as a content creator should be to get your audience to go down a wormhole of your content, watching video after video for a half hour or more. One of the easiest ways to do that is to have a really strong point of view and a voice your audience can identify with. This is another abstract concept, so here’s an example from Coca-Cola’s ad agency in Brazil. Take a look:


You walk away after watching this knowing that their point of view is as follows:

  • Parenting is really hard and will test your resolve.
  • It’s also really awesome and occasionally rewarding.
  • The prospect of having more than one child is simultaneously scary and exciting.

It’s an honest point of view I identified with immediately. (I have two kids in diapers.) Because of that, I wound up sharing it across all my social media platforms and featuring it in a blog post on content (ahem). But not everyone agreed (check out the comments section on the video), so hats off to the creative team responsible and to Coca-Cola for embracing a strong point of view on a seemingly touchy subject.

Approach your content with the same commitment to cut out the “I don’t want to offend anyone” malarkey, and just tell an honest story from a strong point of view. Trust me, you’ll immediately connect with an audience.

Remember: It’s OK if people don’t agree with you. That’s part of the story process. Don’t be afraid to actually say something.

5. Your video’s not funny. Corporate types, this is for you: You’re not funny. You might have funny moments, but in general, you’re not consistently funny enough to inject humor into a video used to tell your brand’s story. Please don’t try. I call this “corporate funny,” and it’s not a good thing.

To put it in perspective, I employ four comedians to work on a daily news, entertainment, and comedy morning TV show during the week, who then sling jokes at comedy clubs to quasi-willing audience members in hopes of a chuckle and a Twitter follow on the weekends. They’re actively testing why jokes work for one audience but fail with another, what subjects will always get them in trouble, and how to recover after a joke bombs in the middle of their set. They then apply these learned sensibilities to creating content for our show, and they’re not all guaranteed hits.

You, on the other hand, spend your weekend doing none of that.

Do yourself a favor: If you want to tell your story using humor and you’re not a comedy writer, hire one. Hell, email me and I can recommend 10 people who are fantastic at this kind of thing. Your video can be poorly shot and edited; contain no real context, value, or point of view; and essentially be one big digital turd, and I’ll sit through more of that crap than I will a video that’s meant to be funny, but isn’t. Comedy is hard and terribly unforgiving. Unless you know it’s going to work or you’re willing to take the risk that it might crash and burn, it’s always better to be good than funny.

These are not hard-and-fast rules, and all content is subjective, so I hope you look at these five points of improvement as just that-places to rethink your own approach when creating digital content. Whether you’re a TV producer trying to figure out how to make your show content work online, or a corporate marketing type trying to produce product videos people will actually watch, the important thing is to try.

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