When it comes to online video, two things are true.
First, there’s always someone smarter who’s doing it better than you. Second, this rival provides an excellent opportunity to learn.
The speed at which the environment for online video changes is only accelerating. It’s crucial to pay attention to the landscape because it evolves so quickly.
The barriers to entry are low (an iPhone and a YouTube account.) The appetite for video of all types continues to grow, and consumers are increasingly sophisticated about what they’ll watch, where they’ll watch and what they expect in terms of quality.
Plus, there are about one bajillion platforms. Launched in 2013, Vine had a moment, and by 2016, it was sold to Twitter who killed it off a few months later. Then there was Vessel, and Yahoo’s Screen video platform, also in the dustbin of online video history.
Since then, Instagram’s IGTV, Snapchat video, Facebook Watch, Twitter’s Periscope, Buzzfeed’s pivot to (and then away) from video, a new Amazon Alexa that plays video, and more have arrived to entice and enthrall viewers.
The hunt for eyeballs is unrelenting, and it’s not stopping anytime soon.
Who is the target audience?
You know that demographics matter. They’re a critical part of any strategy.
Broadly, we all know video online skews toward younger viewers, and it fragments by demographic and platform. Still, many of the video messages created today can leave a viewer confused about whom the organization is speaking to.
The platform is everything. Online video is fracturing into multiple apps, platforms, and niches. Longform content is crowded and getting more so.
Apple just launched Apple TV+. There’s Amazon Prime, Netflix, Facebook Watch, and channels and networks have their own streaming services (HBO Go, CBC Gem, Crave TV, Hulu, to name a few).
YouTube adds a social element. For shorter content. there’s Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and Snapchat in the more purely social space.
There already exists more video than a person could watch in their lifetime. if your video isn’t purpose-built for the platform it’s on, it will fail.
Pairing message and medium
In purely social video, if you haven’t hit the good stuff in the first three seconds, your audience is already gone. If it looks like it’s shot for TV, but it’s on Twitter, your audience has already scrolled away.
Every platform has its own set of production conventions—a look and feel that makes it familiar and approachable for users. You must shoot your video with those in mind. If you put a 16 x 9 video on a platform that’s built for vertical video, it will look out of place, and it won’t get seen.
Every platform is demographically fractured too. Kids aren’t on Facebook—unless it’s to talk to their parents or grandparents. Kids and millennials are more likely to be lurking on Snapchat or Instagram.
You also need to consider how people will find your video.
Is YouTube just the place to dump stuff, so you can post it to other social sites? Are you programming your content in a channel?
Do you know what kind of video works and doesn’t work on YouTube? Are you trying to generate revenue? Most important, who exactly are you trying to reach?
YouTube is the place the world comes to store, share and display video. It has an inscrutable algorithm that can lead you to cute videos of kittens, or to conspiracy theorists and flat earthers. Knowing how your audience is going to find your material, inside the platform or outside it, is a critical element of any YouTube strategy.
Try stuff. Sometimes a new strategy will work, other times, not so much. Often, what doesn’t work is something that packed a hefty punch just a few months ago. Remember that everything changes.
In online video, and especially in the social space, you must be adaptable, have a genuine eagerness to learn from failure, and the humility to look around and say, “Who’s really doing this well?”
Do you create video? What changes have you seen? Share your thoughts in the comments.
David Downey has spent more than 30 years as journalist in radio, TV and digital platforms. A version of this article originally appeared on the Spin Sucks blog.