A Guide to Social Video, and Where it Fits in Your Marketing Plan

By Cameron Uganec

12 November 2014Social0 Comments

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Social video is often a confusing concept for brands, largely because it’s such a broad category. Like many brands, here at Hootsuite we have struggled with questions about the perfect length social media videos, what video platforms to use and how to promote these videos. What we have learned is social video marketing is about getting your video shared, and everything else is secondary.

Long or short, Vine or YouTube videos have to be shareable and that could mean different things for different brands and different audiences. This also means that whether you’re a big enterprise with a professional video team or a small business owner with an iPhone, there’s a way to make videos work for you.

To help you understand social media videos and increase your chances of getting your videos shared, we have created this complete guide to social videos and where it fits in your marketing plan.

What is Social Video and why is it important?

Social video is a broad term and it can be difficult to define. My definition of social video is—digital video designed to be shared through social networks.

That might not seem like much of a definition, but there’s a lot of information contained in those few words:

  • Social media videos needs to be digital, or optimized for digital channels. Videos that work on television may not work on an iPad.
  • Social video also needs to be shareable. You’re not just optimizing for the channel, but for sharability as well. Different things make content shareable, from the emotions it induces to the traditional story structures it uses. More on that below.
  • And finally, these videos needs to be designed for social networks. Video appears in different ways on different social networks, and each network has a unique audience. You need to keep these things in mind when creating social media videos and potentially edit the same video in different ways for each network.

Many people confuse social video with viral video, but there’s a key difference. Social media videos may not get millions of views and still be a big success. If your company sells enterprise software, a video that tells the story of how your software can help might be a success with only 600 views (if those views come from your target market, or generate leads). Yes it’s about shareability, but shareability among your target market is key.

Even if you know what social video is, it might not be immediately clear why it is important. If you’re looking to explain to your boss why it’s important that you invest in video, try the following five points:

  1. Social video’s importance can be seen in rise of platforms like Instagram video, Vine and even Snapchat in 2013. It can also be seen in more recent developments, from Facebook’s purchase of Oculus Rift, a virtual reality platform whose applications are as-of-yet really unknown, and the launch of Instagram’s Hyperlapse this past summer. Facebook is so convinced of the importance of social video, they purchased a technology whose applications they weren’t even sure of yet.”
  2. Social video is also important because of its primary audience. Its growth is fueled by millennials (approx 18-33) who grew up with online video and spend a growing number of hours on their phones and laptops and a shrinking number of hours in front of the television. In 2013, 1 in 3 millennials watched mostly online video and no broadcast TV at all. By 2030 millennials will comprise 75% of the global workforce, making it hard to ignore video platforms that resonate so well with this immense audience.
  3. Video is also unique in its ability to convey a powerful message to viewers, in a way that static forms of content can’t. Social networks also favour video in their algorithms, knowing that this rich form of content is more appreciated by users. Plus, video comes with special advantages on social networks and online in general. You may only have 140 characters for your Tweet, but you can also include a video in a Twitter Card for greater appeal to your followers. Videos get a thumbnail preview in Google search results that make them more clickable as well.
  4. Businesses that don’t invest in video risk being left behind. In a recent survey by the Content Marketing Institute, over 73 per cent of B2B marketers reported using video as a content marketing tactic. Sixty-nine per cent of businesses create videos specifically for social media, according to another report. In that same survey, almost 70 per cent of businesses said their budgets for online videos would increase in 2014. It’s clear that companies are beginning to recognize the power of these videos. If you’re not investing in social video, your competitors probably are.
  5. Social media videos can deliver impressive ROI. This is probably the only point your boss cares about. Production and distribution costs associated with video have plummeted in recent years. That coupled with the value of earned media you can drive from a truly shareable video makes this one of the most effective forms of content marketing. More on the ROI of social videos below.

Where do Social Videos fit in Your Marketing Plan

Whether you’re running your own small business or you work at a big enterprise, there are many different ways to fit social video into your marketing strategy.

Social media videos can deliver on a number of marketing objectives. The most obvious is brand awareness. Brands like GoPro and Redbull are renowned for creating amazing videos that serve the simple purpose of being sharable and getting their brand name out there. They’ve also created brands that feed into these shareable videos through associations with extreme sports and other video-friendly activities. Even if you’re not in a similarly advantageous position, your business can still use social video for brand awareness. It’s simply a matter of reaching your consumers where they are. If you work as a real estate agent, videos from inside new homes may not go viral across the web, but can be very shareable amongst prospective homebuyers in your area.

A video posted by Mark G. (@markgliving) on

Employer branding is another very common use of videos. It allows you to show a more fun or hidden side of your company, regardless of how ‘boring’ it might seem from the outside. Even accounting firms (sorry accounting firms!) can have great company culture. Social video is a fantastic means to lift the veil on your business and attract new applicants. In our hunt for engineers, we created a video called “Code With Us” that prompted a number of qualified applicants to send in their resume.  Social media videos can also be used for lead generation. So much of online lead generation content is very technical and very dry. This creates a barrier to entry, since people see a lengthy whitepaper and decide it’s not worth their time to fill out the form to download something they probably won’t ever read. Videos are a lot less labour intensive and a lot more appealing. A video that teases a relevant webinar or event is more likely to get shared, spreading that lead generating content to a wider net of prospects. Make sure you focus on creating compelling video and don’t be afraid to make your initial call-to-action simply a share button. Once the video has been shared you can point the interested audience to more complex lead generation channels. We use this approach often for our Hootsuite University courseware, offering quick snippets of the course to attract potential students.   One of the less common ways to make use of videos is for customer support. By using social video to answer customer inquiries, you get to answer the question in a very visual and personal way, which makes it easier for your clients to learn a solution. You also create something that is more shareable than a lengthy thread of discussions, which makes it more likely that other people facing the same issues will find that solution. Warby Parker has a support YouTube channel which they use to respond to questions from fans and clients every single day. We’ve done something similar with Vine videos to show common questions our Support team responds to every day.

The place of social video in your marketing plan will also differ greatly based on your audience and resources. Different platforms work for different companies. For small businesses, certain video platforms like Snapchat and Vine will still allow you to connect with your users with minimal budget and skill. If you work at a large enterprise with some budget, more refined videos can be produced and then uploaded to YouTube or Facebook video. If you have the resources, snippets of these videos can also be taken out and uploaded to Instagram or Vine.

The ROI of Social Video

The return on investment of social videos will depend on which of the above ways you choose to use it. Every business will have differing targets and goals associated with the use of social videos. If you want to use social media videos for recruiting, new applicants might be the metric you track. If it’s being used for lead generation, leads and sales generated through the video should be tracked. The key thing is that you actually set goals and then track the success of your videos using analytics. It’s only through tracking that you will learn what connects with your audience and what doesn’t, allowing you to refine your video strategy in the future.

Still, if you need proof of the ROI of social video to convince your superiors to invest in these marketing tools, here are a few stats that illustrate its true value:

Tips On Sharing Social Videos

We’re all capable of making successful videos. Success is a matter of hitting all the stops on your social video check list. Here are 9 tips to help you make great social media videos:

1) Design it to be shareable from the get-go

You need to be able to answer the question “why will people share this video” before you ever start producing it. A good way to answer that question? Listen to your social media followers. See what videos they’re already sharing and analyze them. Let these successes inspire your approach to social video.

2) Create a mission statement for each video platform

Each platform has different strengths, weaknesses and different audiences. Creating a mission statement for each platform should help you focus your efforts on those unique qualities and make a more effective, shareable video. If your mission statement for Vine is “Attract new applicants by appealing to the younger user base of Vine,” you have a solid base on which to build your social videos on that channel. Strive to hit that mission with every video, and the shareability will come.

3) Use the power of storytelling

Use a beginning, a middle and an end. Make sure there’s some conflict. Think about who the hero is in that story. What’s the plot, what’s the setting? Using proven archetypes and story structures also helps with shareability. Research shows that people are hardwired to respond to the same types of stories with familiar character archetypes (see Joseph Campbell’s “A Hero’s Journey”).

4) Make the customer the hero, and engage them

You can play the role of the mentor, but the really powerful stories that get shared are ones where the customer sees themselves reflected back in the story. Microsoft absolutely nailed this principle with their Super Bowl ad last year.

People are more likely to share campaigns they feel involved in. Old Spice capitalized on the success of a video campaign by creating a “response campaign.” They worked with the production team and the actor, and spent a couple of days responding to real viewers in video form, in close to real-time. With 40 million views, and 1 billion impressions, it was a hit, and increased sales by 27%.

5) Emotions lead to sharing

Last year, WestJet chose to focus their holiday campaign on social video. They asked people about to board their planes what gifts they wanted for the holidays, and had the gifts waiting when they landed. The video was heartwarming, joyful, tear-inducing, funny and hit all the emotional stops in about five minutes. As a result, it has been seen over 36 million times. 


A study in the journal Psychological Science found that people are more likely to share content that contains emotional stimuli, specifically positive emotions. These emotions activate our nervous system which then boosts ‘social transmission.’ Our brains are literally more inclined to share emotional content. Take advantage of that.

6) Shorter is almost always better

Ted Talks might earn hundreds of thousands of YouTube views with 15 or 20 minute videos, but for the most part, shorter is better. According to Brandon Gaille, 15 second videos prompt the highest click-throughs in social video even though they’re not widely used (seeing Instagram video in a new light? yet). Be disciplined and get to the core of what your message is.

7) Always start strong

Wistia has collected data that illustrates what matters in how the first 30 seconds of a social video is what matters. If you can get people hooked in those 30 seconds they’ll stick around.

Starting strong is such an issue that commenters on social network reddit have created their own theory on the subject, dubbed the Wadsworth Constant. Created by a user named Wadworth, the theory essentially states that you can skip the first 30 per cent of any YouTube video without missing anything important. While the initial comment might have been made in jest, the Wadsworth Constant applies to far too many videos. You should be striving to prove this theory wrong every time.

8) Don’t ignore search

Think about the meta data and the descriptions of your content. Since social video is about shareability, you can’t ignore SEO. Think of YouTube for what it is: a huge search engine.

9) Your distribution strategy is critical—You need to build momentum

As with all social media campaigns, the most important time in any social video campaign is the start. It’s like lighting a fire or getting a party started. You need to spend a lot of energy and put in special effort to get things going.

Think about how you’re going to get this video out into the world with a converged media plan that includes a paid, owned and earned. Even though you create the videos to be shareable, you have a major role in creating the initial buzz that will get it shared. Hit it hard on all your owned channels simultaneously when you launch the video and consider promoting it using social media advertising. Assign someone to share the content with influencers and amplify all these efforts with your employees and advocates. Once you get the fire started, it’s a lot easier for the campaign to grow. This approach helped us earn a million views on our Game of Social Thrones video.

Do you have social video tips you want to share or examples of videos you love, let me know in the comments below or on Twitter @cameronu.

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