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

By Cameron Uganec

Social

Image via Jan Vašek under CC0 1.0

Your customers are watching a ton of social video. Facebook and Snapchat have both surpassed 8 billion daily video views and YouTube’s 1 billion-plus users are watching hundreds of millions of hours of online video every day.

Any brand that’s not creating video and promoting it on social media is missing out on a huge opportunity. The good news is you don’t have to be a big enterprise with a professional video team to take advantage. Even if you’re a small business owner with an iPhone, there’s a way to make video work for you.

Our complete guide to social video will help you better understand the concept and where it fits into your marketing plan.

What is social video?

The term “social video” covers a lot of ground. It can refer to something as carefully crafted as a Super Bowl commercial, or something as raw as a live stream on Facebook or Periscope. So how do we define it? My definition of social video is digital video that is designed to be seen and shared through social networks.

That’s a concise definition, so let’s break it down:

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 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.

Why social video is key to your marketing goals

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 essential that you invest in video, try the following five points:

1. More social networks are rolling out native video, demonstrating its growing value. Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter all have their own video features. And then there are the platforms whose main function is social video sharing, such as Vine and YouTube. For live video there’s Periscope, Meerkat, and Facebook, which has updated its News Feed algorithm to favor live video. Facebook recently shared in a blog post, “Now that more and more people are watching live videos, we are considering live videos as a new content type—different from normal videos—and learning how to rank them for people in News Feed.”

2. Social video owns the all-important 18 to 33 year-old demographic. Millennials are spending less time in front of their TVs (if they even still own one) and more time watching video on their mobile devices and laptops. By 2030, millennials will comprise 75 percent of the global workforce, making it hard to ignore video platforms that resonate so well with this key audience.

3. Video is unique in its ability to connect with viewers. And social networks favor video in their algorithms, knowing that this rich content is favored by users. On Twitter you can respond to a customer inquiry with 140 characters of text, or you can take a few minutes and record them a 30-second video message. They’ll appreciate the extra effort.

4. Your competitors are already leveraging social video. A 2016 survey by the Web Marketing Video Council found that 61 percent of businesses are using video as a marketing tool. In the previous year, 66 percent of those businesses were not using video at all. It’s clear that companies are quickly recognizing the growing power of video.

5. Social media videos can deliver impressive ROI. This is probably the only point your boss cares about, so here are some figures:

Your return on investment of social video depends on how you choose to use it. Every business will have differing targets and goals. If you want to use video for recruiting, new applicants might be the metric you track. If it’s going to be used for lead generation, the metric might be newsletter signups.
The key thing is that you actually set goals and track the success of your videos using analytics. It’s only through tracking that you will learn what clicks with your audience and what doesn’t, allowing you to refine your social video strategy.

Where do social videos fit in your marketing plan?

Whether you run a small business or work for a big organization, 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 building brand awareness or telling your brand’s story. GoPro and Redbull are renowned for creating amazing videos that serve the simple purpose of being sharable and getting their brand name out there. These videos, which include Felix Baumgartner’s supersonic freefall and Kevin Richardson playfully tussling with lions, are so widely-shared that the two brands have become synonymous with extreme sports and other outdoor 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, a video tour from inside a home may not go viral across the web, but it can be very shareable amongst prospective buyers in your area.

New Listing – Waterfront 2-story home from @ReyValls // #LuxuryHomes #SouthFlorida #RealEstateVideo

A video posted by South Florida Luxury TV (@southfloridaluxurytv) on

Employer branding is another common use of social video. This 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, whether live or on demand, is a great way to lift the veil on your business and attract new applicants.

For example, in our hunt for engineers, we created a video called “Code With Us” that prompted a number of qualified applicants to send in their resumes.  

Try using social videos for lead generation. Much of online lead generation content is very technical and dry. People see a lengthy piece of content and decide it’s not worth their time to fill out the form to download a document they may never read. Videos can be a lot less labour intensive and a lot more appealing. We’ve often found that 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.

Include a clear and well-placed call-to-action. On YouTube you can do this with the annotations feature. These clickable icons appear on top of your video and can direct viewers to a landing page or compel them to subscribe to your channel.

Use social video as a customer engagement and support strategy. Video allows you to answer customer inquiries in a very visual and personal way. And it makes it easier for your clients to learn a solution to their problem if that’s what you’re offering. A video is also more shareable than a lengthy discussion thread, which makes it more likely that other people facing the same issues will find that solution.

Warby Parker, for example, has a customer support YouTube channel where teams respond to questions from fans and clients every single day. We’ve done something similar things with Vine videos that address common questions fielded by our customer support team.

And as we said earlier, Twitter’s new 30-second video feature is another great way to respond and engage customers on an individual basis. These clips may take a few more minutes to create than a typical text response, but the extra effort won’t go unnoticed by your followers.

“How-to” videos are among the most popular search queries on YouTube, and a great way to offer value to customers. In 2015, North Americans watched more than 100 million hours of how-to videos on YouTube. These instructional videos include everything from recipes to home-improvement tips and tricks. If you doubt the reach of how-to videos, consider one of the most popular cases on YouTube: ‘How to make Balloon Chocolate Bowls’ amassed over 118 million views in less than three years:

Use how-to videos to show your customers how best to use your products, or as a brand awareness tool. For example, if you run a bicycle repair shop, creating an instructional video of how to fix a broken bike chain could be an effective way to showcase your skills and put you on the radar of local cyclists.

The place of social video in your marketing plan will also depend on your audience and resources. Different platforms work for different companies. If you have a small business, platforms like Snapchat and Vine allow you to connect with your users with minimal budget and production skills. 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.

We’re all capable of making successful videos. Success is a matter of hitting all the stops on your social video check list.

9 tips on sharing social 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. We did this at Hootsuite with our own take on mean tweets, a video which garnered well-over 100,000 views.

2. Create a mission statement for each video platform

Each platform has a unique audience and different strengths and weaknesses. Creating a mission statement for each platform will focus your efforts and help you make more effective, shareable video.

Gary Vaynerchuk does a great job fleshing this concept out in his blog post ‘The Rise of Video Marketing and How it Affects Your Business’ in which he describes Snapchat as “the hottie at the gym” who demands immediate attention. “Snapchat videos have a maximum life of twenty four hours, or less if the users chooses to make it so,” Vaynerchuck writes. “A video can last down to a second. The urgency to see something before it disappears can be a huge factor.”

If you have a concrete plan for how you will use social video on each channel, then the viewers and shares will come.

3. Use the power of storytelling

Any good story has a beginning, middle, and end. It also needs some conflict. And who is the hero of the story. What’s the plot, what’s the setting? Using a proven story structures will help with shareability. Research shows that people are hardwired to respond to the same types of stories with familiar character archetypes. That’s why the classic “Hero’s Journey” gets retold again and again (think: Star Wars, The Wizard of Oz, and Harry Potter).

4. Make the customer the hero, and engage them

Going with the hero’s journey formula, you may be tempted to position your brand as the hero. But as Jonah Sachs of Free Range Studios explains in the video below, your customer should be the hero. You are the wise mentor that sends them on their journey. The most powerful and shareable stories are ones where the customer sees themselves reflected back in the story.

People are more likely to share campaigns they feel involved in. Way back in 2010, Old Spice capitalized on the success of a video campaign by creating a ‘response campaign.’ They worked with the production team and the actor, spending 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 percent.

5. Emotions lead to sharing

Last year Airbnb asked “Is Mankind” with a 60-second video of a bow-legged baby waddling toward a door. “Go see and find out just how kind the hes and shes of this mankind are,” a voiceover challenges viewers. The adorable imagery and decidedly optimistic tone of the commercial was a hit. The video racked up well-over 3 million views on YouTube in less than nine months.

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. Twitter videos are capped at 30 seconds, Instragram started with a 15-second maximum, but will be moving to 60 seconds, and Snapchat videos are capped at 10 seconds.

7. Always start strong

The first 30 seconds of a social video is what matters most, according to data from Wista. If you can hook your audience in the first 30 seconds of video, they are more likely to stick around and engage.

8. Don’t ignore search

Think about your social video’s metadata and the descriptions of your content. Since social video is all about having people find, see, and share your video, you can’t ignore SEO. Think of YouTube for what it is: the second largest search engine after Google. It’s bigger than Bing, Yahoo!, Ask.com, and AOL combined.

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 video 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.


Ready to put your video marketing plan into action? With Hootsuite you can upload, schedule, publish, promote, and monitor your social videos from one platform.

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This is an updated version of a post originally published in November 2014.