Facebook video: How to make an impact in three seconds

From passive to active

Even though it is a behemoth today, YouTube started from humble beginnings. Former PayPal employees Steve Chen, Chad Hurley and Jawed Karim launched the service from an office above a pizzeria and Japanese restaurant in San Mateo, California. Originally created from a need to easily find video clips of Janet Jackson’s infamous Super Bowl incident, it is now a household name. In May 2005, 15 months after its pizzeria and Japanese restaurant days, the service launched its beta version. By September of that year, YouTube had its first one-million view video: a Nike advertisement featuring Ronaldinho. And today, YouTube is still huge, but it faces some stiff competition for video advertising.

A low-resolution point-and-shoot camera captured footage of soccer star Ronaldinho pulling spectacular stunts with his new Nike cleats. The video clip met the quality standards of the time. As far as we know (although even this became a point of debate on discussion forums), there was no post-production work. In an era where most online video clips were shaky and grainy at best, it was a perfect fit.

But it signalled something much more important: a major international brand was prepared to experiment with an unknown platform that housed sub-par amateur videos, before the platform even officially launched. It wouldn’t take long before other brands followed suit. And since that pivotal moment (though not because of it), YouTube became the Internet’s number one destination for video and has held that spot ever since.

YouTube remains the perfect place if you’re looking for specific video clips. It’s the main reason we use it and why it’s now the second-largest search engine. It’s where consumers go to actively search and watch videos they want to consume at that specific moment, on a specific topic. It’s a user-controlled process that facilitated the shift from passive to active video viewing. Want to see The Daily Show poke fun at Canadian politics? A quick search will return plenty of content to consume, notably this most recent gem:

From active to passive

While YouTube will continue to serve as the Internet’s number one choice for active viewing, the growth and omnipresence of Facebook video has brought passive viewing back from the brink. What’s old is new again. For half a century, we consumed video content in the form of television (and television ads – usually 30 second spots we were forced to watch between segments of Gilligan’s Island or The Golden Girls). With the world spending 20 minutes per day on Facebook, and mostly on mobile devices, it is the platform of choice for marketers and communicators. But, while you can pay to have your video appear in your audience’s newsfeed, you can’t force people to watch it. A swipe of a thumb, and your video is out of sight and out of mind. And that means you need to write and produce your creative specifically for the platform on which it will air.

For example, take a look at that 2005 Nike video clip and ask yourself whether it would have any chance of gaining traction on Facebook in 2016. The first thing you’ll notice is how long it takes to get to the point. We have to watch a Nike rep walk onto the field, present the cleats to Ronadlinho, then watch the star tie up his cleats before he finally takes the soccer ball and get started with his impressive performance. It’s a slow and boring start. It takes FOREVER. It demands a level of patience people no longer have with the newsfeed experience.

From 30 to three seconds

Let’s be honest, after seeing the first three seconds of the video, you’d scroll down the feed in search of your dopamine hit—it is utterly boring in those first three seconds (which is the length of time Facebook uses to count a view). By Facebook’s own account, people spend 1.7 seconds with a piece of content on mobile. Every second matters. In fact, it takes only 0.25 seconds of exposure for people to recall content they saw on their mobile feed. These initial seconds can make a profound impact. When people watch the first three seconds of a Facebook video, 65% watch the next seven seconds, and 45% make it to the 30-second mark. It’s a rude awakening for those of us used to producing 30 second spots to get our message out. In an environment that allocates a whopping 1.7 seconds to make a lasting impression, we must adapt, meet people’s evolving expectations, and stop the thumb. So, how can we stand out in the news feed?

How to make three seconds count on Facebook

1. Storyboard with mobile in mind

Keep the mobile experience in mind from the moment you begin storyboarding and scripting your video. If you don’t have the luxury of starting from scratch, modify your existing or planned creative to connect more effectively with mobile users. It works. Facebook tested this theory with select brands, putting a TV version of the ad against a mobile-optimized version. The latter moved the brand mention 25 seconds earlier and saw a seven-point increase in ad recall; a 68% increase in the number of three-second views; and 136% increase in 10-second views, compared to the original.

2. Capture attention right away

Use brand colours and imagery in the first frame to help people connect to your brand immediately. If you’re selling a product, start your video with a product shot. If you’re selling a political candidate, put your candidate at the start of the video. If appropriate, use action scenes to capture people’s attention from the get-go.

3. Tell a story

Video is an emotive medium. It evokes emotions and connects people with your brand, your product, or your campaign. If you’re going to promote your video on Facebook, you need to keep the (palm-sized) screen in mind and the reason people are on Facebook to begin with: they want to connect with people and consume content about people.

4. Frame for mobile

As much as I prefer a widescreen format to tell a visual story, it just doesn’t work well inside the boxy dimensions of mobile newsfeed frames. If you are framing the story for mobile feeds, you are giving due consideration to dimensions, crops, zoom and visual composition that work best in that box. Tell your story for the super small screen, not the silver screen. Doing so could give you a three-point increase in ad recall and an eight-point increase in message association.

5. Use visual cues and subtitles

Most people listen to Facebook videos with the sound off. They will only turn their sound on if your video captures their attention. If you can’t achieve that through visual composition and brand imagery at the start of the video, consider adding subtitles so users can see what the video is all about without having to turn on the sound. Facebook found that 76% of videos require sound to be understood. Make your video understandable without sound and you’ll be leading the pack.

6. Test and iterate

All the theory in the word will only take you so far. You’ll never fully understand how your audience consumes video until you put video in front of them. So, get to it! Test your concepts, make some tweaks and test some more.