Time spent watching online video going up means you need to tell a good story to the right people

Time spent watching online video vs. streaming viewers.
Time spent watching online video going up while number of people watching holds steady.

People are watching more video online. Recent data from Nielsen shows that the growth of time spent watching online video is outpacing the rise in unique viewers. In other words, most people that will watch video online are already doing so. Growth is coming from those people spending more time watching video.

Nielsen and others cite growth in long-form video watching and not just watching more videos. People are spending more time watching movies and TV shows on Hulu, Netflix and other streaming video outlets. More people watching Weeds on their computer doesn’t have many direct benefits to organizations using video to build awareness and market their issues. Minimally, however, this is a sign that people are increasingly able and willing to view longer length streaming content.

There are a couple important takeaways for organizations. One is the value of good storytelling in video. Another is the need to take distribution strategy seriously from the start. Video content is found through many channels, lives in many places and needs to be much more than something plopped on YouTube and embedded on a web page you host.

Tell a Great Story

This shouldn’t be news to nonprofits. Some of the most successful online videos have been a few minutes or longer because they’ve used storytelling to drive engagement and sharing. A couple great examples of this are the Story of Stuff and the Meatrix. If you want to dive into some of the storytelling themes used in these videos I suggest you check out this recent presentation by Jonah Sachs, a point person behind both Story of Stuff and the Meatrix.

Creating long-form stories on video isn’t easy, though, and it doesn’t often fit into the timeframe, budget and decision making structure of most organizations (which speaks to the nature of organizations but we’re focused on the reality of how organizations work here). What, then, are some ways to tap the power of story and, potentially, talk more powerfully about complex issues through long form video?

Look at taking an episodic approach to long-form video. Tell your story across a series of shorter, simpler videos. You still need to pull people in quickly but shorter production processes may be easier to manage – and seem less risky – for your organization.

Another option might be to tap the crowd. Organizations are often running video contests in which they ask members and supporters to submit their own video around a topic. A good video contest isn’t a small undertaking but they’re common and now a familiar activity. How about using these videos as B-roll for your own video? Cut them apart and put them back together. Or make the contest about members talking about your issue and pull these submissions into a video to create one spot with many people helping tell your story through their words.

Tell Your Great Story to the Right People (not everyone)

Time and again organizations create what they believe to be a great video, put it on their website, blog about it, post about it on Facebook and maybe send an email about it to all or some of their email list. These are all legitimate ways of distributing news about any topic, including your great new video. Your audience should know about it. But stopping there assumes a lot about your supporters, namely that they’re all paying attention, are highly engaged in your issue, and are internally motivated to help you out by sharing your video with their network.

We write for our audience and when we assume that our full list is our audience we tend to write more generic copy, create more generic messages and lay down more generic video. Perhaps the alternative approach is to first identify a highly specific audience. Ask yourself about your programmatic goals for making the video. Who needs to see this video and why? What sort of person is going to do something upon viewing the video? Go find those people.

Audience identification is tied to distribution strategy. Chances are your audience is not only a small subset of your member/supporter list (which is okay) but it is also made up of people that are NOT on your list. If you know where those people are and how they engage online (and off), you have a compelling video, and you think about distribution with those people in mind then you have a good chance of getting the video in front of people that need to see it both on and off your list. These people are also more likely to share and talk about the video. You don’t always need big numbers if you start with the right audience.

Of course, this means letting your email, RSS and social network subscribers know about the video. But don’t be afraid to write for a more discrete segment of your larger audience. You need to get the attention of the right subset and often that means writing to engage that set, not everyone. Think about how sharing tools show up on your blog posts, in the Facebook message stream, and on landing pages tied to your email. Make it drop dead easy to share the video. Facebook and Twitter links should be easy to find and post the right links. Use annotations on your YouTube videos. Consider a system like Call2Action’s Spark to more easily tie links and other activities to your video.

If you have a targeted audience you can also start to dig into search marketing and AdWords, particularly if you have a Google for Nonprofits account. YouTube is second largest search engine. Link to India article. Have an SEO expert look at your video and the pages/content around it. Tune an AdWords campaign to your target audience by location, sites visited, gender, age and more. Facebook doesn’t offer a free advertising program like AdWords but it can be highly targeted and may be worth testing, as is Twitter.

People will pay attention to and engage with good video stories, especially if you get your story in front of the right people.

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