Having run hundreds of social video campaigns for major brands over the past five years, I'm frequently asked to predict how audiences will respond to a certain video. There is, of course, no way to know for sure. Every project is different, and we're regularly surprised by audience reactions.
This doesn't mean that producing social video is a crap shoot. Like any other form of advertising, the medium is more art than science, but there are a number of steps advertisers can take to raise their chances of success -- without compromising the video's effectiveness as a selling tool.
Following are some top-level best practices.
1. Take the time to develop a sound strategy. By now, most advertisers understand how to find their consumers online. Reaching them via social media, however, is a different endeavor. The bar is higher because the goal is viewer engagement, not just ad impressions.
A successful social video strategy, therefore, must consider the creative, the placement, and the distribution simultaneously. Where and how the video is displayed says as much about the brand as the video itself. Consider the difference between a video that auto-plays when you visit a page, versus one you discover in a social game or on a mobile device.
It's also important to consider what you'd like to get out of your social video campaign. Social video is new for many advertisers and it's important to set realistic expectations. Every campaign is not going to be the Evian Babies. Check this MediaPost piece by my partner for a look at what kind of performance you should expect from a social video campaign.
2. Speak to your audience - not to yourself. Social video is different from television commercials, pre-roll, or other interruptive media in that people's expectations are higher. The medium is closer to movie theatre ads, where the audience is looking forward to a laugh, or to seeing a big star, or special effects.
With that in mind, the approach should be: entertain first, advertise second. This can absolutely be done in a brand-appropriate way. However, the viewer should feel rewarded for his or her selection.
3. Openly promote the brand, but respect the culture.Opinions differ on how much branding is appropriate in a social video, but we feel the brand should be prominently placed. People know that the brand is trying to connect with them, and there's no reason to be coy about it. The brand can be the hero without being an interruption.
4. Leverage stars, celebs, and big names if you've got them.Big-name musical artists, actors, athletes, and celebs don't bring guarantees, but having one or more involved in your social video project can be a big advantage. Just be sure the star is current, and that he or she is popular with the consumers you want to reach. Also, it's important to provide a script that your talent can pull off. Will the famous musician actually be funny? Can the star quarterback deliver a line on camera?
Most importantly, make sure the contract gives you full rights to distribute anywhere on the Internet - no restrictions! You may also want to negotiate for rights to use all b-roll footage, outtakes, etc., and while you're at it, require your talent to send out a few tweets, speak to bloggers, and do a few interviews.
5. Use special effects.You don't need space ships and laser guns to be successful here. Anything that creates a "wow" factor will help generate interest. Some of the most popular videos over the past few years (Kobe jumping the Aston Martin, for instance) looked like they were shot on cell phones, which made the clever use of computer generated imagery that much more compelling.
6. Make it edgy, dramatic, shocking, or otherwise memorable.Social video fans love everything from horror and shock to sexy visuals or dramatic content. If it's brand-appropriate, edgy content usually has a strong appeal.