Over the last decade, social media has progressively changed a lot: from the way we communicate, to the way we ingest news and the way we shop. Apps like Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram have become hubs for video content too. While Youtube still leads the way when it comes to viewership, with 1 billion hours of content watched daily, these platforms are becoming more and more video friendly and in turn becoming preferred platforms for video content creators. But as platforms change, so does format. A video hosted on Youtube may not do as well on social channels because the way these videos are viewed is different. The biggest factors are aspect ratios, sound and length.
Snapchat is without a doubt championing the way for vertical video. The app doesn’t give you a choice because unlike Youtube or Facebook videos, it doesn’t change its orientation when a phone is flipped sideways, so you’re stuck posting in a 9:16 aspect ratio. That doesn’t seem to be keeping users and marketers alike away from the app. Snapchat brings in 10 billion user views daily, and while many of those are user generated videos shared amongst friends, it is estimated that Snapchat-based ads are viewed up to 1 million times per day and that number is likely to balloon. Snapchat isn’t the only app catching on to this mobile-screen based aspect ratio, either. Instagram’s “stories” feature, criticized for closely resembling Snapchat’s interface, also limits users to recording in the 9:16 ratio.
This option is a very deliberate choice, because there is essentially no way to create content that can be viewed vertically and also in a traditional landscape aspect ratio, so it’s important to be strategic about how and when to use this format. A lot of people, are avidly against vertical video and see it as an amateur mistake when it comes to shooting video on phones. While this may be true in some cases, when it’s intentional it can work.
Video content viewing has shifted from something primarily done at home on a desktop or laptop computer to an-on-the-go pastime. Facebook feeds in particular are becoming more and more video heavy but their use is also becoming more mobile, meaning the content is consumed on the go and sometimes without access to headphones. A recent study by Digiday found that 85% of Facebook videos were viewed without sound. With 8 billion views of video content a day, that’s a lot of sound that never gets heard.
That being said, viewers still expect sound when they want to hear it, so the challenge here is creating content that is engaging and clear with and without sound. Subtitles and other text and graphics are a great way to address this challenge, but it’s important to keep it as clean as possible. Videos that are dependent on sound design tend to do worse on these platforms. If it’s impossible to adjust your video to be silent, you might want to consider using a subtitle alerting viewers to play the video with sound so they don’t miss out on vital messages you’re trying to share.
3. Square Video
Another atypical aspect ratio that’s getting a lot more use lately is the Instagram preferred 1:1 ratio, or square video. As with vertical video, this format also plays better than traditional aspect ratios on the Facebook mobile app. While Instagram and Facebook let you post a 16:9 or 4:3 video, your screen real estate is maximized by the 1:1 ratio. It also means your viewer has to do less work by not flipping their screen to adjust. As with most digital trends, immediacy and convenience is key.
This can be a challenge when it comes to shooting and editing your video, because chances are you’ll be hosting it on platforms like Youtube or Vimeo that work best with traditional aspect ratios. You’ll have to compromise your composition when you adjust your ratios, losing the edges of your screen. If you know that your video will most likely end up on social, be mindful when you’re shooting that nothing crucial to the scene takes place on the edges of the frame. If you keep the action centralized, when you crop down to 1:1, you won’t lose clarity and quality. Alternatively, film your content in a 1:1 ratio from the start. Filmmakers are even starting to play around with this ratio, like Xavier Dolan in his film “Mommy”.
Another huge challenge content creators face is video engagement and completion. On average, only 37% of viewers watch an online video all the way to the end. Chances are, the longer your video is, the lower your rate of completion will be. The sweet spot for social content is generally under two minutes. To get an important message across in a short amount of time, your storytelling has to be well planned.
Start your video strong and catch attention in the first 10 seconds. Title screens and slow-burn intros, while they build anticipation, might not catch the eye of someone flipping through their newsfeed. It’s also important to remember that on Facebook and Instagram, videos start playing as you scroll past, so you have the potential to attract viewers who might not have clicked play. Never save a call to action or an important message until the very end — chances are it won’t be watched by a large portion of your audience.