At some point, most of our clients will release their video on social media platforms. This might include Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube and Twitter, but the question is – how do you ensure the best results for your video on social media?
It’s not unusual for very little thought to be given to this and the video just gets ‘shoved’ out one way or another. In this blog post, we highlight some valuable tactics that will boost both the reach and impact of your video when you release it on social media.
Broadly speaking, there are two ways to distribute your video on social media; you can either post a link to a webpage where your video is embedded or upload the video file itself to your chosen social media platform. When a video is actually uploaded to a social media platform we call this a ‘native’ upload. This is in contrast to merely linking to an external webpage where your video resides.
There are many benefits to uploading your videos natively.
These can include:
- Automatic launching of the video – which captures attention more reliably
- Immediate access to the video in news feeds – no need to click through to somewhere else
- More eye-catching presentation of your video
- Your video being served up to more viewers, more frequently
- Better video engagement data
But Click Through is Good … Right?
Of course, many cling to the idea of offering video via a website link, because they want to drive traffic to their website.
The problem is that engagement with ‘linked’ rather than ‘native’ video is likely to be significantly lower.
The dilemma is then – do I go for a higher level of brand awareness and engagement within the social media platform or do I hold out for the few users who might click through to my website?
Be Seen. Be Remembered.
We would argue that it’s usually more effective to go for a higher level of engagement within the social media platform itself. This way the greatest number of people will be reached, and come to know and remember you. As a native upload your video will be shared more and watched more.
And of course, even when you post your video natively, there is still usually an opportunity to provide a link to your website within the post or brand your video in some way so that motivated viewers will seek out your website anyway.
Caving to Convenience
If the truth be told – it’s often speed and convenience that leads to videos being linked to social media, rather than uploaded natively.
You know how it is – it’s a busy day in the office and it only takes a minute or two to whack up a link to your video webpage – so that’s what you do.
By contrast, a native upload involves tracking down the actual video file – Who’s got it? Where have they stored it? Is that the right version? And the broadband is slow this morning … and it’s taking a while to upload… and my meeting starts in three minutes.
We’ve all been there – but after you and your team have invested significant amounts of time, money and energy into producing your video – it’s almost crazy not to make that extra effort to push for the most views and best engagement possible.
The Devil Is In The Detail – Every Platform Has Its Quirks
Having decided to upload your video natively, you then need to think about the differences between social media platforms when it comes to handling video.
Being aware of these differences in advance will save you hassle, ‘post regret’ and further enhance your audience response.
See bottom of this post for platform by platform specification
The aspect ratio of a video determines the shape it is presented in. That is – how square or rectangular the video will look.
9:16 to 16:9 is the typical range of aspect ratio for video offered by social media channels. (The first number relates to the width across and the second number relates to the height e.g 16:9 = 16 measurements across in relation to 9 measurements in high.)
This includes a 1:1 aspect ratio which will give you a square video and a 16:9 aspect ratio that produces the typical standard rectangle that most video is presented in. on YouTube and on websites. A 9:16 aspect ratio offers the full screen portrait view of most mobile devices.
A 1:1 or 9:16 aspect ratio is best if you want to target an Instagram or Facebook mobile phone audience in particular. It will fill the mobile screen fully and consequently have more immediate visual impact than a 16:9 video. (This only applies when viewing the screen in a ‘portrait’ orientation. If you’re holding your screen for a horizontal ‘landscape’ view then 16:9 will in most cases fill the entire screen.)
On the other hand, one has to weigh up certain drawbacks with a 1:1 or 9:16 aspect ratio video. For smart and eye-catching results you would have to shoot your video especially for a 1:1 or 9:16 aspect ratio, with everything composed to look good within a square or vertical portrait frame.
This means that your video may not look so good screened in a 16:9 frame at an event, or on desktop YouTube, where a square video won’t look as professional and cinematic and will need to be framed by thick bars to fill the screen.
In an ideal world, you would have the budget to shoot your video twice – once adapted for a 1:1 or 16:9 aspect ratio and again for a horizontal rectangular presentation, such as 16:9.
It goes without saying, that for most clients it would be an extravagant luxury to be able to do this.
With a lot of care and foresight a single video can be shot to look impactful in both portrait and landscape, but the filming process would be more painstaking and this would not be possible in many filming situations.
If you are absolutely certain that your only real interest is in a video campaign for Facebook and Instagram, then yes – consider a 1:1 or 16:9 format and concept for your video from the start.
1:1 aspect ratio video is particularly suited for e-commerce product promotions and ‘How to’s” such as ‘birds-eye’ view cooking demonstrations.
However, if you want to use your video on a number of channels and for event screenings as well, then you are very likely better served with a 16:9 presentation.
Numerous 16:9 video campaigns have been hugely successful on Facebook, for example, so if your content is strong, keeping your options open this way may not significantly harm your Facebook video campaign.
Sound or Silence
Launch modes vary between social media platforms and this can have significant implications for the structure of your video.
Many platforms launch video in silence until the viewer switches the sound on. In these cases, it’s more effective to create a video that will grab attention and still make complete sense even if the viewer doesn’t hear the first few seconds.
This can be done by opening the video with strong engaging imagery or through the use of some eye catching motion graphics text, before any voice led narrative comes in.
Conversely, some platforms, in particular YouTube, launch videos with sound and here the first few seconds of narrative or music can be crucial in getting your audience to keep watching.
Hard Start or Soft Start
As your audience may be scrolling rapidly down their news feeds, it is also a good idea to open your video with a ‘hard start’. A video that presents moving images instantly right from the first second has a ‘hard start’, whereas a video that fades up from black, for example, has a ‘soft start’.
A ‘soft start’ video is often more aesthetically pleasing bringing a more high-end, cinematic feel to your video, but that benefit has to be weighed against the battle for immediate attention in social media news feeds.
‘Soft start’ videos are often a good choice for website viewing and event screenings, where you can expect higher levels of viewing intention from your audience.
It’s always worth taking the time to select or create strong imagery for your video’s preview thumbnail.
Users will see your thumbnail image just before the video starts playing automatically in their feed and in some video search results. It may also serve as a screen holder when the video reaches the end.
A number of social media platforms will offer you a random choice of frames from your video to select as your thumbnail; while others will also allow you to upload your own customised image.
We strongly recommend you customise your own thumbnail images wherever possible. This gives you complete control of your thumbnail, making sure the colours, contrasts, composition and subject matter is as attractive as possible to your audience.
Research, conducted by Wistia, has shown that customised, rather than random thumbnail images, achieve around 30% more engagement from viewers.
Occasionally, you will find a social media platform that gives you no choice regarding your thumbnail and will simply present the first frame of your video. In these cases, it is vital that your video has a ‘hard start’ with a strong image. If your video has a ‘soft start’, say fading up from black, then your preview thumbnail will simply be an uninviting plain black frame.
Quick Guide to Social Media Video Specifications
So now you have a good understanding of all the issues surrounding presenting your video on social media for the best impact, here is a round-up guide to the important video specifications for some popular social channels.
This guide will alert you to the features you need to think about, but as social media is a rapidly changing field, you may need to double check the most recent specification changes if you are in any doubt.
We will, however, endeavour to keep this post up-to-date as soon as we become aware of any new relevant changes.
Maximum File Size: 4GB
Maximum Duration: 240 Minutes.
Video File Format: An MP4 or .MOV video file is recommended.
Aspect Ratio: 16:9 to 9:16 (9:16 vertical videos may be masked to 4:5 reducing the height some extent)
Video Resolution: Upload the highest resolution you have within the file size and aspect ratio limits.
Launch Mode: Automatic and in silence, so eye-catching imagery or text graphic from the first frame is recommended.
Preview Thumbnail: Randomly generated frame choice or your own customised image upload
Maximum File Size: 511 MB
Maximum Duration: 2 minutes, 20 seconds
Video File Format: .Mov & MP4 for a mobile upload and MP4 only with an H264 compression, AAC audio for a desktop upload.
Aspect Ratio: 1:2.39 – 2.39: 1 inclusive range. This means a fairly narrow rectangle – think letterbox – all the way to a square, and everything in between. This also includes 16:9 which is the standard postcard shaped video seen most commonly on YouTube.
Resolution: Minimum 32 x32 – Maximum 1920 x 1200.
Launch Mode: Defaults to automatic and in silence – unless the user has changed the video playing settings on their account.
Preview Thumbnail: No options. Twitter will use the first frame of the video as your thumbnail image, therefore a ‘Hard start’ with an eye-catching image or text graphic from the first frame is recommended.
Post Limits: Posting a video does not count towards your character limit in a Tweet.
Maximum File Size: 5GB
Maximum Duration: 10 minutes
Video File Format: ASF, AVI, FLV, MPEG-1, MPEG-4, MKV, QuickTime, WebM, H264/AVC, MPEG-4, VP8, VP9, WMV2, and WMV3
Aspect Ratio: 1:2.4 – 2.4:1 i.e vertical or horizontal letterbox through, postcard shaped 16:9 through to a 1:1 square.
Resolution: 256 x 144 to 4096 x 2305 (i.e 4K)
Launch Mode: Automatic and in silence, so eye-catching imagery or text recommended right from the start.
Preview Thumbnail: No options. LinkedIn will use the first frame of the video as your thumbnail image, therefore a ‘Hard start’ is essential.
Maximum File Size: Instagram does not specify a video file size limit, but experienced users recommend limits of between 50mb – 100mb
Maximum Duration: 60 seconds for feed posts. 15 seconds for Story posts.
Video File Format: A wide variety, but MP4 recommended.
Aspect Ratio: Recommended 1:1 square. Horizontal rectangle 16:9. 4:5 or 9:16 for portrait view on mobile. 9:6 will be a bit taller than 4:5 making in post text beneath the video less visible.
NB: When uploading a 16:9 or other horizontal rectangular video to Instagram you must select the widescreen option when you first select the file in Instagram – i.e press on the icon with the diagonal arrows in the bottom left of the upload screen. This will apply white bars above and below the video so that the full width is presented in Instagram’s square view. If you don’t select the widescreen arrows icon, your rectangular video will be spoiled by heavy cropping into a square, losing a lot of the composed image.
Resolution: Recommended – Vertical 1080 x 1920px and Horizontal 1920 x 1080
Launch Mode: Automatic and in silence
Preview Thumbnail: No options. Instagram will use the first frame of the video as your thumbnail image, therefore a ‘Hard start’ is essential.
Maximum File Size: Maximum file size for videos 10 minutes or less is 650 mb. Maximum file size for videos up to 60 minutes is 3.6 GB.
Maximum Duration: 15 seconds – 10 minutes long. Note: Larger accounts and verified accounts can upload videos up to 60 minutes long, but these must be uploaded from a desktop computer.
Video File Format: Must be MP4.
Aspect Ratio: Horizontal 16:9, Vertical 9:16
Resolution: Minimum of 1280 x 720
Launch Mode: Automatic and in silence until the user press the sound button on their device once. After that subsequent videos will play with sound running automatically until the user leaves the app.
Preview Thumbnail (Cover Photo): The recommended size for cover photos is 420px by 654px (or 1:1.55 ratio). You will need to edit your photo to the correct size before you upload it. Instagram doesn’t have cropping tools with the upload interface as yet.
Maximum File Size: 128GB or 12 hours – whichever is less. Applicable to verified accounts.
Maximum Duration: 15 mins for an unverified account, 12 hours for a verified account.
Within your YouTube account go to Creator Studio, then Channel, then Status and Features to see if your account is verified.
If you need to verify your account, go to https://www.youtube.com/verify
Video File Format: MOV, MPEG4, MP4, AVI, WMV, MPEGPS, FLV, 3GPP, WebM, DNxHR, ProRes, CineForm, HEVC (h265)
Aspect Ratio: The standard aspect ratio for YouTube videos is 16:9. On desktop or Android devices, if you view a video that isn’t 16:9, YouTube will add black bars – ‘Pillarboxing’ (vertical black bars) or ‘Letterboxing’ (horizontal black bars) to preserve the original aspect ratio of the video within YouTube’s standard 16:9 player.
On mobile devices, YouTube will adapt the player to fit 9:16 videos so that a vertical portrait presentation will fill the screen.
Launch Mode: Unlike most other social media platforms, YouTube doesn’t start playing a video until it is actively selected (the exception being the subsequent video in a playlist of videos when viewing on a desktop).
However, they do launch with sound playing automatically right from the start. This means that on YouTube the first few seconds of audio on your video is vitally important in determining whether the viewer is going to continue watching. YouTube is a noisy place, so to compete for attention you need to be make sure that your video has a ‘hard start’ in terms of opening with either engaging music or speech.
This is in contrast to platforms, such as Facebook or LinkedIn, that launch automatically in silence and where the opening imagery and text is key to securing interest.
Preview Thumbnails: Randomly generated frame choice and customised image uploads.
Think Platform First
Given all the technical variations in the way that social media platforms handle video, it’s clear that ideally it’s a good to think about your priorities for social media right from the start of the project.
Minds often turn to social media delivery after the video has been produced, when aspects such as whether to have a ‘hard start’, ‘soft start’ and aspect ratio have already been executed. To some extent, a good video production company will be able to modify certain features retrospectively, but this will take extra time and liaison, so it’s more efficient to anticipate these requirements.
When working with knowledgeable video producers, if they know from the outset that your priority is an event screening rather than a Facebook campaign or YouTube rather than LinkedIn distribution, for example, they will film and edit the video taking these priorities into account, giving you the smartest solutions for your goals.
If social media priorities are discussed early on, they may also be able to shoot and edit your video in a way that can cost effectively provide different versions of your video, adapted for various social media platforms.
So think ‘Platform First’ and wherever possible include your social media teams in video project discussions right from the outset.
Blue Sky Film & Media – Video Production
If you would like to explore ideas and possibilities for your own video production project, please contact us via our Bristol or Cheltenham office at either –