It’s easy to reduce social video professionals to cultural stereotypes. We know them as the “influencers,” the “creatives,” the people who make online videos “go viral.” We believe social video pros are people who can set up ring lights in their bedroom and rake in vast sums of money (not to mention free samples) promoting fashion, cosmetics, video games, or other trendy products.
What really defines a social video professional is more subtle. This new generation of media producers do all of the things mentioned, but they work hard to create consistent content on a shoestring budget. Above all, social video pros realize a key secret in commercial media: your product isn’t really what you make; it’s the audience you create. As they have done since the dawn of the printing press, advertisers pay dearly to be associated with large audiences. The difference is that, today, every smartphone user carries a powerful means of production around in their pockets.
Your product isn’t really what you make; it’s the audience you create.
Influencers are the most recognizable social videos professionals. They are fast becoming powerful levers of world commerce who personally endorse products and interact with the customer base that drive sales for brands large and small. Influencers are foodies, fashionistas, hobbyists, tourists, gamers, pop culture fans, science nerds, DIY enthusiasts, pet lovers, and any other subculture you can imagine. Influencers reach out directly to people who are most likely to purchase a related product.
Influencers present product reviews, walkthroughs, demos, reaction videos, or “unboxings” — where they dramatically open a cool new product and give it a test drive.
Global brands are spending billions to reach fans and followers who have largely turned away from traditional media. As cord cutters turn to ad-free streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime, advertisers have realized their clients must be seen on cell phones and other small screens.
Influencer campaigns started out with celebrities and bloggers, but it has grown to include social media channels as well as more private communities like Snapchat.
Video is becoming what Facebook and Instagram CEO Mark Zuckerberg describes as a “megatrend,” comprising more than 80 percent of social media content in 2018. YouTube remains an important venue where followers discover short- and long-form videos, however both Facebook and Instagram have made it easier for influencers to insert channel content into the individual content streams of followers as well as launch impromptu stories and livestreams. These products give advertisers a way to insert “pre-roll” messages at the beginning of social videos as well as “mid-roll” interrupters—both forms of paid promotions that are difficult to scroll past.
Storytellers use the tools of drama, humor, and documentary journalism to bring to interesting characters to life. Social video storytelling can be drama, parody, slapstick, or news. It usually does not feature products, but instead has the goal of entertaining, informing, surprising, or motivating its audiences. Sometimes storytellers star as the main characters in their own videos. Sometimes, they cast actors or find real-life people to interview.
Factual storytellers often begin with a question that the video seeks to answer. They challenge their audiences to imagine a new reality or pay attention while they explain a complex scientific or political topic. Sometimes they show people reacting to new situations—like Buzzfeed’s exotic snack videos.
Fictional stories are often short skits. Production value can either be very high—with the best costumes, lighting, sound, and music. It can also be deliberately downscale.
Fan videos flourish in this space. As the Broadway musical Hamilton continues to soar to new heights of popularity, fans release “animatics” which allow followers to experience the music and characters in roughly sketched animation.
Social video personalities create a distinct set of traits for themselves and never break character. Social video pros understand the value of developing a “persona” — a distilled, simplified version of themselves — but a full fledged personality is something above and beyond.
What All Pros Have In Common
Branding — A professional video series has a consistent look and feel. True pros have thought through their logo, their sets, their repeated intro and taglines, and their typical wardrobe, and their presentation style. They use equipment and editing techniques that create a consistent experience across many videos in their channels.
Repeatable Formula — Professional videos set up a story structure in advance that can be repeated easily over dozens of episodes. A cosmetics vlogger might show her finished makeup process up front before taking followers through the step-by-steps later. A cooking series might always start with a greeting from the host and a tantalizing description of what he will prepare. These formulas are usually written down in advance and followed every time.
Product or Cultural Tie-In — Every social video needs some kind of audience touchstone. Influencers use brand affinity to review and compare commercial products. Storytellers lean back on fan knowledge, shared politics, and cultural literacy to hook followers.
Regular Releases — Social video pros understand that viral sensations are few and far between. They build their audiences incrementally by setting up an editorial calendar and releasing content regularly. They become a part of their audience’s social media habits, entertaining for a few minutes then popping up again a week or two later with fresh, new material.