9 Social Video Secrets from the Internet’s Top Publishers

By Linda Freund · October 17, 2019

9 Social Video Secrets from the Internet’s Top Publishers

Over the past decade, the social video landscape has undergone immense audience growth. Top creators, publishers, and brands routinely get tens of billions of views a year. That’s a lot of eyeballs!

But today’s industry leaders are looking beyond view count to gauge audience impact. They’re asking:

  • How many viewers are engaging with our content?
  • How can we use engagement data to reach an even larger audience?
  • How do we gauge ROI and accurately monetize video content?
  • What makes for a successful branded content partnership?

For insights, we turned to the social video rockstars themselves.

This past summer, Rob Gabel, Founder of Tubular Labs, moderated a panel conversation hosted by Whalar at Cannes Lions 2019. Contributors included:

  • Tommy Wesley, SVP of Branded Content and Operations at BuzzFeed, a cross-platform digital media company with more than 90 social brands under its umbrella property, including Tasty, Buzzfeed News, Nifty, and As Is.
  • Yosef Johnson, SVP Head of Brandshop at Group Nine, a family of four brands, including NowThis, The Dodo, Thrillist, and Seeker. Brandshop is the property’s internal content studio.
  • Jamie Bolding, CEO of Jungle Creations, a media marketing and commerce business that focuses on social media sites. The team has six social-first media brands including Twisted, Craft Factory, and VT.

What follows are highlights from this dynamic conversation. Read on for the top trends on these video strategists’ minds, ripe for integration into your social media video game plan.

The Social Video World’s North Star: Audience Connection

What direction is your content heading in? BuzzFeed follows its very own north star: audience connection.

The publisher always strives to “find something that is meaningful, useful, and can serve a purpose in individuals’ lives,” said Wesley.

The surefire way to do this? Ask yourself: Will this video make someone’s life easier, better, or richer?

Watch Time Matters More Than Ever

The engagement metric that everyone is buzzing about is time spent watching. How many of your viewers are watching beyond the first five seconds?

“I think we’re all out of the views. I know we still measure it. But we’re seeing obvious engagement at time spent,” Group Nine’s Johnson said.

Media companies will soon be able to measure total watch time and average watch time per unique viewer. That said, views across social video still matter, but the way they are being assessed has shifted.

Instant views and viral success are not the end-all when it comes to performance. Video strategists are looking at the lifecycle of their content.

Specifically, they’re honing in on how many views were accumulated over a month to gauge longevity (known as Tubular’s V30 metric).

Short Videos, Your Reign May Be Ending

We all know the standard dictate: short social media videos perform better on Facebook and Instagram. Cram all that long-form content on YouTube.

But the winds have shifted, folks.

Now is the time to create longer content for Facebook. Facebook has a great retention rate and people are watching longer there now, according to Jungle Creations’s Bolding.

Why? Because the platform’s algorithm has started to favor longer run times.

Facebook used to boost social videos based on shares and comments, but, recently, the platform has started to prioritize watch time.

“(Facebook) really wants people watching over a minute. So our best videos now have average view times of 1:10 or 1:20,” said Bolding.

Strategists see this as a major win. Longer content means more opportunities to relate to viewers.

“To really impact culture and to really create content that does that, it’s going to be longer-form and it’s going to be super well-produced,” Bolding said. We can now create “long-form and amazing content that gets huge, huge engagement.”




To Strike Social Video Gold, You Must Dig!

The leading social-first companies pump out dozens of trial videos before they settle on a winning formula. And they analyze their inventory on a daily basis to determine what needs tweaking.

“If you’ve got a piece of brand new content and you can create 20 different versions of it, 50 different versions of it, even 100 different versions with slight variables, then you’re really going to find the best-performing version,” Bolding said.

The trials are all carefully built upon preexisting knowledge of a platform. “We focus a lot on the first five seconds because it’s super important, especially on Facebook,” Bolding said. “We want them to stop and we want them to watch it.”

The Jungle Creations team tests multiple five-second intros to see which one is the most attention-grabbing. After they’ve hooked a viewer, they then introduce the main story.

They also iterate multiple versions of the middle, and finally, a bunch of finales.

“In the end, we have this magic crescendo,” Bolding said. The closing scene is the secret sauce that compels someone to share, comment, or like. It’s, conceivably, as important as the first five seconds when it comes to securing high engagements.

However, don’t let all these social video tests distract you from the bigger picture. It’s equally important to test out your content’s staging elements.

Group Nine’s insights team makes sure to also test out the post copy, thumbnail photos, video length, and video size and orientation. “We’re really looking at all those key variables and trying to test regularly,” Johnson said.

Use Engagement Data to Grow Your Audience

How exactly is your audience engaging with your content?

This answer should come easily to you. If not, it’s time to dig deeper. What you uncover could greatly impact the editorial direction and future commercial opportunities across your social media video channels.

BuzzFeed’s Tasty team saw great growth after it tapped into audience engagement habits.

When they scanned Facebook groups and comments, they discovered that audiences have recently changed the way they are digesting food videos.

“It’s not just watching for food porn sake. We know that close to 70% of Tasty viewers actually make the recipes,” BuzzFeed’s Wesley said.

In response to this insight, the Tasty team prioritizes making their recipes more approachable to people. For example, they support viewers who want to “swap an ingredient that you have in your fridge versus buying something fresh.” This has helped them “really build a community on Facebook.”

Think Multi-Platform. This Includes Your Own.

Jungle Creations tries really hard to be a bootstrap business. Still it strives to be present on all social video platforms.

Pushing out content across platforms is critical for “any company who has really sussed out a sustainable business model,” said Bolding.

Bolding’s Jungle Creations team drafts plans for every platform from TikTok and IGTV to Snapchat and YouTube. “They could be anything.” Bolding said. “They might be a bunch of trailers on different platforms for YouTube, and that would be the main one.” Or they could each have customized iterations.

As you expand your platform footprint, be sure to keep a tight grip on your home base. Focus on “brand safety and being able to create a network around that,” Group Nine’s Johnson said.

Group Nine posts all of its content on its internal site, too. This gives them more control over their material. “We don’t always have to be playing the platform game,” Johnson said.




Branded Content is Premium. Treat it that Way.

Leading video publishers approach branded content differently than their standard editorial fare.

They don’t just superimpose data on optimal video length, for example, on their branded content. Instead, they test out and apply independent data to this genre.

This charge is being led by the brands themselves, who are wising up to the power of engagements across social video.

Brands used to ask “how much is it going to cost to get x amounts of views,” said Bolding. But, lately, they aren’t fixating as much on millions of views.

Instead brands are coming to media companies and saying, “All right, this problem. How do we fix it?” Bolding said.

When Jungle Creations works with a brand, they run their content through tests and let the results speak for themselves. They then push one winning version out to their audience. This is more likely to guarantee a healthy ROI.

To Really Reach Viewers, You Need to Play the Long Game

Multi-year partnerships are starting to become more common for brands and media publishers. This enables more time for the publisher and brand to grow together and strategize accordingly.

In 2017, Group Nine launched a NowThis Money vertical in a multiyear partnership with JP Morgan Chase. The content is designed to help millennials better understand finance and money.

The partnership has resulted in several generations of video including “branded content, editorial content, white-label content, experimental videos, and original programs,” said Johnson.

The performance metrics and monetization were easy enough to assess. The partners looked at the total clicks back to different products. But since this has been a long-term venture, the goal has been broader.

The overall aim: to increase JP Morgan’s “brand health measurement and favorability and familiarity, particularly with this younger demographic that they’re trying to reach,” said Johnson.




Monetize Brand Partnerships in Creative Ways

BuzzFeed’s Tasty focuses on combining editorial opportunities with licensing opportunities in the commerce space. This makes monetization more immediate and direct.

The publisher recently partnered with McCormick, a spices brand. In addition to creating fiery video content together, the brand has also launched a Tasty seasoning kit with zesty, jazzy, and hearty flavor profiles.

McCormick has earned a reported $12.5 million dollars in revenue from combined commerce and advertising in their Tasty videos, according to Food Dive.

In addition, in September, the Tasty cooking platform partnered with Walmart to make more than 4,000 Tasty videos shoppable. It’s as simple as clicking a link to add the video’s ingredients into your cart for home delivery or pickup.


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