Internet, Social Media, Tech, Video Work

How to Keep People Watching Your Social Media Video Ads

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You have seen this before. You are at work, your phone is up, Facebook is open, and you are scrolling through your feed. This scrolling movement is not smooth. You are like a sad-somebody with a poison ivy rash in all the worst places stumbling through a CVS first aid aisle. You just cannot not stop from watching at least one video, from reaching your arms out and scooping all of the “videos” off the shelves. Your thumbs, fingers, whatever appendage that you are using, generally move in the same way that your eyes move. Jerkily. In saccades.

Our eyes jump from spot to spot, subject to subject, video to video. They do not scan. The term for each little movement in the same direction is a saccade. Like our eyes, our thumbs move through Facebook and other social media in quick little movements.

Advertisers get this tiny window of opportunity to capture a viewer’s attention as they scroll. Think of it as just one tiny moment.

And in that tiny moment, it is all about the “pattern interrupt.”

On social media, our brains are met with endless new content. Whether the content is a dog walking on its front legs or a baby who cannot stop laughing, our brains seek to organize all that content, to condense it into similar categories, to file it away so that we can move on to other thoughts.

The more social media we see, the less we notice it. We have labeled it. We have put it all into patterns. One sport video ad looks the same as another sport video ad.

Successful video ads break those patterns. They interrupt the filing process going on in our heads. With videos, we have just that one second to interrupt someone’s pattern before they move on. The more a video breaks that pattern, the more exposure the video will get. And greater exposure means more potential website traffic conversions, if that is your goal.

In pursuing the pattern interrupt, there are a few rules that I have learned to follow.


Avoid a Static Shot

And I mean the definition of static here. Shots without action, movement, or change look like photos. If your goal is to get conversions through video advertising, and if you know that video ads perform better than photo ads, then your objective should be to avoid shots that could be identified as a plain-old photo by the scrolling viewer. You lose the advantages of video here.


Use an Open Loop

Some call this the Buzzfeed-effect. Others associate it with click bait advertising. The open loop strategy is to use an incomplete thought (called the open loop) in the title or in the content of the video that compels the viewer to click through to the answer (to close the loop). The title or video, from the viewer’s perspective, screams “Marco!” They feel an urge to answer “Polo!”

The New York Times has gotten very good at this lately with their phone notifications. I will get an alert that goes something like this, “From a few thermoses of tea brewed in his kitchen to a 15,000 bottle request from Whole Foods, this grad student began his multimillion-dollar tea venture.”

The alert raises a few narrow questions. Who is the grad student? What company is it? The key point about the open loop strategy is that it generates questions with limited answers. Unless you are a tea connoisseur, you probably know of only a few tea companies. The questions are not so much about getting the viewer to ask “what” or “who” but about getting them to ask “which.”

This open loop news alert is about Seth Goldman, founder of Honest Tea.


Create Perspective

The interface of social media is flat. It is a canvas for you. Your video, whether it be 16×9, 4×5, or 1×1 in ratio, is your opportunity to break open that canvas. Open up a hole for the viewer. Give them a sense of depth. Make that thumb feel like it is going to fall through the screen.


Change Your Ratio

Square videos perform better than videos using the traditional 16×9 ratio. The cause seems pretty obvious. It takes longer to scroll by a square video than a video with a 16×9 ratio. That extra time gives the viewer more of a chance to get hooked. did an awesome study comparing 16×9 and square videos. They found that square videos perform better and cost less on mobile than 16×9 videos. Bonus: Avoid letterboxing square videos. Videos that fill the square provide more movement throughout the frame versus text in the top and bottom boxes.


Use Captions

When on social media, how often do you click on that little loudspeaker in the bottom right of videos to enable sound? Publishers on social media have written that as little as 15 percent of their video views happen with the sound turned on. That means that as much as 85 percent of video views occur in silence. If your video’s pattern interrupt strategy depends on the dialogue and you do not include captions, then most mobile users will not hear the dialogue. Your strategy will be ineffective. Both Facebook and YouTube have auto-captioning tools that you can use to create captions.


Take Advantage of FOMO/EOJI

Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) or Excitement of Joining In (EOJI).

What can you do with the content of your video ad to get the viewer to feel like they are missing out on an opportunity? Before going further into this, I want to say that I thought about not including FOMO in this list as it can be somewhat unethical.

Here is an example. Imagine that your video ad is for a beverage company. You decide to show imagery of a family at a barbecue. The parents are at the grill. The kids are running through the sprinkler. You hear the sizzle of the burgers. You see the chosen beverages glistening in a halo of light on a mountain of ice. Though the background is out of focus, you can still see the parents behind the beverages. You can see them lean in for a kiss. You can hear the kids playing.

For me, this scene evokes a desire to join in on the barbecue. I associate (“Association,” another hot word in advertising) the scene with my family barbecues in the past and the beverages give me a tool for once again achieving that association.

But, I do not fear missing out on this barbecue experience. In other words, my emotional well-being is not disturbed by this ad to the point that I am emotionally upset about missing a fictional future barbecue.

I would say that this ad is using an “Excitement of Joining In” strategy, where the overriding goal is to first generate good feelings around the product by association and then to propose a way for the viewer to join in on the good feelings.

On the flip side, the concept FOMO taps into the fear of getting banished from the herd, of being ostracized by a society. In the days before long johns, say, out in the wilderness, banishment from society would mean an early death. Ads that utilize the FOMO strategy are effective because they seem to poke at the general location of the thoughts surrounding our mortality. It is a sore spot. Think of banishment, loneliness, failure, depression, and loss.

To me, ads that emotionally destabilize the viewer by poking at that sore spot for the sake of providing a product remedy are not living up to any modern code of ethics.

Strategically, though, ads that first associate a product with an experience and then reveal that the product is the means to achieving that experience are very effective. This can be done in a positive way by encouraging the viewer’s excitement about joining in on the experience with the product. This is Excitement of Joining In (EOJI).


What Happens When Truth in News Media Becomes Subjective?

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I see a large part of journalism as we know it transforming into a web of syndicated journalists who rely on crowd-sourced efforts over the Internet.

This future could become a reality within the next ten years with the help of this guy (John Oliver), and it has its pros and cons.

This future could become a reality within the next ten years, and it has its pros and cons.

First, there will be syndicated journalism.

How journalism currently exists on the web is already stepping into this direction as, for example with The New York Times, web traffic to its home website is in decline while traffic to its articles on Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks are rising. Less and less people are reading articles sourced entirely from The New York Times; they are finding articles that have been taken out from The New York Times’ hub in addition to articles from numerous other competitors.

Major print news journalism organizations like The New York Times have created a web presence, and they are now in the process of altering that presence from a hub into a distribution outlet. For example, Facebook distributes articles about North Korea’s nuclear testing from multiple news outlets, including The New York Times, to users based on their political leanings. It is unlikely for a reader of Breitbart to see a New York Times article in their feed. This distinction based on political leanings is important.

Where I see journalism heading with this distributing is toward a place where authors from major news organizations are mainstays on a reader’s phone on an individualized and premium basis. One reader primarily reads articles and listens to media by Nicholas Kristof, Sheryl WuDunn, and Christiane Amanpour while a different reader does so with Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh.

All this media is “premium content” in that the readers pay a premium to the developers of the app for the content, and the developers pay for syndication rights from the respective news organizations.

The future of journalism lies in how effectively news organizations can individualize their content in this way.

Second, journalism will heavily rely on their audiences, on crowd-sourcing efforts.

In 2014, when Malaysia flight 370 disappeared on a trip from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, DigitalGlobe organized a massive crowdsourcing search of the airplane’s flight path. Eight million Internet users jumped on board to scan small segments of the 340,000 square kilometers of ocean that DigitalGlobe opened for the search, which resulted in the flagging of 18 million spots for review.

Computer algorithms analyzed these flagged spots, cutting it down to a smaller number for manual review by analysts. While not successful in finding the airplane, the fact that eight million people jumped on board to scan segments of the ocean is exciting for journalism.

What could journalists do with crowd-sourced efforts in the future? What kind of information can the masses generate in these types of efforts?

The power of crowd-sourcing is already beginning to happen.

When HBO show host John Oliver asked his audience to leave comments on the FCC’s website about net neutrality in May, 2017, people left nearly 200,000 comments. Calling on his audience to leave comments was not a haphazard idea; Oliver, as a journalist and comedian, informed his audience about a legitimate concern for democracy and then explained how his audience could do something about it.

One could also look at how the news segments of his shows are now shown in full on YouTube, and that those with YouTube Red subscriptions get access to the content faster than those without subscriptions. Oliver is a syndicated journalist who, in this example, relies on crowd-sourced efforts.

This “future” for journalism would be impossible without the Internet. And, while the Internet provides many benefits, there are also many concerns that come along with it.

Let’s look at these concerns with reference to the nine principles of journalism.

The first concern is about truth. Whose truth is right? The first principle is that journalism’s “first obligation is to the truth.” The American Press Associationexplains that citizens, inundated by the “flow of data” need “identifiable sources dedicated to verifying that information and putting it in context.”

Truth, as journalism’s first obligation, is about distilling and presenting that information accurately in a context understandable by citizens.

In our age of the instantaneous, truth is a challenging task.

How do we ensure we are reporting the truth? What if we get it wrong because we do not have enough time to verify it? The repeated criticism by President Trump of the news media as “fake news” reminds us of the difficulty of this principle.

Further, in an age of filtered news, of syndicated news distributed to people based on political leanings, the notion of truth is muddied.

I mentioned earlier how syndicated journalism is individualized, and I did not mean this positively. The future appears to be heading toward further divisiveness with the individualization of content.

The key is that if two readers come to know disparate “truths” about a piece of news, and then as a result declare that the other is “fake news,” then that news as journalism is not living up to the nine principles.

Truth is of utmost importance, yes, but in locating it, it must “present a representative picture of all constituent groups in society” (second principle), “avoid any tendency to stray into arrogance, elitism, isolation or nihilism” (fourth principle), and stop “inflating events for sensation, neglecting others, stereotyping or being disproportionately negative” (eighth principle) in the reporting of it.

The majority opinion of our journalism is that it fails to uphold these principles.

When asked in a 2016 Gallup poll, “How much trust and confidence do you have in the mass media… when it comes to reporting the news fully, accurately, and fairly…?” just 32-percent of those surveyed responded with “a great deal” and “a fair amount.” That percent is spread out by 51-percent Democrat, 14-percent Republican, and 30-percent Independent. What the results show is that our journalism is not perceived by the majority as accurate or fair.

Is the cause of this low confidence the result of widespread failure to uphold the principles of journalism, or of small highly-publicized incidents of failure? What is a failure, and which readers are notified of that failure?

In our individualized news streams, where “truth” can differ from another’s version of truth, we might only see one side of failure, of “fake news,” in the opposing truth. This one-sidedness threatens the future of journalism.

Truth is objective. When we step toward accepting a subjective truth in response to the one-sidedness of news presented on the Internet, we lose the fundamental power of journalism: to inform.

Even if journalists continue to aim to present a “representative picture” of their communities, remain neutral rather than elitist, and stay away from sensationalism — essentially upholding the principles of journalism — the notion of a subjective truth will undermine, will take away any voice that journalists can give to the masses.

The biggest concern regarding the future of journalism is that it is transforming into a web of syndicated journalism.

To move in a direction where journalism maintains its power to inform, news organizations must work to combat the divisiveness spawned by individualized content syndication.