The ten commandments of compelling video

Everyone's at it; making short-form video in the hope of striking the viral jackpot and sitting back while you watch the YouTube hits rack up.

Adam Batstone: What are the ingredients that turn the mundane into the must see?
Adam Batstone: What are the ingredients that turn the mundane into the must see?
Even the Apprentice hopefuls had a go last week – with the inevitable toe-curling consequences. 

So what are the ingredients that turn the mundane into the must see?

Over the past ten years at BBC News we have tried to build up a set of criteria that guide us when we post video online. 

There have been some obvious hits – Felix Baumgartner leaping from space and David Cameron being bundled over in Leeds spring to mind.

But we have also been guilty of spending far too long churning out clips that no one really wants to watch, such as men in suits standing outside darkened buildings talking about events that happened several hours before.  

Although my background is in news I think these broad principles apply across the board and are equally true if you are launching a product or promoting a service.
1) On demand video is not TV. You don’t need a well known personality and flashy branding to make people watch a clip. In some ways a lack of professional polish can improve engagement.
2) Get to the point. Don’t keep people waiting for the point of your video. Patience is short and time is limited: if you haven’t hooked them after 20 seconds forget it.
3) How long? Watching a clip online is not the same as settling down to watch Strictly on the iPlayer. You need to keep your clips short – ideally no more than two minutes. Label them clearly to make a virtue of their brevity.
4) The unscripted moment. Everyone loves a blooper so don’t assume just because something doesn’t go quite to plan you should write it off. Humour helps to get your content shared.
5) Informality is OK. You don’t need a script if you really know what you are talking about.
6) Selling your wares. If you have made a great video, make sure people know about it. Users scan pages like newspapers looking for compelling images and headlines – if your great video lurks behind lacklustre links, it will be missed.
7) It happened to me. Illustrating your point with a real person’s experience is nothing new, but the democratic nature of the web means hearing direct from ordinary people is powerful.
8) How does it sound? Many office workers have neither speakers nor headphones and a video that relies on sound will be pretty much useless. Can you try subtitles or graphic chapter heads?
9) Behind the scenes. Call it curiosity or nosiness, but some people like to see how things work. Giving access where people can’t normally go and fostering an image of openness and inclusivity is a good thing.
10) Change it or ditch it. If something is not working, don’t blame the users or keep your fingers crossed it might improve later. Think about why your video is not matching the criteria above and tweak it until it does. If it can’t be salvaged – just ditch it.

Adam Batstone is assistant editor of BBC News On Demand

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