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Online video, audiences, sharing: Putting it all together

I thought about titling this post “Another stupid way news sites waste time and effort by failing to understand the Web and how people use it,” but I thought maybe that was far too broad, since it covers so many things.

This post is really about how journalism organizations could use video intelligently:

  1. Embedding
  2. Linking
  3. Sharing
  4. Full screen
  6. Engagement
  7. Promote other pages and stories

I spend a lot of time speaking (and thinking) about online video — both journalism video and the broader YouTube varieties. When we think about how people use online video — and by “people” I mean mostly North Americans in the college and university student age group — we absolutely must consider sharing.

How young people find out about videos (and — let’s face it — a large portion of all news and information) is because one or more of their friends posted a link on Facebook, or shared it in some other way that brought it to their attention.

It doesn’t take too much intelligence to conclude that it’s very important to make it very easy to share the videos that you produce.

The video embedded above (from the Toronto Star) won an award at this year’s Online News Association annual conference, and I really love the way it tells the story in a manner that can grab the attention of almost anyone — even if you have no particular interest in Africa or in windmills.

Embedding: I had to install an extra plug-in to embed that video here (and on a free WordPress.com blog, I would not be able to embed it). That’s one consideration — if a video is on YouTube or Vimeo, it can be easily embedded almost anywhere, in any kind of blog, and on Facebook. Make it easy for people to embed your video in WordPress, Blogger, Tumblr, and anywhere.

Linking: From the embedded video above, you can’t view the original. There’s no link. That’s one consideration about linking, and here’s another — the video is like an appetizer to a bigger, more detailed story. That’s often true of online journalism videos, and often there is a fuller treatment in a text story, or even a big package of related features. But how will anyone ever find those other pieces? Even at the Toronto Star’s website, this video does not appear on the same Web page with the text story! (Yes, there is a link. But it’s asking people to click and wait, and that’s not necessary.)

Sharing: These cute little buttons make sharing on Twitter, Facebook, etc., simple — this is essential.

Lots of journalism sites are missing the boat on sharing. Earlier today I watched this video from GlobalPost: On Location: Cairo – Egypt’s pre-election crackdown (excellent work by UF grad Jon Jensen). On the stand-alone video page, it has NO options for embedding and NO options for sharing. (Note: Some GlobalPost stories have been “Liked” more than 1,000 times via Facebook.)

I had to make a screen capture from the video and upload it and link it to provide you the incentive you see above (an image that will take you to the video), and most people just are not going to do that much work to share your videos.

Journalism videos SHOULD be embedded and SHOULD be shared, but they need to LINK BACK to the journalism, to the original. The video is a promo for the rest of the story. The video is a tease, an entry point to MORE. The video should BRING people TO your site.

Does this mean online videos should not include pre-roll advertising? Maybe.

Full screen: From what I’ve seen, young people always make a video full screen if it’s possible to do it. Some videos look great full screen, and many do not. Of course, there are bandwidth constraints, etc. I’m just saying we should consider how the videos look when blown up to a width of 1200 pixels — or larger.

Downloads: If I could download the windmill video and keep it on my iPhone, I would show it to people. Too bad — the Toronto Star does not allow me to download it. If more journalism organizations treated video as (downloadable) podcasts, they might get a lot more leverage out of the video work.

Engagement: The windmill video above has some non-standard enhancements to the storytelling, and I think they work fantastically well to grab and hold the viewer’s attention. Usually I feel uncomfortable about using music in a journalistic video — I’m concerned that it takes away from the journalism, the credibility, the realism. In this case, however, I just love the music because it really does enhance the story. (Too many videos use bland music loops that add nothing.)

Most people are quick to click away from a video if it fails to engage them — 20 percent of viewers will quit a video in the first 10 seconds (source; from analyst firm Visible Measures). To me that says the crucial characteristic of every video is a strong opening. Grab people immediately; guarantee that they are going to see something interesting.

The windmill video is not too long (3 min. 10 sec.). It does not try to tell us everything. That’s why we have the text story.

Video as promo: Increasing page views

Online video is immensely popular, especially with younger Internet users, and its popularity is still increasing. That’s the reason to think about it more, and figure out effective ways to use it to bring good stories to people’s attention.

Consider the two videos linked here: The story about William and the windmills can be bringing viewers to the Toronto Star for years (because it’s not tied to any breaking news), but it ought to be linked better — not only to the Star’s text story but also to other sites and pages (inside the Star and outside) — about NGOs and Africa and Malawi and the 2007 TED Talk that introduced William Kamkwamba to the world and the book and the blog. A video with long legs is worth extra time and effort — in production AND in promotion. (Educators: Show your students the TED video and the Toronto Star video and discuss storytelling!)

The GlobalPost video about current elections, on the other hand, has a short shelf life — nevertheless, it could be linked to a zillion other stories related to Egypt and the region. The BBC has always been my exemplar for this kind of cross-linking (and self-promotion); see this example: Egypt holds parliamentary poll (two insets within the story: Related Stories and Parliamentary Vote). Why doesn’t GlobalPost have links like those on its video page? Why squander that opportunity?

If you’re not familiar with GlobalPost, read this from Nieman Journalism Lab (November 2010).

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