So about 8 months ago before heading out to Bali for two months, I decided that I was going to do things a little bit differently here. I decided I was going to get really serious about the next big wave in online content distribution: video.
I got setup with all sorts of cameras and tools to be able to produce high quality video that was going to blow the world away. I had visions of thousands of people following along on my world adventures, taking in beautiful vistas, all the while learning how to build a business that would allow them to do the same.
Great idea in concept right? So then what’s the the problem? Well the problem lies in the execution, or well, lack thereof.
I’ve produced over 35 videos in the last 8 months from places like Hong Kong, Bali, Vail etc. How many of them have gone viral? Absolutely zero. How many of them have even done what you might consider, good? Maybe one – and even that one is somewhat arguable.
So why should you listen to me when I obviously haven’t had a lot of success with my videos? Over the last month I’ve been researching exactly what makes a video good. Which ones get watched and which ones get shut off after 20 seconds? I’ve looked at hundreds of videos to get a sense of this, and I’ve been able to pull out very specific traits that these viral videos share.
Video is a whole different beast than blogging. When you blog on a consistent or regular basis, every once in awhile you’re going to get lucky. One post is going to resonate with the right person, get one big share, and has the potential to go viral. With video, for as easy as it is to share, unless it’s really good, it’s probably going to go nowhere.
It doesn’t matter how good the information is, if it’s not entertaining and captivating, your video is destined for the black abyss of You Tube.
In this day and age when we think of viral content, we think of viral videos. What we don’t see is that for every viral video that gets millions of views, there are tens of thousands of others out there with less than 1,000.
In this post, we’re going to look at the five key things you must do in order to see success with your videos online, while also analyzing examples of those who have done a really good job with it.
In the end, if you study the materials in this post, you’ll have the tools necessary to produce much higher quality, viral potential, videos.
First Thing’s First: How Are You Distributing Your Videos?
Before even start talking about video content, you need to make sure you’re properly setup to distribute them. If no one can find, and more importantly share your videos, not much is going to happen regardless of how good they are.
Bottom line, if you’re not on You Tube, time to get started.
In the past I was reluctant to use the Google owned video service because their quality wasn’t as high as say Vimeo or Viddler, however over the last two years those complaints have all pretty much been put to rest.
The fact remains more people use You Tube than almost every other video service combined. That’s a lot of people who can stumble upon your content.
Step #1 to Better Videos: Commitment
Alright, so you’re serious about making better videos. You’ve got a You Tube account, and you’re ready to go. What’s next?
You have to decide if you’re ready to make a commitment.
You can’t bang out a video in 20 minutes like you can a blog post. There are many more steps to think about:
- What’s the concept of your video?
- How are you going to tell a story?
- What shots are you going to need to make it happen?
- What’s the appeal for the audience?
- How are you going to get it in front of viewers?
Unless you’re really good at editing, you sitting in front of a camera isn’t going to do much for most people. We’ll show you examples of how that could work, but if you’re going to make a video great, you have to commit to making it so.
So often I’ll start a trip and be stoked to shoot a ton of cool videos. And then everything gets in the way. I’ll shoot a great intro, or 25% of what I need, and then you get tied up with work, friends, having fun, whatever and you don’t end up with enough stuff to tell a proper, interesting story.
Recently, my buddy Steve Kamb released a video he shot over 18 months that shows him exercising all over the world. 18 MONTHS. That’s how long it took him to have enough content to create this. More importantly, he made a commitment to do it at the beginning and followed through. In dozens of cities, day/night, boats, planes, you name it, he video taped himself exercising.
It didn’t matter if he had to have strangers hold the camera and do pushups when he was exhausted from months of travel. His commitment rewarded him with over 150k You Tube views in just a couple of weeks.
Creating viral, high traffic videos takes commitment. Click to Tweet.
Step #2 to Better Videos: Consistency
Consistency and Commitment, while having similar characteristics are two different things – however, each very important in their own right.
When I first got to Bali I committed to posting 5 videos a week to try and be consistent and get people coming back on a regular basis. There were some problems with this:
- I rarely actually posted 5 week
- One consistent day and time once a week is better than 5 scattered all over the place
- Most of my videos didn’t follow the other steps laid out
If you want to gain a significant audience for your videos, you need to be consistent with your production. There are a variety of things that go into consistency:
- Consistent editing and transitions
- Regular posting schedule
- Consistent voice and personality
Let’s take a look at someone who does a great job of each of these.
There’s a good chance if you’ve spent any time perusing You Tube over the last year that you’ve run into Jenna Marbles. I first came across her last year when she put out her video “How to Trick People into Thinking You’re Good Looking.”
Jenna is the epitome of a successful video blogger. That video alone has over 40 million views. However, what makes her so successful? Aside from following through with each of the the five major steps, I think one of the biggest reasons for her success is her consistency.
She has the same 4 second clip start every show, she does a close with her dogs after every video reminding people to subscribe to her channel and that she puts out videos every Wednesday.
Along with that pretty much every video she does has the exact same content and editing style. She makes essentially makes fun of the way boys and girls act in society. She uses fast paced editing and keeps her videos short enough to hold your attention. She’s the exception of the person who can stand in front of a camera and make it interesting – and that’s only because she takes it a step farther. Even if most of her videos are shot in her house she moves around and mixes it up with props, which goes a long way.
With any of Jenna’s videos you know exactly what you’re going to get: short, vulgar posts, that will make you pee your pants laughing. That’s a good recipe for success with the basis for the success solely based around the consistency of her approach.
Here was one of my favorites, look for all of the essential ingredients we mentioned:
Step #3 to Better Videos: Tell a (Good) Story
It’s been said that consistency is enough to get you significant traffic numbers. Keep putting content out on a regular basis and you’ll gain a loyal following of viewers. Not so much.
I’ve had some of the most dramatic backgrounds in the world to shoot in, and that alone has not brought subscribers by the masses.
Why not? Well as my friend Markus pointed out to me recently, most of my videos don’t tell a a complete story. You need to give the viewer something to care about in the beginning. What’s going to suck them in and keep them guessing about what’s going to happen next? Simply narrating your vacation isn’t enough to make people care.
You can’t skim videos. You have to sit through them. You can make it through a 3,000 word blog post in 30 seconds if you want, and pull out the highlights. A 10 minute video is going to take you 10 minutes to watch – so it’s gotta be engaging.
Take my recent video about Cuba for example. It had a story: follow along as we check off the things we want to do on our “Cuba Bucket List”.
The problem? There were never any questions or surprise. You never were left wondering, “Oh how are they going to get this one done?” or “Uh oh, they ran into a problem, what are they going to do to overcome this obstacle?”. There was none of that. If a video is 5 minutes long and you don’t have that intrigue, you’re going to turn it off 45 seconds (or less) into it.
If I were to shoot the Cuba video again, here’s what I’d do to make it more interesting:
- Outline the story before even arriving in Cuba
- Create more difficult items to cross off, and then introduce them as difficult items
- Have problems on the road to accomplishing it, and show the genuine concern and questioning
- Engage more people in the video. Watching Sean is only interesting for so long.
Yeah, heading straight back to 4th grade English with that one, but the fact remains, all of those elements are important. Especially the last 3, you have to be a really interesting character in a really interesting setting to skimp on the others, and even then I’m not sure you’re going to be successful.
So what’s an example of this done right? This commercial called “The Drama Button” shows that you don’t need length (this is less than two minutes long) or even any dialogue in order to contain each of these elements in a good video.
So let’s look at how this short video included all the elements of a good story and garnered over 30 million views in the process.
This shows that a character doesn’t ever have to say a word or even be a human. The button was the main character in this clip. The three people who hit the button were another set of characters, and everyone involved in the mayhem were also a set of characters. The absurdity of it all lent to the interest of it, as did the fact that everything was so unexpected.
You narrating your video may or may not be a strong character. If you haven’t had success with that model, how can you shake things up and add a more unique character to your story?
“Somewhere in a little town in Belgium, on a square where nothing really happens.”
Even though they just described what might sound like an incredibly boring place, it’s foreign. It’s a place you’ve probably never been, so there’s automatically interest. Then you see a button in the middle, and within seconds your hooked.
Any place can be interesting if you frame it right and build the story around that place. How can you take your desired shooting location and make it part of the story, rather than just the place you happen to be.
What happens when you push the button?
There have been thousands of shows, movies, and stories crafted around variations of this same idea, and you know what? It never gets any less interesting.
Taking a simple, proven idea is almost always better than trying to reinvent the wheel. Take my MTV Cribs rip off. It was the exact same formula they used, and it’s now my most viewed video of any of them.
While obviously there was a lot of conflict in this particular clip, the conflict wasn’t about the car chase, the chick on the motorcycle or the football team running out to save the guy. The conflict was actually the mental conflict and the confusion surrounding what was going on, and why.
I feel like this is the most important aspect to most videos. Again if the rest of your story is solid you can get by without it (like Steve’s video for instance.), but most of the time you need to have a real content. The more personal you can make it to the viewer, and the more involved you can get them, the better.
Everything made sense at the very end of the clip when they displayed the sign about the whole act being about the drama on a TV network. You got what you wanted to see, it left you saying “Oh, that was good”. If they left out that part, then you’d simply be confused and probably frustrated because you don’t have any of the answers you were seeking…you know, kind of like the show Lost.
Are you providing proper resolutions to your stories? “Well, that’s it! See you next time” is NOT a proper resolution. If you’re doing that then your characters, plot, and conflict probably weren’t strong enough.
The ability to tell a story is everything. Just because you’re good at doing it on a blog or in person, does not mean you’re good at doing it on a video. Think about how you can spice up these 5 elements of storytelling to improve every aspect of your videos.
Even short videos have to tell a good story and get the viewer hooked. Click to Tweet.
Step #4 to Better Videos: Get Better Tools
This is kind of one of those tips to take with a grain of salt. If you’re a crappy golfer, spending $1,000 on new golf clubs probably isn’t going to make you better.
Same goes for video. If you’re skipping the other steps you can have all the tools in the world and your videos are still going to suck. That said, if you follow through on the rest, the right tools can increase the quality of your videos dramatically.
I personally have a setup that, while far from professional, is great for under $1,000:
- Canon Powershot Elph 500 HS
- Kodak Playsport Zx5
- Canon HF200 HD Camcorder
- Benro Tripod
- Audio-Technica Lav Mic
- Final Cut Pro X
This gives me the tools to get high quality video and sound in a small package.
Again, these are far from essentials, but having the right tools to accomplish your goals will make your final result look that much better.
Step #5 to Better Videos: Learn How to Edit
This is where SO many people (myself included) get killed. Editing videos is one of those things that falls into the category of “easy to do, difficult to master”.
Anyone can hop into imovie and throw a video together. Does that means it’s going to be good? Absolutely not.
Editing is the one thing that can allow you to take medicore footage and turn it into something more than that.
In my videos I often get lazy with editing and use way too many shots where it’s just me talking. Look at any of the videos back in Bali, it was me holding a camera to my face, and talking, rather than editing out the crap to tell a shorter, more compelling story.
This takes much more time, effort, and skill. Hence the reason most people don’t do it.
The best way to learn how to edit? Do it more often. You can’t learn without doing. With that said, there are a TON of resources out there that will help you along the way.
One of my favorite examples of how someone took high quality equipment, pared it with the ability to edit, and everything else in this story is Devin Graham.
Devin has received over 10 million views on his video, “World Largest Rope Swing” because they took a unique idea and applied all of the techniques we’ve discussed. How’d he do it? Let’s take a look:
In order to show just how committed he was to realizing his vision for the project, you should watch the Behind the Scenes video. The first day they went out, set everything up and realized that the overcast sky wasn’t going to make for a very beautiful shot, so they came back the next day and did it all over again.
It’s this commitment to your vision and concept that is going to pay off with the end result. He wasn’t willing to sacrifice and was committed to the project seeing it through to completion, regardless of the extra work
Everything in this video is consistent. The look, the feel, the music – it all just goes together. They scrapped almost all of the clips from the first day in order to achieve that consistent look and feel throughout the shoot.
In terms of building his brand as an adventure videographer, you see that his other major video is shot in a very similar way. Very bright, saturated colors, fun upbeat music, people having a good time, and extremely cool visuals.
Tell a Good Story
This video, again with no dialogue still hits on all of the main components of a good story. It’s obvious focus is on the dramatic setting, but the conflict is in whether or not someone is going to hit the ground as they’re jumping off the massive arch. Resolution? No one did.
Another key here is that this video truly allows you to suspend reality for a few minutes while you’re watching this. You’re transported to Utah and are immersed in a way that let’s you feel like you’re there. That’s the reason I’ve watched this video half a dozen times, every time I watch it I get a nice break from reality. How are you transporting your viewers somewhere new?
Have the Right Tools
This is secondary to everything else, but in the case of this video it’s what made the shots look as good and dramatic as the did. The creator used a combination of Go Pros and 5d Markii’s to get the highest quality possible while doing the jumps and stunts. The slightly fisheye look of the Go Pro cameras add to the size and scope of it all and having the necessary mounts and tools to get the shots mid-flight makes everything that much more intense.
You could have shot this with lower quality gear, but the effect just wouldn’t have been the same.
Learn How to Edit
Obviously these guys knew what they were doing behind the computer, just as much as they did at the shoot. We got to watch the days events unfold from before the first jump, to the smiles at the end, and they cut it in a way that sucked you in. It was quick, had catchy music, and looked completely professional.
So all of that being said, if we want to take all of this information and apply it over the course of a weekend to make more compelling videos, you’re going to need some editing chops in order to do it.
Again, I highly recommend you spend the $300 to pick up Final Cut Pro X because it will give you much greater flexibility, and is also really easy to learn as well.
Just getting started with FCPX? This is the only tutorial you’ll need to learn the basics. Izzy is the guy when it comes to teaching beginners and advanced users alike how to do more with their editing.
Before you can really get creative you have to know what the software can do, and how to get around doing the basics. Taking this intro course (it’s free), will take your editing and final results to a whole new level.
Here are a few other really useful tutorials from Izzy Video:
- 7 Strategies to Shoot in Low Light – The light is rarely going to be perfect when you’re on the move, here are some really good ways to compensate when there just isn’t quite as much light as you’d like.
- 3 Keys to Great Audio for Video – All too often we only think about video when we shoot. The reality is that audio is just as important, if not more so. If it’s too windy and you don’t have the proper mics, what you thought was a great shot could be totally ruined due to wind noise.
- Three Point Lighting – Lighting can make or break the look of your video. Understanding the basics can go a long way, especially if you have to improvise on the go (you probably don’t have a arsenal of lighting equipment with you at all times). Know the basics and then apply it where necessary.
Don’t have a Mac or really don’t want to drop $300 on new software (if that’s it, just use iMovie), here are some other cheaper alternatives for putting your movies together:
- You Tube Video Editor – You Tube’s built in video editor has become surprisingly usable over the last couple of years, and if you’re doing stuff solely for online work, it could be a good free option.
- Avid Studio – I get asked the question a lot, “what should PC users use for cheap video editing?”. The solution? Avid Studio. For a little over $100, this is the best tool I’ve seen.
- Windows Movie Maker – Not my favorite, but if you use a PC, you should already have it installed. However, here are some good tutorials for Movie Maker.
- Adobe Premiere Elements – Adobe Premiere is going to be overkill for most beginners, but Premiere Elements takes a lot of the useful features and puts it into a more user friendly stripped down version
How to Get People to Watch Your Videos
Finally, once you’ve got a great video, how do you get people to watch them?
First, you read this post:
This post is over four years old, but it hits on so many good strategies for getting people to see your video. Bottom line, contrary to popular belief, you can’t just throw your videos up and expect thousands of people to watch them – they won’t.
If you’re serious about getting people to watch your videos, you need to be proactive and willing to spend a little bit of time on it. What does this mean? Here are some of my favorite points from the article above.
- Email Your List – Do you have a newsletter or email list? Send an email specifically about your new video. Include one or two links to the clip, and no other links.
- Reach Out to Influencers – Do you have friends with an audience, list, or blog? Shoot them a personal email asking them to share. Recently, someone reached out to me about an important blog post they wrote and I saw no less than 20 other influential people tweet about it (obviously I wasn’t the only one to get an email). Bottom line? It works.
- Embed it on Your Blog – I’m amazed at how many more views I get when I embed a video on a blog post. If you devote an entire post to your video and promote it, your views can make a jump quickly.
While my videos to-date may not be the most viral or viewed, I’m going to start applying everything I’ve learned from studying the videos that did work, and let you in on the results.
There are so many other points and topics we could cover on all of the above, but if you take these tips to heart and really apply what you’ve learned to your videos, you’ll not only find yourself with a higher quality final product, but with a giant bump up in your views and traffic as well.
So, have you created a viral video? What worked? What didn’t? Let us know in the comments!