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How to Create Great Video Content and Engage Your Audience

| Doug Walker | March 3, 2022

IN THIS ARTICLE:

As the world tends more and more toward visual material and further from the written page, video content reigns supreme for marketing and communication purposes. So how do you actually create compelling, great content? 

Whether creators are amateurs looking to drive more traffic to their business, pro video editors, or content creators with years of experience, the questions will remain the same:

  • How to get people hooked by what they’re creating
  • How to keep them engaged through the video, so they stay for the message or call to action
  • How to keep videos professional-feeling but also inspired and fun, so they can feel creative

The answers to these questions can vary slightly depending on the goals of the video content and the platform for which it’s being created, not to mention budget and resources at a video creator’s fingertips. 

However, here are some tips that will help any creators succeed in a crowded marketplace, regardless of their genre.

First things, first. What are audiences hungry for right now?

What Audiences Are Looking for in Video Content

Authenticity

With so much content competing for our eyeballs and attention, perhaps the quality most appealing to viewers right now is authenticity. That means a sense of direct connection and emotional realness. It’s one of the reasons why so many viewers are migrating to platforms like TikTok. It’s not just because attention spans are shrinking (they may not be, by the way — more on that later). It’s because there’s a sense of direct connection to creators that platforms like TikTok foster. 

Even creators working on fictional projects may want to consider some of the techniques used in unscripted formats that help create a sense of connection. This is what marketers refer to as user-generated content or UGC-style content. It involves real people talking to camera, and it means that production values don’t have to be the slickest on the planet in order to engage customers. Sometimes, particularly now that everything is so slick, a bit rough around the edges can make content feel more real. 

Creators shouldn’t abandon aesthetic values, of course, as this is still a great factor in why people watch TV, film, and other visual media. But they should remember to prioritize emotion and a sense of the authentic to answer the perpetual question, “Why are we watching this?

Video creators may also want to consider direct address to camera. This is akin to those moments in the classic TV show “Fleabag,“ in which star Phoebe Waller-Bridge breaks the fourth wall to talk to the audience. But particularly when you’re looking at content on your phone, it can feel very intimate to have an actor (or real person) talk directly to you, and can almost evoke Facetime. 

Fun

It’s reasonable, with so much content out there, that audiences have a deep desire to be entertained. No matter what the subject matter, it’s critical that video content creators come up with videos that are well-paced, entertaining, and enjoyable to watch from start to finish. 

Otherwise, viewers will simply switch to one of a million other distractions. 

Information and Substance

That’s not to say that videos shouldn’t offer substance. On the contrary, as recent studies and articles have shown, viewers who have changed post-pandemic are looking less for distraction and more for deeper viewing engagement, absorption, and fulfillment. If a viewer feels a sense of connection with a video and has a sense that they are actually learning something new, whether that’s about a different culture or perhaps their own, they will stick with it. 

In the shortest content, this trend is mirrored in TikTok explainer and recipe videos that walk viewers through something in a short, pithy way that could otherwise take a while to explain. A few seconds later, viewers feel like they have a bit more mastery over some subject matter, whether it’s cooking or clearing up cultural misconceptions (of course, this could be a false sense of mastery or even outright misinformation, but it’s the feeling of learning that viewers are responding to). 

Immediate Interest

The first few seconds of a video will determine if someone sticks with it or not (and with TikToks, a few seconds is all there is). 

What’s the most compelling question that can start a video? It could be explicit, posed in a graphic, or in voiceover, or it could be implicit, in raising curiosity about a character (real or fictional) a challenge they faced, and how they might overcome it. 

Stakes refer to what a character stands to win or lose. While creators usually use stakes in longer content, it’s crucial to consider even in short videos. Hook an audience by making them wonder what someone is lacking in their life and how they might achieve it. This is even implicit in popular recipe videos, which begin with a human need (being fed) and then go on to answer a question like, “How do I make something nutritious out of the four things in my pantry?”.  Serious or lighthearted, all drama and hence all content is about stakes. 

In marketing terms, this is the pain point, the problem with an existing good or service, which can be addressed or eased by use of a certain product. Make sure an audience knows the pain point that’s being addressed.

Creating a hook refers to the question that an audience absolutely must see answered in order to feel satisfied. Think about what resonated in the past, what desires and dreams provide fodder for great videos, ads, and movies, and try tapping into those things.

Humor

Humor is a great way to get an audience’s interest from the start. Many people are looking for distraction or amusement on their phones, and an ad that actually feels shareable and genuinely funny is one of the best ways to stand out in a crowded field. That could mean engaging a funny personality or brainstorming with friends or co-writers to see what could actually provide a humorous angle when it comes to the product at hand. Humor, of course, won’t always be appropriate, depending on the subject matter. Proceed with caution and of course, remember that derogatory or discriminatory humor is never okay.

Popular Genres of Video Content

To address these viewer needs and create video content that’s engaging and appealing, certain genres have emerged that offer authenticity, fun, and substance. The main ones include:

Animated Explainer Videos

These videos simply explain how a product or process works. Animation is a great technique for holding an audience’s interest, particularly using bold 2D shapes, colorful graphics, and subtitles to make a case. Explainer videos effectively hold an audience’s hand and take them through the use of products with which they may be unfamiliar or provide an understanding of how a new technology works (or is better than a rival’s). 

When approaching an explainer video, think of what will explain a product most simply and memorably. That could involve pure animation, or a mix of live action, animation, and graphics. Animated or live-action explainer videos tend to work best for products like high-tech gadgets or apps and services that may help with productivity.

Lifestyle Videos

Lifestyle videos show how a product can be used with style and elegance in everyday situations. These tend to involve attractive domestic or office spaces and show with clarity how a product has improved its user’s lifestyle, particularly in the case of kitchen and other appliances. Lifestyle videos often involve personalities or real people (rather than actors playing roles), in order to underscore a sense of reliability and relatability.

Behind-the-Scenes

Movie buffs know the pleasure of watching deep dives into how their favorite films were made. The internet has been a boon in supplying extra content for fans, but behind-the-scenes videos are also useful for products and brands. Behind-the-scenes videos can work well for any product, particularly if you can tell a  compelling story behind its manufacture. 

A mini-documentary telling the story of a new wind-powered plant or factory, or a firm’s equity initiatives or fair trade farming, could be a great way to lead customers into a business’s story. And telling a story is always the key to developing a sense of connection between an audience and a brand. 

When looking to create video content, remember that the goal is to create investment by an audience in a product and make it feel less abstract, more authentic, and real to them. For a brand with an attractive production process like a vineyard or a coffee plantation, a behind-the-scenes look at how goods are produced could be the right tack. With new capture and editing technology, these videos can be produced relatively inexpensively with natural light and still look glossy. It just takes some planning and a sense of adventure in production and editing.

Brand Videos

These tell the story of a brand. The idea is to build goodwill from the audience toward a specific company, rather than a product. Apple’s spots are good examples. Even if they’re pushing particular products, they’re really creating a relationship with Apple as a brand that’s worthy of the viewer’s trust and admiration.

Live Video

For video creators looking to stream or create live content, it’s possible to stream video on platforms like Instagram or Facebook. Twich is another livestreaming platform that excels in helping content creators connect with their audiences. These will necessarily be less polished than short video content but can allow for a lot of interaction with possible customers. Live video works for interviews (which can be sponsored by a brand) or even product demonstrations. The trick here is to have a comprehensive plan if not a script in place, to allow for spontaneity without having to awkwardly fill time. 

Live video is simple to produce, so long as basics like good, even lighting are taken care of. Just follow the prompts on whichever platform is chosen.

The Importance of Native Content

With different audiences consuming content on different social media platforms, it’s important that videos feel native to whatever platform they’re on. That means that they fulfill the expectations that viewers have, depending on where they’re watching. 

When considering how to create a great video content strategy, the best way to achieve this feeling of fluid, organic content is to be familiar with the rules of various platforms and how they function to attract eyeballs. 

Some general pro tips:

  • When producing content, it’s smart practice to shoot a quantity of footage that can be repurposed and re-edited in order to work for different formats. 
  • When framing, make sure that the footage works for different platforms’ aspect ratios.
  • After that, it’s a matter of editing cleverly and adding graphics, sound design, and music in order to maximize your videos’ appeal.

Instagram Videos

Instagram videos tend to be short, graphics-heavy and are designed to fit in seamlessly with the kinds of videos users would see in their feed. That means very visual, nice-looking, and breezy in tone. The idea is not to bump scrollers with ads that feel radically different from the ones to which they are accustomed

Instagram videos are also an excellent platform on which to collaborate with other brands and influencers, thereby increasing the audience. They’re also a great platform in which to become interactive with users via techniques like polls.

When it comes to aspect ratios and composition, Instagram videos are (of course) formatted in a square image, so video creators must make sure to format for that. 

YouTube Videos

YouTube videos tend to be slightly longer. They likely involve more elements like sound and dialogue, as well as a possible narrative. When users watch YouTube, they’re already in the mood to watch something a bit more substantial in narrative terms. 

Whether embedded or in the preroll, YouTube videos can assume they have the engaged attention of a viewer from the start (even if they’re captive and waiting to watch something they presumably showed interest in). They can therefore get more involved in answering possible questions or in an absorbing behind-the-scenes mini-doc (with a link to more if the viewer wishes to watch). 

Graphics and well-paced editing are important in YouTube videos, and a friendly tone works well (particularly since there may be some pushback from viewers’ attention spans as they wait for their video to start).

LinkedIn Videos

When creating videos for LinkedIn, remember the target audience: professionals and jobseekers. LinkedIn videos are more sober and professional than videos for YouTube, which tend to be aimed at a wider and potentially younger audience. The emphasis, as one would expect, is on facts and figures, with the goal of impressing professionals with the quality of a particular brand. 

While many don’t think of LinkedIn as a video site, LinkedIn videos are in fact highly watched. Like Facebook native videos, LinkedIn videos just play, so are likely to create an impression. Creators should bear in mind the all-important first few seconds, however, to capitalize on LinkedIn browsers’ attention.

Facebook Videos

Facebook videos fall somewhere between these two poles. They tend to be short and have to work without sound on (as that’s how most people consume Facebook) although many videos work better with sound as an additive. Facebook videos, like the others, should feel like a part of a user’s feed so they can scroll seamlessly through news, updates, and video content. These videos are often framed with a piece of text or question that addresses viewers directly. 

Facebook videos themselves tend to be more abstract and visual, potentially like music videos, than YouTube videos. So smart video creators looking to make an impact on Facebook should think more about aesthetic choices, such as: 

  • Color palette
  • Slow motion versus natural-speed footage
  • Graphics interspersed with footage to keep interest maintained.

Native Facebook videos just play as users scroll. That makes them either a source of delight or irritation to Facebook users, so creators should make sure to create ads that have an awareness of their audience’s potential responses. Sometimes, subtle works to keep viewers hooked.

TikTok Videos

TikTok videos are best when they employ the language of TikTok, rather than being repurposed. That creates a seamless effect between videos that are targeted toward the user based on their likes, and sponsored content (or, ads). TikTok videos ideally are entertaining and easily digestible, just like regular Tiktoks, and make use of fads like dances, recipes, explainer graphics, and so on.

Stages of Video Production

Regardless of the scope of a project or its ultimate distribution platform, video content creation takes place through the same four stages. 

1. Pre-Production

Pre-production involves all of the conception and planning for a shoot. It starts with a rough idea for a concept (or even brainstorming first) and then evolves from there. Once a concept has been settled on, pre-production comes to involve all the logistical planning for a shoot, including such elements as:

  • Budget
  • Schedule
  • Location breakdown
  • Number of shooting days (which will of course impact budget and schedule)
  • Casting breakdown and auditioning
  • Crew recruitment

This list itself can be revised several times, based on factors such as:

  • Needing a lower budget figure
  • Unavailability of desired locations or personnel
  • Changes and evolution of the concept.

Pre-production is where everything is discussed and up for debate. In a conventional, larger shoot, each department has a head who will agree on the overall look and feel of a video and then delegate to their team members. Classic departments include:

  • Camera, in charge of the production’s look and lighting
  • Art, in charge of every part of the set
  • Costume, in charge of the cast’s wardrobes
  • Hair and makeup, self-explanatory

Smaller shoots will have smaller or fewer departments. The smallest shoots will just have a couple of people with a phone camera and maybe some lights in someone’s kitchen.

Casting can make or break a project. Consider starting with acquaintances or friends if it’s a low-budget production, but it’s always possible to engage a casting director or canvas acting schools (if professional actors make sense). Consider also diverse approaches to casting, which feel a lot more relevant and current, and can also broaden the audience for a product.

No matter the scope of a production, budget and concept will both influence aesthetic choices. For example, when it comes to videography, will the production team use natural light or studio lights? Some video formats do better in low light conditions or with natural light than others. 

When it comes to cast, is the polish of professional actors needed, or the more authentic appeal of real people desirable? Is the look stylized, necessitating specific costumes, or is it more naturalistic? If the latter, cast members can probably draw from their own wardrobes.

Among the techniques used in pre-production to troubleshoot and answer questions now rather than during production (which can be a lot more costly and time-consuming) are storyboarding and shot-listing. These are similar but they differ as follows:

  • Storyboards involve sketching out a graphic novel version of the final product. Every crew member in each department can see what’s required of them, and what the final product will look like. Storyboards can get very detailed, to the point of including camera movements and film stock speeds (if that is being varied).
  • Shotlists are more basic but can be just as helpful, particularly if there are elements that can’t be completely controlled, for example, if shooting at a real location, during a music festival, or something similar. Shotlists specify the kinds of shots that are needed to complete a day’s work. They will typically look something like: 
    • Closeup of Rob
    • Medium shot of Michelle
    • Wide shot of scene
    • Closeup of product

Whether a shotlist or storyboard is used often depends on the preferences of the director, as well as the complexity of the shoot and how visually complex it is.

Generally, it is the role of the Assistant Director (AD) or Production Manager (PM) to work out contingency plans and answers to questions such as: 

  • If it’s an outdoor shoot and it rains, what then?
  • What happens if cast or crew are sick?
  • What happens if the shoot goes over budget or needs more shooting days?

There will be differences here depending on the nature of the shoot. A documentary crew has no choice but to go ahead filming a musical festival whether it’s sunny or raining. But a location shoot may have other practical demands. In any case, most video content is modest in its practical scope, as it should be.

The simpler the needs of the set and lighting, the more time is left for actual production and the more time can be spent on what often matters most in video content, the connection being forged between the talent and the viewer. After all, when asking the question, why create video content, the answer is all about the impact it has on the viewer. Every decision is really geared toward that.

Pre-production, as it includes scheduling for the whole shoot, also includes a general sense of how effects-heavy a shoot is going to be and how many days should be set aside later for graphics and post-production. It can include scouting the location to work out a lighting and action plan, and rehearsals with the actors. 

In reality, most pre-production time is limited (by budget and crewmembers’ schedules, among other factors) so it tends to focus on a shoot’s main priorities.

2. Production

Production is where the actual shoot takes place. Ideally, pre-production was so thorough that there are relatively few hiccups and the entire crew is on the same page. 

However, everyone is human, and sometimes problems come up that were not foreseen. These could range from ambulances and sirens that wreak havoc with sound, to actors forgetting their lines, to camera angles that have to be abandoned because they don’t look as good in reality as they did while in planning (or for some other issue). 

Production often involves dealing with the elements, which can be unpredictable. So it does make sense for those starting out on their video creation journey to keep things simple. A video with modest aims and scope done well is more likely to get attention than an overambitious spot that doesn’t achieve its aims or, worse, results in chaos on set.

Production is at its best when a focused team knows what they have to achieve, and works together to make sure it’s done as efficiently as possible.

3. Post-Production

Post-production involves everything that happens after the shoot to make a product that looks polished and feels unified and exciting. 

The first step is usually editing.

Editing involves first selecting the takes that look the best and work most cohesively together. A director will typically work with an editor to produce an assembly of footage and then a rough cut which, as its name implies, isn’t the final polished product but an overview of the best takes, roughly cut together. Once it starts to seem obvious what’s working and what isn’t, the editor works on increasingly refined cuts, often seeking feedback, until the final edit is locked. 

Short-form videos often rely on rapid-paced editing to make them move quickly and make the most of their short runtime. But tempo doesn’t always have to be rapid-fire to work. Rather, it has to feel right for the emotion and the message that’s being conveyed. 

As editors work, they may make use of temp music. Temp music often uses music that’s outside the budget range of the video but it is still helpful as a guide to the feeling and emotion that will ultimately be there (hopefully) and the kind of instrumentation the final score will use. It provides a rhythmic track that helps the editor cut, and will also let the composer (or music supervisor) know what the director’s emotional intent is. 

If the results of production were not completely what the team was hoping for, much can be done during post-production to fix problems but also to add emotion. This is often achieved through intelligent use of music and sound effects, which can have profound effects on how an audience receives a video.

Effects

Post-production nowadays also includes visual effects (VFX) and graphics, including subtitles and animations. These can be essential, like replacing a background green screen, or they can be in the realm of cosmetic touchups, such as improving actors’ skin (for example). If live footage is underwhelming, it’s possible to increase the use of graphics to spike its entertainment value and make it snappier and more appealing. 

Digital effects were once off-limits, but open-source software like Blender, as well as more sophisticated programs like Adobe After Effects, put impressive effects within reach. While they are affordable, however, they can be time-consuming and require more powerful computing systems. So make sure to factor those things into your budget and schedule.

Voiceover

Another potential boon during post-production is the addition of voiceover narration. Narration can be written in advance, but it can also be tweaked to make up for shortcomings in the footage from production.

Narration is versatile. It can make a video feel more personal, direct, and intimate. 

Of course, it can also be used to urge a call to action or alter the tone of footage, adding humor if that’s missing. 

Color Grading

Color grading is an important step. This is a relatively new phenomenon, tied to the rise of digital capture. This means that footage is captured “raw” and its color can be later corrected but also improved. It could involve subtle improvements or extreme changes in the saturation levels or color scheme. The Coens’ 2000 film, “O Brother, Where Art  Thou?” was the first studio film to make use of digital color alteration and its bright yellow fields were so vivid that the practice is now standard.

If several versions of a video are being produced for different platforms (Instagram, Snapchat, LinkedIn, Facebook, etc.), this is the time to do it.

The final step in post-production involves audio editing and mixing, which ensures that the video’s audio is all audible, at even levels (so it doesn’t fluctuate wildly between loud noises and whispers).

A Note on Music and Short Video Content

Music is an important part of a video’s impact. Sometimes, music is composed for short videos and sometimes it’s licensed. When it comes to licensing music, things can get complicated and expensive. 

Typically, music is copyrighted, meaning that it has a rights owner who must be compensated. This is done via royalties, which are ongoing residual payments based on how many times a song is played (aka how many times it’s streamed and so on). Royalties can be cumbersome and expensive for video creators. Using copyrighted music without proper permissions and payments can lead to take-down notices from social media sites, as well as hefty fines. None of these are good for brands or individuals looking to build followings and monetize their offerings.

Some creators turn to public domain music, which is music that no one owns, whether because it’s very old or because it was dedicated, that is, created by a musician who declared they did not want rights in it (this is very rare). The problems with public domain music are that it may be of a vintage that’s not right for contemporary projects, and that it may not actually be public domain, but rather has been mislabeled on the internet.  

A better solution lies in royalty-free music, which can be licensed for an upfront fee, after which licensees can make use of it as many times as they like, without worrying about royalty fees. Royalty-free music provides an affordable, easy solution for video creators, giving them access to high quality, compelling music without the legal hassles. 

4. Distribution

This phase isn’t always included in breakdowns of the production process, but in fact, it’s a critical element, as it’s where the video is released into the wild and finds its audience. 

It’s well worth considering what the ultimate plan is for a video from the get-go. As discussed above, social media users have different expectations for different platforms, and it’s an important part of communication to satisfy the audience’s expectations.

Technological Considerations

With increasingly democratic offerings available to creators, it’s becoming truly possible to make a short spot on a prosumer-grade camera or phone, edit it on free software, and distribute it online, all for minimal costs. Here are some of the most popular hardware and software choices that could help you.

Cameras

Phones, both iPhone and Android, are an increasingly popular choice for creating video content for online distribution. Every year, new tech comes out and better model cameras become more affordable. But for now, consider these prosumer models:

  • GoPros, which are not the most polished-looking and don’t have the finest resolution possible, but do allow for cool and interesting angles for action photography, mounted to skateboards, skydivers, and so on. As mentioned before, authenticity trumps refinement when it comes to video content.
  • Panasonic Lumix GH6, which offers great image quality for its price
  • Sony A7S III, which offers great quality in low light
  • Canon EOS R5, which gives a beautiful image and sharp resolution.

At a higher level, brands like BlackMagic, RED, Sony, Canon, Leica, and ARRI offer excellent solutions. The right camera is the one that fits a project’s needs and budget. Most video content is consumed on smaller screens, which doesn’t require the highest resolution out there. Sometimes, production design or compelling content can make up for a less-than-stellar camera.

Editing Platforms

Some of the best free editing software platforms are:

  • DaVinci Resolve, which started life as a color correction platform before expanding to include an excellent, user-friendly editing and audio mixing platform. One advantage of DaVinci Resolve is linked to its great color correction software, and it even has an FX program and title tool that’s integrated within (and not too hard to use for a mid-level editor or a quick study). DaVinci Resolve doesn’t have a manual, but it does have a passionate community of users who post YouTube tutorials.
  • LightWorks, based on leading editing software used by studios on some of the world’s most beloved films. The free version offers a number of great features (though it is probably not powerful enough for longer projects). There is also a subscription level with more sophisticated features, which is still quite affordable.
  • Blender, which began as 3D modeling software but also has a great, user-friendly editing platform. It’s simple but reliable.
  • iMovie, the absolute easiest editing software to use, which may also be enough for a basic project. It comes free with Macs and offers basic drag-and-drop functionality and a title tool. It’s never worth overcomplicating things when they can be kept simple. If editors avoid the temptation of star wipes and other amateurish-looking transitions, iMovie can work well.
  • OpenShot, a free open-source option with a simple, drag-and-drop interface
  • HitFilm Express 16, distinguishes itself with its extra features like custom light flares, physically based 3D rendering (a real time saver) and an auto stabilizer that smooths out bumpy footage. 

Most editing software platforms offer similar timeline interfaces but they each have quirks. 

It’s important to play around and find the one that feels most natural and intuitive. For very simple editing, the graphic design software Canva has an editing function that can be used for social media videos with a definite template. It doesn’t allow for much experimentation but it’s there, and so are similar platforms with bright graphics and Instagram-friendly fonts.

The Importance of Music

A lot of the emotion of film and videomaking comes from its use of music. This can be subtle or overt (ie, themes that make audiences cry). But music is critical to emotional engagement, pace, and tone. Make sure it’s a critical part of the process from the start, and remember that royalty-free music solves a lot of legal and aesthetic issues. Tunestock is a great resource for royalty-free music and sound effects of the highest quality.

How to Make Great Video Content: Final Thoughts

While there’s a lot to consider, technically and otherwise, making great video content comes down to knowing the message at its core and aiming every effort at connecting with the audience. 

And it’s fun! Remember to enjoy the process and start simple to achieve your strategic goals. 

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