In the face of rampant mis- and disinformation online, video is a powerful format journalists can utilize to instead reach users with factual, ethically reported information. Thoughtful, strategically crafted video reporting can circulate widely online and stick with viewers long after it airs.
However, although having your video go viral may seem like a logical end goal, there’s more to making engaging videos than racking up views. The real challenge? Creating video content that resonates with your audience.
"I really want to stress that if you're trying to reverse engineer virality, it's going to drive you crazy,” said Jacob Templin, head of video at the Thomson Reuters Foundation, in the first session of ICFJ's Empowering the Truth Global Summit. “There's so many other things you need to put front and center first before you start thinking about virality.”
Templin offered advice for how journalists can approach their video reporting so that it drives engagement and resonates with audiences.
Here are his top four tips.
Recognize what engages your audience
When a piece of media goes viral, it means that it quickly gained popularity and engaged users in a variety of ways. Users, for instance, may like, comment on, and share the media.
There are many different components that go into achieving high rates of engagement, explained Templin. Some trending videos include emotionally resonant components: did the video make people laugh or maybe even cry? Crafting your video to generate an emotional response can be highly effective in boosting likes, comments and shares.
Some audiences might also resonate with a video for how visually stunning the production quality is, while others might be interested in the timeliness of videos, such as those that address breaking news developments.
High engagement begets even more reach, too. Social media algorithms favor posts with high engagement rates, so the more engagement your content gets, the more it is surfaced to other users online.
Understanding why certain videos might be more popular than others is the first step toward creating content that will better resonate with viewers and in turn reach larger audiences.
Understand the social media platforms
It’s crucial to understand the unique ways in which each social media platform’s algorithms work to surface content. Some might think, explained Templin, that posting a video everywhere will increase exposure and cause a video to go viral, but that’s not necessarily the case.
"On different platforms, the ‘views’ are different. A view on YouTube is different than a view on TikTok,” Templin said as one example. "It's hard to say what a viral video on one platform would translate to on another platform.”
Take time, as well, to understand the demographics of your audience as this can inform where you decide to publish and how to format your work. Important details to track include their age, profession, income, geographic location, and how they prefer to consume content.
The majority of users on TikTok are younger, while those on Facebook skew older. Twitter tends to attract users across age groups. Understanding who your audience is and publishing on the appropriate platform can help boost your content.
Track the right metrics
There's no shortage of data at your disposal to measure engagement. However, depending on your content and how you’re hoping to engage with your audience, certain metrics will be more important to you than others.
Ask yourself, how are you defining success when it comes to engagement? What are your most important metrics? For example, if your news organization is interested in having two-way interactions with your audience, consider focusing on comments rather than view counts.
“The total number of views might not be the thing that’s most important,” Templin said. “Obviously all these things feed into each other, but I think it’s really important to think about that first and set up a system to measure your success in the things that you value most.”
Test, measure, tweak and repeat
When it comes to producing your video content, it’s important to test, measure, tweak and repeat success.
The formats you’re using for your videos are one important aspect to test. Some video formats may take on the style of a news package, for instance, while others might employ a character-driven storytelling approach. Finding an effective format for delivering your message – one that engages your audience – is key.
Approach the opening of your video as though it were the headline of a written story, and experiment with it, advised Templin. Pay attention, too, to which openings best hook your audience and boost engagement.
Use the analytics you’re tracking to inform your production of future video content. If certain metrics are lower than you’d like, analyze why and tweak your videos accordingly. Once you identify a format that aligns with your goals, replicate what worked best for you and your audience.
Doing so can be the difference between what drives facts – and not false information – to users online.
"As journalists, what we can do is we can be on those platforms where the misinformation is being spread and we can share our reporting in a way that we can […] put as many resources into trying to get our information in front of people,” said Templin. “[Video] can potentially be an actual tool to counteract misinformation that is very dangerous.”
Disarming Disinformation is run by ICFJ with lead funding from the Scripps Howard Foundation, an affiliated organization with the Scripps Howard Fund, which supports The E.W. Scripps Company’s charitable efforts. The three-year project will empower journalists and journalism students to fight disinformation in the news media.
Photo by Zach Ramelan on Unsplash.