Instagram’s video feature allows users to shoot 15-second clips. Photo via vimeo.com
It was only three years ago that I interviewed a professional at a local PR firm as part of a series of videos I show my PR classes.
I remember him touting that all of their offices had Flip cameras — compact, easy-to-use video cameras — to shoot web videos as part of the tactical mix for their clients.
He stressed that aspiring PR professionals need to learn about shooting and uploading video as part of the set of skills they can offer employers.
Not long after that, they stopped manufacturing flip cameras.
A visual era
But he wasn't wrong. It’s just that the tools for videos are now contained in smartphones.
The Flip cam may be irrelevant, but visual communication is more relevant that ever.
It’s to the point that it’s moving rapidly from being considered an innovation to being an expectation. Visual communication is the trend.
Because many people are increasingly consuming media on their smartphones, the apps for both viewing and creating photos and videos have proliferated, and the features within them keep expanding.
Mainstream media from the BBC to the AP have upgraded their apps to be a primarily visual interface.
The old adage that “every picture tells a story” has become every story has a picture. Journalists know that audiences don’t read cover to cover or watch from beginning to end. They scroll until something grabs them that is worth clicking on and reading or watching.
Individuals and organizations are learning to communicate in the same way.
Research shows that on social media sites, the most-viewed updates and tweets are those with photos and videos.
Photo and video tools
PR professionals now have a variety of tools and apps to create and share photos and videos. Note that the video features discussed here are for very short videos.
If you want to make longer videos, you may need to use a conventional digital video camera, edit it in a program like iMovie and post to YouTube with links on other social sites.
Or you can use apps like Animoto or Magisto and make videos of 1-2 minutes for free or more if you pay for an advanced service plan.
First, smartphones like the iPhone have a built-in camera that shoots both still photos and videos. I have an iPhone and appreciate that photos and videos alike are added to the “camera roll.” Android phones work in similar fashion. From there, it’s easy to select photos to share via email, text message, Twitter or Facebook. Videos in the camera roll can be shared via email, text or to YouTube. You can share a video on Facebook if you go into Facebook first, then select the camera icon when you are updating your status and select the video from your camera roll.
Twitter doesn’t allow users to add a video when tweeting. They want you to use their Vine app to shoot short, up to 6-second-long videos. These can be shared with a link in Twitter and also Facebook.
On the computer and in the app, it has a very visual interface, with large photos accompanying updates. The app allows users to post multiple photos and videos from the camera roll.
Google, which owns YouTube, recently released this new app for capturing and uploading video. It has the ability to add enhancements to video and is integrated with Google+, as well as Facebook and Twitter, so that when users upload the video from this app to YouTube, a link is automatically added to these social media sites.
Instagram is one of the more-popular apps for shooting and sharing photos. It is like other social media apps in that you can follow others, “like” photos and comment on them. One of the things people like about it is the ability to enhance photos with filters or crop and rotate them before posting. Instagram, now owned by Facebook, added an edge over other photo-sharing sites by adding video. Users can also add filters to finished video and share it on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr (the popular short blog platform increasingly popular with younger users) or Foursquare, the social check-in and loyalty app. The addition of video has been popular — twice as many brands use Instagram vs. Vine, according to research reported at the popular social media blog Mashable.
Pinterest focuses on photos and operates a little differently. Users can set up “boards” (i.e., bulletin boards) named for specific categories and “pin” photos they see on the web or from their own camera. Users can follow other people, specific boards and increasingly brands on Pinterest. Pinterest allows users to automatically share pins on Facebook and Twitter.
One of the earliest social photo apps, Flickr was not in focus for many people until Yahoo acquired it and made some enhancements. They also clarified community guidelines about brands using the app. Users can see photos posted by individual contacts, as well as groups or brands. They can search for photos from sources they don’t follow by viewing photos that are “interesting” (according to a Flickr algorithm) or “nearby.” Users can organize their own photos into topical or time-based sets to make them easier to find later. Flickr photos can be automatically shared on Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr.
In addition to these social apps, there are legions of apps for mobile phones that allow enhanced editing and features for advanced users.
Principles of shooting photos and videos
But having the apps is not enough. It’s how you use them that counts. So here are a few basic principles to keep in mind with regard to technical composition and strategic content.
- Get close to your subject, but not too close. Either walk closer or use the built-in zoom feature. Remember that people are viewing these on small mobile devices and if a lot of irrelevant background is in the frame, the main subject may be hard to recognize. However don’t get too close, especially in video, that shaky hands are magnified, making your video scream “amateur!"
- Show action. Group shots of people lined up against a wall, as if to be assassinated at dawn, or two individuals shaking hands at an awards ceremony are cliché. Better to show one person doing what they do relevant to the message you want to send. Posed shots do not engage viewers, action does.
- Lighting. The apps described above are basic, and may or may not contain flash. Some have handy sensors that adapt to light as you pan a scene in video. But consider using fill flash or positioning subjects or yourself so that what you are shooting is well lit, but not washed out.
- Get horizontal in video. Some of the apps, such as Google Capture, remind you to turn your phone to shoot video in landscape or horizontal mode. Otherwise, in playback, your video will be a smaller vertical box on a user’s rectangle screen.
- Panning. When you pan (move the camera in a video scene), be sure to do so slowly, at a constant, steady rate. Unless you want your brand to be associated with the “The Blair Witch Project” or a modern music video, make sure people can actually see and recognize the visual you are trying to communicate.
- Be social. Use the social features built into these apps. Use hashtags (words that categorize images preceded by the pound sign), add links to related info on your organization’s website. Respond to comments on your photos and videos. Follow, like and comment on others’ photos and videos. Re-pin photos on Pinterest where appropriate. In other words, don’t be all one way.
- Be conversational in subject matter. Don’t push product or donations all the time. Tell stories relevant to your organization, such as customer or donor profiles, discuss and illustrate broader industry trends and show examples. Only occasionally make a hard sell. If you are all marketing all the time, users will unfollow, skip, ignore you.
- Purpose. With the above said, remember to have an objective. Being involved in the social space, particular in shooting and uploading images and video, takes time. Develop a set of objectives or what you hope to get for your organization in return for jumping in. It could be reputation, industry awareness, indirect impact on sales and all of the above. Then set strategies with regard to the types of photos and videos that will succeed in meeting those objectives.
- Find your channel. Finally, only a few apps are mentioned above, but it may be impossible to maintain a brand presence with all of them. Do some research to find out where your current and desired publics are and focus on those apps and networks.