Back when the internet was brand new, newsrooms were chasing quick viral hits. Keeping a video under one minute was the goal. This was the age of Vine (before it died) and click-bait. Inspired by the success of UpWorthy, headlines like “You wouldn’t believe what [fill in the blank]” were popping up across publications.

But social platforms and the web have changed in the last decade. And in the last few years especially, the opportunities to publish videos in different formats have mushroomed. Formats like Live, Stories, 360, and aerial footage are much more accessible.

At the same time, there’s been a shift away from clickbait and social media companies are encouraging journalists and creators alike to focus on “quality engagement” and time spent. This shift can also be seen in advertising. Major advertisers are becoming more interested in how long audiences listen to, watch or read an article rather than focusing on how many eyeballs end up on a particular page.

So what does this mean for journalists and how we do our work? And how does optimising for social fit into all of this?

Optimising for social means understanding how different social media platforms work, and also how audiences behave on these platforms. It also means adjusting content structure, strategy and metadata in a way that will help your work reach the people who would be most interested in your articles, videos or podcasts.

For example, 98% of Facebook users access their account on mobile phones, so any stories and videos published on Facebook should take that into account. When it comes to video, specifically, that means making sure that any text in the video is large enough for someone on a phone to be able to read it. This also applies to Twitter, Instagram and YouTube (where 70% of watch time is on mobile devices).

Text on video (whether it’s subtitles or just text adding context to visuals) is super important on social platforms because most people are watching videos on social media with their sound off, or without their earphones. So it really helps if they can keep following the story even if they can’t hear. This also makes videos accessible to people who are hard of hearing,

Optimising for social also means understanding the nature of the scrolling timeline — and that for every post that a user sees, the poster has just a few seconds to convince the user to click on or watch their story, before the user swipes away. That means it’s important to have the most gripping visual right up at the top or beginning, and to have the most important text at the beginning of the Facebook description or Tweet. The more buried important information is, the less likely the audience will choose to read or watch it. The more information journalists can add in the title, description, and thumbnail, the easier it will be for the audience to decide whether that story is relevant to them and whether they want to know more.

Of course, social platforms are constantly changing and tweaking their algorithms. So a big part social optimising is keeping up to date on these changes. Digiday is a great source of information, and it’s also helpful to keep an eye on what social platforms are saying about upcoming changes. You can see Facebook’s blog here, YouTube’s here and Twitter’s here.

Indian journalists interested in learning more about how to optimise videos for social media can watch this webinar by Sanshey Biswas (a freelance journalist and mobile journalism trainer) and Manon Verchot (digital editor of Mongabay). To watch, journalists will have to join the Facebook Journalism Project India group. FJP is hosting a series of webinars and Q&As on mobile journalism for the next month.

Watch out for…

If you’re a fan of podcasts and listen to Radiolab, check out Latif Nasser’s Connected on Netflix. Each episode of Connected is like a Radiolab episode in video form, and Latif’s interview style brings out incredible bits of information from the scientists and researchers he’s interviewing.

Latif is Radiolab’s Director of Research. He’s got a great article about how he finds interesting stories that you can read here.


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