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A Guide to Making Better Videos in the Arts

Chris Marr is an alumnus of Spektrix.

What’s the secret to success when it comes to creating videos?

Videos are everywhere online, from autoplay videos in your Facebook timeline to the content behemoth that is YouTube (currently the 3rd most popular site in the world, after Google and Facebook). And videos aren’t going away any time soon. People are consuming more image-led content generally, not just video. The number of users of the photo-sharing platform Instagram have officially surpassed Twitter. And according to Cisco, by 2017 video will account for 69% of all consumer internet traffic. Plenty of arts organisations are already making the most of this medium, but what’s the secret to video success for arts marketers? How can you make sure that the vibrancy and uniqueness of your work comes across online? Here are some thoughts on what you can achieve with video, and suggestions of how to make the most of it.

What videos can you make?

  • Short-form social videos

There are options to suit all kinds of marketing budgets when it comes to video. At the cheaper end of the scale, with some creativity and ingenuity, arts marketers have plenty of tools available to them to make simpler, inexpensive videos to show off their organisation. Although under-used by the arts, Vine is a powerfully simple tool for creating short-form, low-budget films on your phone. The Globe’s Vine stream, for example, is full of valuable and shareable content produced for next-to-no money.

Vine isn’t the only one operating in this space too. Twitter recently introduced a similar functionality themselves – with 30-second, non-looping videos that appear directly in timelines – whilst Instagram now offers its users a mix of static photographs alongside short videos. This Instagram example from the National Theatre of Scotland successfully showcases the vibrancy and excitement of an outdoor event for very little expense.

  • Trailers

Often professionally-produced (and taking their cue from movie trailers) these are likely to make a greater dent in your budget, and might include previews of the show on stage, or take a look at the context behind it. These needn’t break the bank, however; this simple and fun video from Sadler’s Wells showcases how, when arts organisations have access to all of the creativity in the world, a limited budget needn’t be a barrier to sharing this creativity online.

  • Q&As or post-show discussions

What’s this show about? Where did the idea come from? Sit your director or writer down, and let them sell their shows to your audience. This Emma Rice interview from the RSC is a simple, good example.

  • Meet the cast

One camera, some willing actors and a few photos is all you need to create meet the cast videos, giving a different behind the scenes look at a production. This video from the Donmar’s West End transfer of My Night With Reg is an effective and inexpensive example.

  • Video diaries

Producing theatres and companies can open up the creative process in a completely different way, by documenting how a piece of work develops in the rehearsal room. Although certainly not to everyone’s tastes (for many, it’s important that the rehearsal room remains private) there are ways of managing this successfully. The Wooster Group’s long-running series of online videos, for instance, are a fun, interesting and popular look behind the scenes of their daily work.

  • Backstage tours

Theatres are beautiful buildings, with exciting things happening inside them. Why not show them off? For inspiration, this series of videos for Time Out does just that, looking at theatres and shows right across the West End.

  • The timelapse

A fun and easy-to-make timelapse video is only a Go Pro away. Theatres are active, constantly changing places – make the most of your get-ins like Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre did, or document major transformations to your building like The Old Vic.

  • ‘Viral’ videos?

Viral videos are about mass appeal, through entertaining, light-hearted and shareable content (see Jean-Claude Van Damme doing the splits between two reversing lorries). But for arts organisations, most likely targeting much more localised audiences, trying to create a ‘viral’ video is probably of limited use. You know your audience better than anyone – use your insight to create videos that entertain and inform them.

You can, however, take some tips from the world of viral video creation (albeit with a pinch of salt). One thing most successful viral videos have in common is their shareable nature; they have been created so that the people who watch it feel encouraged to share it with their friends, because it represents something about themselves that they want to highlight. Take a hint from the world of viral videos, and try creating content that reflects what your audiences want their friends to think about them.

Platforms for sharing on your website

So you’ve made the effort to create this great video content, but how should you embed it on your website? Does it matter which platform you use? Here are the main contenders, plus the benefits of each of them.

The standard-bearer for all online video, YouTube is in the stratosphere of online popularity. As you’d expect from its size, it’s a reliable service that integrates well with any website. Its popularity also offers the opportunity to share your work with a large community of users too, although beware the vitriol of the comments section…

There’s an added SEO benefit with YouTube too – as it’s a Google property, it’s always likely to perform better in Google searches than other platforms. YouTube is free to use, even offering the chance to make money through adverts once your videos reach a certain level of popularity.

Probably the platform of choice for video production agencies, Vimeo offers a much cleaner interface than YouTube. Put simply, Vimeo looks better than YouTube – and makes your videos look better too. A space free of advertising clutter makes for a more pleasant way of enjoying videos, although this means missing out on the potential advertising revenue offered by YouTube. If you’re serious about creating great videos, you might also find that Vimeo offers access to a much more engaged (and coherent…) community of users, many of whom are professionals making video themselves. Vimeo is free, although only up to a point.

A bit of a curve-ball in relation to those other two, better-known platforms, Wistia offers something different. Specifically-designed for businesses, Wistia has an initial free price plan that increases to become more expensive depending on your usage. The benefits that come with this are significant, however. Wistia comes with better web integration than the other two (with the ability to customise colours and other features to match your own site) enabling Wistia videos to look like a fully-integrated aspect of your website, rather than just some media that’s been tagged on.

Although other video platforms have analytics dashboards too, Wistia’s is easily the most advanced I’ve seen. These benefits are what swayed us at Spektrix, and the reasons why we use Wistia for all of our videos on our website.

Be clever with the data

Video analytics are easily overlooked, but – just as with your website – it pays to be smart with the analytics data from your users. There are a whole range of paid-for analytics platforms, but in most cases the dashboards offered by YouTube, Vimeo and others are more than enough to tell you what you need to know. Use these insights to ask specific questions of the data and take action based on what you find.

Consider how much of each video people watch – is there a pattern to when they stop watching? If there’s a sharp drop-off at a certain point, consider what has caused viewers to get bored and stop watching, then consider re-editing the video to make this part more engaging. What kinds of devices are people using to watch your videos? Are they primarily watching on their computers, tablets or phones? If you find people are watching predominantly on their phones, try creating content that is optimised for a smaller screen, with any text or images easily visible across the entire screen.

The Wistia blog, in particular, is a useful place to look for tips, tricks and best practice when it comes to optimising your videos. For example, they found that on average videos under 30 seconds in length were much more successful than longer videos in keeping their viewers engaged for the whole video. Even if you can’t create such short videos, it pays to include the most important details (including a call to action) within the first 30 seconds of each video. Wistia also has a feature to track video views, based on IP addresses, to specific locations; use this to measure how much you’re engaging particular communities and postcodes you’re trying to target.

In another useful guide, Shopify have put together this overview of analytics for YouTube users. As a Google property, YouTube has access to some different data about anyone watching your videos; provided they’re logged in to a Google account when watching, YouTube can let you know demographic data like age and gender for the people watching your videos. Use all of this knowledge to improve your future video content, and make sure you’re keeping audiences engaged.

Don’t underestimate the power of video when it comes to marketing your work. A bad quality video is damaging for arts organisations and of no benefit to audiences. Online audiences (and particularly on social media) are essentially lazy; they’re much more likely to watch a video than closely read all of your carefully written copy, so do yourself a favour and create content they really want to see.