From Instagram to Snapchat, NowThis News is actively experimenting on the latest platforms as part of its mission to deliver video made for the mobile and social web.
Speaking at the Digital Innovators' Summit in Berlin, Ed O'Keefe, editor-in-chief of NowThis News – which launched in 2012 – outlined the key social networks which it creates content for, and stressed the need for publishers to create content on a platform-by-platform approach.
That means not only applying the different time limits on video, from a six-second Vine to a 15-second Instagram, for example, but also bearing in mind the wider context of how content is shared on different networks.
Thinking about the real-time nature of Twitter, for example, he said, should make a publisher think differently about how they tell a story on that social network, compared to others.
During his presentation, and in an interview with Journalism.co.uk after his talk, O'Keefe shared a number of practical lessons for others to take away, which we have summarised below.
Create video 'native' to the social platform
O'Keefe urged publishers to think about the platform and its audience when delivering content, and not to treat all social media networks as one.
He told Journalism.co.uk that the biggest mistake made in video for social and mobile is the "misconception that you can take the same things you’re doing elsewhere and just export it into a social or mobile network".
As a starting point, on a general level, content created for a social and mobile audience needs to be "authentic", he said in his presentation, as it "needs to be of, by and for the social, mobile space".Take the best part and put it right up topEd O'Keefe, NowThis News
Such video should also remain "true to the platform aesthetic", and fit in with its surroundings. This might also include considering whether people viewing video on their mobile will always be in a position to hear the sound, so ensuring a video makes sense without narration can also be helpful.
And on a platform-by-platform basis, he added that video must appeal to the different features of each network.
On Vine, for example, audiences "like humour, like surprise, like personality". This makes it a great environment for brands, he said, but added that the "jury's still out if hard news can exist here", although NowThis News continues to experiment with the possibilities.
Speaking to Journalism.co.uk, O'Keefe said that "certain stories do very well there", and while it remains an area of experimentation, NowThis News does have "a nice base of an audience on Vine". As for its future use as a news platform, it is a case of watch this space, he said.
Moving to Snapchat, O'Keefe told delegates this is also "highly visual", and that the audience is "incredibly engaged and they communicate back and forth with you". Therefore a benefit of using Snapchat is the ability to establish a "dialogue with our audience", O'Keefe told Journalism.co.uk.
This means that when covering a story, each platform requires its own consideration. He gave an example of how NowThis News told a story about protests in Venezuala "five ways" across different social networks.
This included a short animated graphic on Vine, a more real-time focused video for Twitter, and a "more latent" video with a voiceover for Facebook, which offered information beyond "the news of the moment".
Tell a part of the story
Of course creating video for social audiences on platforms such as Vine and Instagram means dealing with short time limits, as short as six seconds in the case of Vine.
For NowThis News, making short video that is engaging and shareable is what it is focused on, but O'Keefe said publishers should not think they need to tell an entire story within those limits, rather "one slice" of it.
One example of this can be seen in NowThis News's use of Instagram to share a single question and answer from video interviews, a series it called Instaviews.
"You’re going to tell one slice, one take, one part of the story. You’re going to reach a consumer you would not otherwise reach."
Show your hand early on
Even though in many cases this form of video is a matter of seconds in length, there is still a need for publishers to engage the viewer early on, or risk losing them before they reach the end.
As such, they should effectively "ruin the ending" he explained.
"This generation is used to getting what they want, when they want, how they want it. If you don’t deliver what you promised in the first four or five seconds…they’re gone.
"You have to ruin the ending of the story."
Therefore, he advises other video creators to "take the best part and put it right up top."
'Cross-polinate' across networks – your audience is already doing it
Another lesson can be taken from the examples of crossover between networks, as described by O'Keefe in relation to both the publisher and the audience.
He explained how NowThis News would receive 'snaps' on Snapchat, for example, which were photos of content on other social networks.
In some cases this was used to challenge NowThis News on why they were not covering the related story, he said.
"They use Snapchat to send pictures of hard news stories and write over the top of the hard news story. They’ll dialogue with us and say why aren’t you covering this?"
And similarly, publishers can use one platform to encourage the audience to engage on another, such as sending a tweet asking for Snapchats and Instagram content to be shared by the online community, he said.Where do we want to find consumers who don’t currently view our content, and where do we want to find a new audience that fits with our brand?Ed O'Keefe, NowThis News
But he also stressed that while Twitter may be used by some publishers "as a vehicle to drive engagement elsewhere", they should also be ensuring they are present "in the flow of real time conversation".
Choose where to 'compete'
Keeping on top of the latest platforms can be daunting for some, and O'Keefe advised publishers to consider which ones seem most relevant in terms of the sort of audience it wishes to engage.
"You have to decide on which platforms to compete," he said, adding that although NowThis News experiments with Vine, a platform of which he still holds reservations, there may be some news outlets with limited resources who may have to make stricter decisions about where they focus their efforts.
"You have to take a look at your business, whether you’re creating it from scratch or an existing legacy media brand and say 'where do we want to find consumers who don’t currently view our content, and where do we want to find a new audience that fits with our brand?'."
Allow experiments and 'mistakes'
Behind all of NowThis News's content is an innovative team who like to try out new tools and storytelling formats, the key to which is an environment where not everything has to necessarily be a huge success the first time, he said.
"The best thing that an operation like that can do is create entrepreneurial pods where they’re allowed to make mistakes.
"We have created 10,000 videos since 17 September 2012 and some of them, maybe many of them, were terrible, but we learned.
"We learned from every mistake that we made and every experiment that we did. And sometimes if you go back and look through the archive of what you did originally, it’s so far from what you’re doing now that you almost want to erase it from history.
"But the important thing is they were allowed to do that, and maybe not understand how they were going to make money, maybe not understand where the traffic was going to come from, maybe not understand whether this was going to scale, but just experiment and see where it goes.