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The value of journalistic storytelling in 2017

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The value of journalistic storytelling in 2017 / Lacie Slezak

Storytelling has been an integral part of human life since time began, from sharing stories around the campfire, recording them in drawings on cave walls and writing them down on parchment and then paper. Now in the digital world, storytelling has the tools to evolve even further.

As a former newspaper journalist, I was trained to write short, snappy content that served three purposes – to inform, educate or entertain – depending on the subject matter; our busy lives mean we want to receive information quickly and absorb it with minimum effort. In the past we would have read tabloid newspapers, such as The Sun and Mirror, to get our news-at-a-glance, but print journalism is dying and this shift has also resulted in marketers focusing less on PR in weekly newspapers and moving instead towards guest blogs and adverts on websites which produce mass amounts of content each and every day. Sites such as Buzzfeed and Viral Novelty have become the newspapers of the digital age. They are employing staff reporters to produce breaking news, which can readily be shared with family and friends via social channels.

The rise in popularity of social media shows little sign of slowing down (as shown in our recent survey), and unsurprisingly, it’s not just the western world which has fallen in love with social media: QQ is an instant messaging platform launched in China, which became international with more than 80 countries using it. It now has around 853m active users a month; WeChat is similar to WhatsApp and was again launched in China. Its number of active monthly users has now reached around 697m; Vkontakte is one of the largest social networking platforms in Russia, which has similar features to Facebook. Its number of active users now stands at around 100m a month.

The power of social media was no more evident this year than when Snapchat floated on the New York stock market for $22bn. Interestingly, this was considerably more money than Google, which was floated in 2004 with an IPO projected to raise $4bn (although I should perhaps point out the value of the all-seeing, all-knowing search engine has increased by 1,700%).

What does this shift from print to digital and, in turn, social, mean for brands and marketers?

Well, in the main it has contributed to a massive sea change in the type of content we want to consume – the long form written word still has value, but not on social media. Few people want to read through swathes of text on the small screen of a mobile device; instead there has been a huge increase in us wanting our news and entertainment fix via visual content, in particular video.

This rise in video has been meteoric. According to the American Marketing Association, by 2019, video will be the driving factor behind 85% of search traffic.

Think about it . . . How many times do you input a question in Google and the answer found on a YouTube video? And how many videos now appear in your Facebook newsfeed? More than last year, I’d bet. Consumers are investing more time watching videos than ever before – a recent survey found that 78% of internet users watch videos every week, with a further 55% watching videos every day!

Buzzfeed understands perfectly the power of video content. As of February 2017, the site’s YouTube channel garnered more than 9.1bn views and more than 11.8m subscribers. The majority of Buzzfeed’s traffic comes from creating content that is shared on social media. Its video series Tasty, made specifically for Facebook, has more than 80m followers.

Facebook is taking this shift to video content seriously too, adding features such as view count and embedding options and promoting Facebook Live – real-time video posts that users can follow and engage with.

And, just last month, the world’s largest social network announced it will play audio automatically in news feed videos and would be releasing a standalone app to allow Facebook users to watch videos shared by their friends and from their ‘liked’ pages on TV. It will also recommend videos you might like, based on ones you’ve watched previously.

It is important to remember that there is an art to creating video perfect for social sharing; here are a few handy tips below for harnessing storytelling in video media:

  • The video content for social needs to be short and succinct and easy to download and share.
  • It is fair to say, in this world of instant gratification, the attention span of the internet user is diminishing every year. Slow loading time is a major contributing factor to high bounce rates.
  • Mobile internet users expect a web-browsing experience that is comparable to what they get on desktop. Most say they would wait between 6-10 seconds before they abandon a search.
  • Although YouTubers such as Ted Talk may earn hundreds of thousands of views with 15-20 minute videos; for the most part, shorter is definitely better: No more than 90 seconds for Facebook (Twitter videos are capped at 30 seconds, Instagram has a 60 second maximum and Snapchat, just 10 seconds.)
  • Just like the written word, it is important to grab people’s attention quickly. The first 30 seconds of a social video is what matters the most. If you can hook them quickly, they are more likely to engage with the content.
  • Even if the message of your video is easily communicated through the action, you really should add subtitles to ensure the viewer can appreciate the story your trying to tell, whether the sound is on or not.
  • Before you even think about producing a video, keep in mind the question: “Why would anyone share it?” A good way to answer this is to look at the sort of videos your audience are already sharing and let these inspire you on the best approach.
  • Listen to your audience. What information are they seeking that can easily be condensed into a short video? Put yourself in their shoes – it is much easier to watch a short video and get the information you need, than to click through and read an entire article.

Julia Ogden is content and PR director of content marketing agency Zazzle Media.

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