According to Sensis 2016 data, 69% of Aussies are now on social media, compared with only 48% of small businesses. In this new series, we look at how small businesses can make better use of social media to grow their businesses – starting with video.

Make no doubt about it – web surfing is the new couch surfing.

Research converges on the fact that online video is the new TV. ComScore has measured millennial (18-34) sentiment toward video, finding that they now prefer watching video content online over traditional television. Meanwhile, Cisco predicts that by 2019, video will account for 80% of all consumer internet traffic.

According to Sensis, YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram are the go-to platforms for online video – in that order. Innovations like 360-degree video and live-streaming continue to grab audiences and push these platforms forward.

For culture at large, this may seem like a big shift, but it isn’t really. Behaviourally speaking, audiovisuals remain the single most powerful storytelling method – only the medium has changed. For startups and small business owners however, the opportunity to market themselves through video content is a great one. Where TV is prohibitively expensive, online video is open to much smaller businesses, giving them a bigger voice to an increasingly bigger audience.

But just how do small business owners use that voice as effectively as possible?

The first three seconds

Most social platforms now autoplay videos as users scroll through their feeds, with a view counting as three seconds of linger-time over the video. The same can be said for YouTube paid pre-rolls, which often offer skip buttons to viewers after the first few seconds of playtime. As such, you can expect a huge drop-off rate after three seconds, as viewers who mightn’t have been viewing your video in the first place scroll past it as it plays.

All this skirts to say that the first three seconds of your video are critical to its overall success – if your audience isn’t grabbed then, they won’t stick around and will scroll on. Where possible you should find ways to jump straight into the action, open on an inquisitive fact or provocative visual, or ‘flash forward’ to a more interesting part of the video, before going back to the beginning.

Will it work on mute?

Another consideration to make when producing online video is the fact that most autoplay options on social media platforms are without audio – therefore, your video must work on mute. Consider adding a subtitle to your audio track to make the most of this feature.

Consider an influencer

In today’s world, YouTube stars and Facebook personalities are the equivalent of A-list celebrity endorsements. With dedicated viewers of their own, and often their own production capabilities, aligning or partnering with an influencer can give your video a greater chance of success.

The critical point when selecting an influencer is to approach one that works for both your audience and theirs. An inauthentic influencer will likely turn crowds against your business, not toward it.

Beyond co-creation of video content, there are also lighter touch ways of working with video influencers – such as sending your product or service to an influencer to review in one of their videos, and inviting them to an event or the workplace with the intention that they record or otherwise capture it. Give an influencer creative freedom and you’ll see the return.

Short and sweet

Social users tend to scroll through their feeds quickly, lingering on bits of content for seconds at a time. Because of this it’s a general rule of thumb that online video is best kept short – ideally under 30 seconds.

Increasingly, brands are opting for ‘short form bits’ – loopable, subtitled GIFs from longer videos that capture a single thought and pop up nicely in a newsfeed. Often these bits are less than five seconds long.

That said, it all depends on the quality of your content. If a video is heavily or explicitly promotional, viewers will cotton on pretty quickly and probably scroll on. But if promotional messaging is discrete, and the premise of the video is genuinely entertaining or informative over promotional, it’s likely that viewers will stick around until a brand connection is made at the end.

To stream or not to stream?

Live streaming is on trend right now, but should a startup or small business just experimenting with video content take it on?

The answer, generally speaking, is no. Live streaming can be time and resource intensive, and unless you have an audience built up already, it can be difficult to attract enough eyeballs. If you’re new to online video, your energy is best spent finding out what formula works for your audience and customers, before tinkering that for the live stream format.

Emotion over explanation

A big mistake many startups make is to invest lots of time and energy into the creation of a slick video, which perfectly explains their product or service – but does little to create an emotion in its audience.

This isn’t about sappy piano music and smiling faces – this is about converting the unique benefit of your product or service, or the reason to believe in it, into an emotionally intuitive concept, one that speaks to the heart, mind, and gut as one.

That’s hard to pull off – but video is perhaps the most powerful storytelling medium we have.

So use it wisely, sit back, and enjoy the show.