Communicating Research Using Facebook Video: 7 Proven Ways to Boost Engagement With Your Content

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Facebook Video Is Fantastic Tool for Public Engagement

Over 100 million hours of video are watched on Facebook every single day.

That’s a colossal figure and explains why Mark Zuckerberg has stated that within five years Facebook will be mostly video. As a platform, Facebook wants to make sure its users never leave and, at the moment, video is proving to be the most effective way of keeping them on site, engaging people more than any other type of post.

What’s more, Facebook knows a huge amount about its users likes and dislikes, making it very easy to target your video content at a specific group based on its interests, as opposed to a scattergun approach that engages nobody in particular.

So if you’re looking to tell your story and communicate your ideas to a particular audience then posting videos to Facebook is a no-brainer.

But (as I’ve already mentioned in another post) you need to avoid a one-size-fits-all approach to your video content creation. To stand a chance of capturing real engagement with your Facebook videos keep reading...

1. Length Matters - Keep It Concise

BuzzSumo tested 100 million Facebook videos from 2016 to work out what length of video gets the most amount of engagement, and their results showed that videos of 60-90 seconds topped the poll as attracting the most engagement.

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That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t produce anything over 90 seconds long. Some subjects simply can’t be covered adequately in less than 2 - 2.5 minutes, and videos of 120-150 seconds took a pretty close second place for engagement levels, so don’t feel too restricted by this data. But it’s useful to know that bite-sized content performs the best, so always try to keep your videos concise.

2. Upload Natively

If you ignore everything else in this post this is the one thing piece of advice you should heed - upload video directly to Facebook! 

Facebook’s main goal is keeping people on Facebook, so it goes without saying that it’s less likely to promote posts that contain links to other platforms, such as YouTube.

Not only that but linked videos don’t play automatically, requiring users to actively click on them to make them play.

It's very simple to upload video directly to Facebook. Here's how:

Click on the 'Share a Photo or Video' icon on your Facebook homepage.

Click on the 'Share a Photo or Video' icon on your Facebook homepage.

Click on 'Upload Photos/Video'

Click on 'Upload Photos/Video'

This is your chance to give your video a title, add some enticing copy, give it some tags to help searchability and choose a thumbnail image.  

This is your chance to give your video a title, add some enticing copy, give it some tags to help searchability and choose a thumbnail image.  

3. Square Video

Video has traditionally been viewed on TV and desktop computers in landscape, or 16:9 format (wider than it is tall)

But now that a vast majority of content is being consumed on mobile devices a new type of video format is taking over: square video.

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Square video takes up 78% more space in people’s mobile newsfeeds than traditional landscape videos, leading to greater levels of engagement.

Making your videos into Square videos means cropping them, so you lose a good chunk of what's happening at the edges, as you can see from the example above. If that's a problem and you need to retain the full picture then you can create a third type of video - letterbox video. 

This keeps the landscape dimensions of your original video but adds bars at the top and bottom to make it square. You can use this blank space to add titles, captions, logos or a call-to-action.


4. Catch People's Attention Right Away


Think about how quickly you scroll through your newsfeed and how long any given post has to capture your attention. Our fast-moving thumbs mean posts only have about 3 seconds to stand out. So how do you make sure your video makes people stick around?

  • Title

Facebook recommends giving your videos descriptive titles to make them easily searchable. I don't personally use Facebook as a search engine but apparently the platform sees over 2 billion searches every day, so it's worth doing.

  • Write Intriguing Copy

Unlike Twitter, Facebook allows posts of up to 63,206 characters. You probably shouldn't use your full allowance but do try experimenting to see what length works best for you.

When Buffer tested post length for engagement they discovered that posts with 80 characters or less attracted 66% more click-throughs. But National Public Radio (NPR) tested their output and discovered that slightly longer posts (above 280 characters) encouraged other types of engagement, e.g. 'Read More'.

So it seems that different length posts could be driving different types of engagement, so it's worth playing around with this. Other things you could try are:

a) Ask a Question

b) Write a list (break out some of the key points from your video)

c) Use a quote from the video

  • Dive Straight into the Action

Make sure your video is captivating right from the outset. Facebook users won't have the patience for long, meandering introductions. Make sure they know very quickly what they're going to get from the video and dive straight into the action. 

And don't make the mistake of starting with a 5 second shot of your organisation's logo! As attractive as the logo might be, most people will have scrolled away from your post by the time the video even begins.

  • Nice thumbnail

Facebook have finally introduced a custom thumbnail option which means you can now upload your image of choice instead of having to opt for one of the automatically chosen ones. Pick a snapshot that gives an exciting glimpse of what the viewer can expect from the video.

5. Captions/Subtitles

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85% of Facebook video is now watched without sound, so it’s crucial for your video to have captions/subtitles if your message is going to connect to the vast majority of users.

You have a couple of options when it comes to captions. 

a) Create onscreen captions when editing your video. This gives you greatest control over how your subtitles look.

b) Create them inside Facebook. When you upload your video one of the options you'll be given is 'Captions' and a button to 'Upload SRT File'

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What is an SRT File?

An SRT file (SubRip caption file) contains information about what captions should appear and when. You can create and export SRT files from editing software like Final Cut Pro and Adobe Premiere Pro and upload it to Facebook.

Whatever option you choose - creating captions, especially for voice-over heavy longer videos can be a time-consuming and somewhat tedious job. 

Thankfully, there are some excellent services out there who will create captions for you at a very reasonable price. One that I've used successfully is who charge just $1/minute!

Another way of approaching the issue is to create content that is driven by onscreen text not voice-over, so no captions are needed.

This video I produced to promote a blog post about virtual reality is an example of this style. 

The Guardian is also producing some great video content that uses this style of text-driven storytelling.



6. Use Facebook's Preferred Audience Targeting

Facebook wants video content to reach the most relevant audience and it gives you a tool to help yours to do just that.

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Before you publish your video click on the little crosshair icon in the bottom left and you'll be taken to the Preferred Audience pop-up box. 

Here you're able to set the people you'd like to reach with your video based on their interests and the pages they've liked.

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To even further narrow your target audience you can click on Audience Restrictions.

This permits you to target include/exclude people based on things like age, gender and geographical area.

If you apply restrictions your video is more likely to be seen by people interested in its content, who will be more likely to engage with it.


7. Tag Other Pages

Another way of making more people aware of your video is to tag them in it. But make sure there's a good reason for tagging them, e.g.

- they contributed to or featured in the video directly

- they're mentioned in the video

- they funded the video

- they inspired you to make the video 

- they work in a relevant field and you want to make them aware of the video.

To tag people or pages simply write "@" before their name and some options should appear when you start typing. If what you're looking for doesn't appear then find their page through the search bar and find out their Facebook name in their About section.


Some of you might have noticed that there’s no mention of using Facebook’s paid ads or post boosting options in this list of tips. That's because I wanted this article to be for those who don't have a budget to spend on promoting their videos, or who are just starting out.

The truth is that organic engagement on Facebook is becoming harder and harder to achieve these days, as the platform's algorithims are increasingly set up to favour paid posts when it comes to deciding how many people get to see your content.

But if you're to stand any chance at all of getting organic engagement then the above steps are an absolute must.

In a future post I'll cover how to boost engagement with your Facebook video through paid promotions.

Until then, happy experimenting! Let me know how you get on. What luck have you had driving public engagement through Facebook video? What tips and tricks have you developed to maximise your videos' reach? I'd love to hear from you.

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Peter Barker runs Orinoco Communications, a digital communications company specialising in helping research groups from science, the social sciences and the humanities to bring their research alive and engage with the public.