We’ve been hearing for some time that video is “the way to go”. Content consumers are favoring video content in increasing numbers, so if you have yet to add video to your content marketing efforts, you’re missing out.
Fortunately for us, it’s never been easier to record and produce our own video content. Smartphones now give us immensely powerful tools to shoot, edit and even publish video using something many of us have close at all times. Even feature-length movies have been shot entirely on smartphones, so they are clearly capable.
I’m not focusing on shooting video today, rather how do we get that video ‘out there’ for our audience to see. There are a variety of platforms we can use, and naturally social media platforms are often at the top of that list.
The challenge for anyone producing video content is creating something that will work well on these various platforms. Each platform has their own preferences when it comes to video content, and it’s important to understand these before you shoot, so that you have some flexibility when it comes to editing and publishing.
Things you’ll need to consider are:
- Duration – many platforms limit the length of time your video can be
- Resolution – higher resolutions can deliver clearer pictures, but can also take longer to upload
- Aspect ratio – should your video be square, portrait or landscape? Should it be 4:3, 16:9, etc.
- Frame rate – should your video be in 24, 30 or 60 frames per second (fps?)
- Video format – MP4, MOV and more alphabet soup!
Most platform limit how long your video can be, but don’t think the limit is your target duration. Maybe the message you want to deliver is best suited to a quick 60 second update? If you are wanting to share a video on multiple platforms, it’s best to understand what your most conservative constraint is. For example, video on Instagram feeds is limited to 60 seconds; 15 seconds in Instagram stories.
Virtually all smartphones shoot video in High Definition (HD) or greater. You often see this expressed as the number of lines that make up a single frame of video: 720p, 1080p, 2160p, etc. The higher the number, the more resolution the video has, and therefore more clarity and detail it can convey. However, high resolution videos require much more storage space (which may be at a premium on your phone) and longer to upload/download. Again, different platforms have recommendations on resolutions they prefer.
The term ‘aspect ratio’ is the relative ratio of a video’s width to its height. For example, 16:9 indicates that the video is 16 units wide, by 9 units high – a rectangle in the ‘landscape’ orientation (as it resembles a landscape painting). Alternatively, 9:16 refers to a video in the ‘portrait’ orientation as it’s taller than it is wide, like a portrait photo. There are all sorts of common aspect ratios on social media platforms: 4:3, 4:5, 9:16, 1:1 (square)
The important thing to keep in mind with aspect ratios is that you may well need to produce several variants of your video in different aspect ratios for each platform. Maybe a 16:9 for Facebook, and a 1:1 for Instagram. This influences how you shoot your video as you will need keep-in-mind that some of the image will be cut off when changing aspect ratio.
Videos are essentially a series of still images played one after another. The faster these still images are presented, the smoother the motion appears to be. However, faster is not always better, as we have become accustomed to slower frame rates, historically because of the equipment we have at our disposal.
Cinema mostly uses 24 frames per second (fps) which produces the ‘juddery’ motion that we have become to feel natural in movies. Computer video tends to favor 30 fps which happens to match the refresh rate of many computer screens. Fast motion videos, such as recording a computer game, can benefit from 60fps or more to capture smooth, high-speed motion. However, many social media platforms will limit video to 30fps, so that’s a great option.
Video formats are actually quite complicated for we ‘mere mortals’ to understand. There are ‘container formats’ which we can think of as a box into which we put video, audio, subtitles and more into. Then there are ‘media formats’ that describe the actual video, audio content, etc.
Most social media platforms talk about the container format: either MP4 or MOV. Within these containers we often use H.264 video and AAC audio, so if you see those terms anywhere, it’s talking to the media formats used inside the container. MP4 is typically the best option as it’s highly compatible with every platform.
Choosing the Right Options for You
The various social media platforms are always making changes, so staying on-top of this domain can be tricky. Here are some resources that can help you dig into the details and stay up-to-date.
Sprout Social produces a great run-down of the considerations you should look at when publishing video to social media platforms. https://sproutsocial.com/insights/social-media-video-specs-guide/
If you want a handy guide with the specifications for each platform, I highly recommend the following, which is constantly updated: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1xeGxDu54R-Pn4f5CHuaYE1slsfO29-om89lkUkU0VOg/edit#gid=232676279