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Right Tools, Right Place

I recently had the chance to view a fundraising video for a non-profit organization I know well.  The piece was fine – shot beautifully, well edited, a clear message – all the things one would look for in a corporate piece designed to encourage donations. So what’s the problem?

The problem is where I was watching the video – it was on Facebook. And it’s 11 minutes long.

Now, there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with an 11 minute video, including 11 minutes on a social media outlet.  The other night I watched over 45 minutes of a British talk show recorded in 1979.  Extended pieces can work perfectly well regardless of outlet, if the audience has a reason to go looking for the piece. The long video I watched was a discussion between two members of Monty Python and two Christian thinkers about the value of the Python film Life of Brian. I’m interested in the film, in Christianity, the meaning of faith and a host of other issues that made it worth 45 minutes of my time. Viewers will routinely dedicate hours of time to watching streaming videos of their favorite programs.

But why would they sit down to watch 11 minutes of fundraising video for an organization they may not know at all?

The original video was likely used at an event for the organization’s donors. Generally speaking there are certain requirements and expectations for delivering a video at an event. Among other things, there’s an assumption that you’ll get your most important donors into the piece so they can see themselves on screen, and of course be seen by others. There are multiple people to get on screen, multiple programs to celebrate, etc. 11 minutes is too long in my view, and the view of many in attendance at these things, but it’s not unusual or unexpected.

Transferring those 11 minutes wholesale out of that situation and into a social space where you’re reaching a different and hopefully larger audience in my estimation makes a terrible error. As we know people’s attention span is much shorter than it used to be, and they’ve got an unbelievably large store of content they can turn to if they choose. As a content producer you have to assume that you have to work much harder to grab people’s eyeballs and keep them watching your piece until you get to the punchline.

And that’s what’s wrong with the decision to post the entire piece, uncut, to a social space full of people with no particular connection to their organization or any reason to watch their video. Why might I stop to look at this video? Someone I know recommends it, I have a friend or relative who works there, it’s clever enough to gain some traction with a lot of people. How likely is that to happen if everyone sees the thing is that long? Generally I give people about 30 seconds to watch – they’re either drawn in and keep going, or they give up on it as a waste and move on to other things. This piece has the slow, measured pace appropriate to a long presentation in front of a crowd of people with no place to go – if my 30 seconds rule is accurate (and I may be overestimating) almost nobody on the internet will stick with this piece unless they already have a hook to the organization.

Again, the punchline is the key with social video – you’re looking to get your viewers to do something or go somewhere. With a fundraising video, that’s critical, and easy – provide links early and late to your donation page and hope to get a decent response. Which is really my main point here – if you’re looking for video success, the key has to be to apply the right tool to the situation. Long or short, funny or serious, marketing or technical – you have to use the right version to get the right audience.

It’s very easy to argue that you’ve spent tens of thousands of dollars on a professionally shot and edited piece, so use it wherever you can, but all you’ll do is waste the effort. Better to spend a bit more time cutting the piece down to a more manageable size and to a more targeted delivery strategy than to throw the piece out there and hear the crickets chirping.

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