Publishers must produce exciting video content for an ever-growing number of platforms at scale in order to entice their audience, stay relevant and seize monetization opportunities. The best place to take cues for producing video in this environment is from the first generation to use video as their primary means of communication: Gen Z. This doesn’t mean taking cues from the Kardashian and Jenners of the world but instead studying relative unknowns who struck out on their own and built massive subscriber bases. It’s counterintuitive to start looking at amateur production styles to inform your video strategy, but it can completely change your content—and your workplace—for the better.
Here are some lessons I think we can all learn from Gen Z’s content powerhouses.
Authenticity is more valuable than polish
Liddlenique is a Philadelphia-based video creator with a fan base of 1.7 million on Instagram. She grew and maintained her massive fan base by posting hundreds of viral dance videos. These videos are not highly produced. There’s no consideration for the set, and while she’s clearly visible, she isn’t lit. And I highly doubt she has a hair and makeup artist on hand. The result is that when teens watch her, they feel very much like they’re hanging out and learning dance moves from their friend. The evidence of real life in the background, like a bag of trash hanging on the kitchen doorknob waiting to be taken out, inadvertently gives you a feeling of closeness with Liddlenique.
Am I suggesting you ask your editors to film themselves dancing to Drake in their messy kitchens? No. But don’t go crazy building a set if you want to create a video starring two of your editors. Film them in the office.
Work with what and who you’ve got
Margle Media is a Milwaukee-based media firm (with millennial co-founders) helping publishers to distribute and create viral video content. I’ve noticed the founders have recently taken to creating their own Margle-specific content in-house and distributing it aggressively at scale on LinkedIn. These videos (like Liddlenique’s) are not overproduced and often focus on issues that people perusing LinkedIn might be thinking about. The videos are raw, single camera vids without a ton of production. Talent includes their own COO, whose primary investment in this strategy has been her time and heart.
C-level staffers are not your only option for on-camera talent. BuzzFeed regularly opens up their newsroom for the cameras, using writers and editors as talent and even stars of their own series.
Look to impassioned, eager employees who can roll with the punches and get shit done. Cultivating internal talent, regardless of title, will pay off in the long run and result in higher-quality, more engaging video content because the talent is invested in the mission.
Too often the senior-most producer or EP is leading the brainstorm for a series. Try asking more junior staffers to bring in examples from creators they admire before launching into production on a series.
Karina Garcia started posting slime videos to her YouTube channel in 2015 and has since been credited by The New York Times as partially responsible for the slime craze (and Elmer’s Glue shortages) nationwide. The videos, particularly the earliest hits, are fairly simple: Garcia teaches her audience how to make different kinds of slime, but they gross millions of views. When business is good, she earns as much as $200,000 per month and has purchased a six-bedroom house in California. Prior to creating this channel, Garcia was a 19-year-old waitress with no video or strategy experience, but she was YouTube savvy and had an idea. Hiring someone like Garcia to work for your company at this stage in her career is impossible but imagining having a Garcia in a department outside of video (maybe an intern?) is not inconceivable.
The temptation to pull production techniques from tried and true methods used in television is very real, but the reality is that digital media companies are predominantly creating content for tiny screens. Don’t try to create perfection in this saturated video environment. Use a real-life setting, mess and all. Use homegrown talent. Most importantly, give the members of your staff who are consuming the content a real voice and some room to play and direct.