2020: The Year Online Video Got Real

Credit: Getty Images by RichLegg

Decades ago, we saw the future when MTV rolled out The Real World, which showed supposedly regular teens behind the scenes in a house just trying to get along. It was gritty, it was real (sort of), and it was a hit! Since then, reality TV has been one of the most successful formats for prime time TV, and unfiltered shades of it are very successful for YouTubers.

For the most part, brands have been afraid to let their hair down on camera. But, in 2020, COVID has put low-fi, gritty, honest online video at the forefront of all communication, and it’s time for brands to get just as real in their marketing.

The Pandemic Made Video Personal

We’ve seen for some time that marketing is no longer the B2B or B2C, but P2P: Person to person.

While social distancing rules for COVID-19 kept people at home, video helped them stay connected. Internet usage climbed 70% and streaming media took up more of that bandwidth than ever. Video calls, online meetings, and other forms of low-fi video became the de facto way to talk to family, friends, and colleagues as Zoom, Google Classroom, Microsoft Teams, and Google Hangouts usage more than doubled.

Online video is the face of the 2020 Internet, and it will continue to play that role long after COVID-19 passes. But this experience has changed the expectation for professional online video. We all learned to use video to connect in a more personal way than was ever possible via the phone or messaging. It has allowed us to maintain a human connection with our colleagues, neighbors, friends, dates, and favorite brands through this tough time.

These humble experiences have also made the traditionally intimidating channel more accessible to brands without a lot of in-house video expertise. This is a great opportunity to leverage video in a new way to build stronger connections with your customers.

We all need to embrace the world 2020 is creating. It’s a world where video is both more ubiquitous and more down-to-earth.

In this changing time, polish matters less than ever before. Authenticity is the most important aspect of your online video. All of the facades have been stripped away by COVID-19 — people value realness. Be authentic, be honest, be helpful to your audience.

The Low-fi Video Revolution

More and more, online video during COVID-19 has been used to build trust and maintain relationships. And we all know from years of commercial exposure that slick ads aren’t trustworthy. That’s why there are diminishing returns on the polish of online brand videos.

We’ve been seeing that more earnest videos perform pretty well in online channels, even back before COVID-19. Research from The Guardian found videos that took a lot of work and high production values didn’t do nearly as well on Instagram as simple slide graphics and reporters talking to the camera, for example.

But look at what COVID-19 did to this trend: Now we’ve all had dozens of online meetings with less than perfect camera angles, lighting, and sound — to say nothing of connectivity issues. Of course, the point was never to be perfect, but to be able to see and understand people better.

It was, and it will continue to be, more important to make the effort than to present a perfect video. What you say and how you say it matter more than how you shoot it.

Making Video to Build Trust

Online brand video — especially on social media — is really about building trust, not showing off your technical videographic ability.

Shooting with a camera phone or webcam is fine. Just make sure it’s watchable:

  1. Practice your lines so you can deliver them in a smooth and natural tone.
  2. Keep the camera steady.
  3. Use the best background, framing, and lighting you have.

Make it the best video you can, but don’t feel like you have to start by hiring a director and buying a $6,000 camera. Find the guy in your company who shot a great candid wedding video on his smartphone and see what you can do together. Make something earnest that will help your audience understand who you are while you tell them about something important.

Have faith in you, your company, and your brand.

Your story, your face, and your voice matter to the people you’re trying to reach. They want to see and hear from you. No one can tell your brand’s truths the way you can. Believe in that, let it show on camera, and your audience will respond.