We recently wrote about how London Zoo is making use of Facebook Live.

This time, we decided to speak to the man behind the camera, Dan John, to gain further insight into the Zoo's wider social and video strategy.

Here's what he had to say...

Could you start by describing your job – what are you responsible for?

I am responsible for overseeing the video and image production within the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), sitting within the Digital Communications team.

This means I not only work for ZSL London Zoo, but also ZSL Whipsnade Zoo and for ZSL as a scientific and conservation organisation. 

So I could be filming tiger cubs one moment, and being stood in a river doing a Facebook Live from a conservation survey monitoring European eels the next.

I manage the ZSL YouTube channel and work with our social media team to co-ordinate video content across all our communication channels.

This involves the entire production process from conception to filming, post production to distribution. I also work very closely with our press and marketing teams within ZSL. 

What is the overarching strategy for social video at ZSL?

We focus on three things at the core of our most engaging content – the cute, the wondrous and the weird.

When it comes to wildlife, we find that what people love the most are cute fluffy animals, things that highlight the wonder and amazement of the natural world, and anything that is particularly unique.

So we look to use these elements to help us focus the way we communicate the work being done not only by our zoos, but also by our conservation scientists out in the wild.

In terms of our video output and distribution strategy more specifically, we have moved away from producing one video to put across all channels and instead we’re tailoring videos to work best for specific platforms.

This obviously takes more time, but we have found that it has improved engagement. 

We also prioritise growth on platforms like YouTube and Facebook where engagement is high. This is in comparison to Vine where we place less emphasis on follower growth, instead seeing it as a tool to help increase our Twitter engagement.

I’m also keen to keep on top of the latest video trends and to try new and innovative approaches, like 360-degree video for example. 

It’s all about finding the most effective and interesting ways to communicate all the different work the organisation does, as well as educating people about the wonders of wildlife and how they can help to preserve it.

What KPIs do you use to measure impact and engagement from your social videos?

We are still really looking to grow our followings for our main focus channels, such as YouTube and Facebook, so we keep an eye on what video content seems to be directly driving this growth.

For example, a recent video featuring our tiger cubs directly led to our YouTube subscribers growing by over 10% - our biggest monthly increase ever. 

Outside of followers, we try to look at all engagement indicators such as views, reach, shares, likes and comments in balance rather than individually; sometimes a video may get less views, but actually the number of shares and comments on the video are much higher than expected.

The more people are moved to click and engage with video content in a number of ways, the more likely this is to lead to click throughs to our website, which is why engagement indicators need to be viewed as a whole, not just individually. 

What are the key considerations when producing videos for different platforms (e.g. Facebook vs. Twitter vs. YouTube)?

The key considerations are the types of videos and how people are consuming them.

This differs quite a lot between our main platforms, which is why we have moved to tailoring video content for each one. 

For example, YouTube is where we prioritise our longer content, such as mini-programmes like the Curious Creatures or Wild Science features, as well as more in-depth coverage of ZSL’s conservation and science work. 

On Facebook we now use video for everything, as this gets a much better reach and the auto-play function and integration within people’s newsfeeds seems to work better.

View duration tends to be much shorter, more around the 30-60 second mark, so we tend to make these videos shorter and punchier.

Stats also show that a huge percentage of video is watched without sound on mobile devices, so we have started to add text to the majority of our video content and this seems to be improving engagement.

Interestingly, last year the majority of people were consuming our YouTube content on desktop, compared to greater use of mobile for Facebook.

But so far this year we have seen a shift to mobile for consuming YouTube content too, which may mean we start altering how we present this content.

On Twitter we find attention spans to be even shorter.

YouTube videos hardly get any engagement through Twitter, we find instead that some of our most engaged with tweets use very short form content, either through the native player or more regularly Vine posts.

We really see Vine as a strong tool for increasing our Twitter engagement and is something I am looking to use more and more. 

How do you measure success for Facebook video? What works on this platform vs. what doesn't?

We look at all the main engagement markers in balance to decide on the success of a video.

It can’t be just about viewer numbers, particularly as these can be a less reliable indicator on Facebook than on YouTube, or just the number of likes.

We are really trying to get as big a reach for our messaging as possible, so shares and reach figures are particularly important to us.

As mentioned above, we find shorter form content tends to get more shares, particularly now we are assuming each video will be watched without sound.

We also find animated infographics work well and that is something we will look to do more of, especially when trying to communicate our more scientific messaging.

Longer form content tends to struggle, so we are more likely to use a cut down version on Facebook, encouraging people to go to our YouTube channel to watch the full version.

You’ve recently made the move from streaming on Periscope to Facebook Live – what was the motivation behind this?

We started off on Periscope and really enjoyed the experience, finding it a great way for people to directly interact with our content and experience the work undertaken at our zoos.

However, since the launch of Facebook Live we found that initially we were getting far greater engagement through this medium.

We already had a much bigger and more established audience through our Facebook channel, about twice the size of Twitter, and we found the level of engagement with questions and comments to be much higher.

Also a major factor was the catch-up element to Facebook Live – while Periscope videos disappear within 24 hours, Facebook Live videos can be watched as regular content, so we get a lot of interaction after the event.

Interestingly we’ve recently noticed initial reach on Facebook Live has been considerably restricted compared to when it first launched, so we are monitoring this and keeping our hand in Periscope.

Ultimately we will use whatever our audience interacts with the most. 

Finally, what’s the best thing about your role?

There are so many great things about my job - there’s something new every day that makes me realise how lucky I am.

I love the incredible access I get to film the animals at our zoos, and to use that to show people how incredible wildlife can be and give them an insight into things, such as the birth of a critically endangered Sumatran tiger, that they may never have seen before.

I also love the freedom to experiment and try new things, however I think the best thing about working for ZSL has been the few opportunities I have had to travel out to some of our conservation projects around the world.

I have seen first-hand the incredible work being done to save such a wide variety of wildlife and how the knowledge gained from our zoos, conservationists and scientists works together to achieve this.

Getting to film and communicate this to people in new and innovative ways is very fulfilling and makes me feel like I can play a part in making a real difference.   

Nikki Gilliland

Published 6 September, 2016 by Nikki Gilliland @ Econsultancy

Nikki is a Writer at Econsultancy. You can follow her on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn.

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