“VIRAL” Series: How to Create Video Content That Spreads and Converts (Phase 1: Pre-Production)

2021 has arrived, and if you’re not yet convinced that it’s time to crank up your influencer game, take a moment to read the linked article and see if you can warm up to the idea.

Once you know you’re ready to start creating viral video content (or at the very least, video content that converts), go ahead and dive into this article where I walk you through a short-form breakdown of the basics of the first phase of video production: Pre-Production.

Towards the end of the article, I also touch briefly on the next three phases: Production, Post-Production, and Distribution, which we will deep dive into in subsequent articles in the “VIRAL” series.

So if you’re ready to rock it, let’s go.

Phase 1: Pre-Production

What if I told you that preparing to shoot your video is far more important than the actual filming of the video itself?

This phase of creating video content takes vastly more time than filming, and most of the time, even longer than editing. But if done properly, the effort you invest into pre-production will save you an immeasurable amount of time, money, and energy in later phases of the process — not to mention, will convert vastly better, too.

Simply put, pre-production is the money-maker.

This might come as a surprise, but trust me when I say if you slack on this step, I can’t guarantee you’ll shoot a video that ends up converting, which is the whole point anyway, unless you’re only interested in getting your long lost aunt from Iowa to leave an embarrassing comment for all your friends to see like, “Aww, this reminds me of that time someone gave you a wedgie at school and you came home crying and your mommy kissed your booboo and made it all better. I’m so proud of you, Auntie loves you sweetieee!”

Now are you convinced to take the time to do pre-production properly? Yeah. I thought so.

So let’s dive in then.

Script

We begin with the 60% piece of the whole focus of the production pie.

Believe it or not, by far the least important part of creating a video is the quality of the video itself. Now I’m not saying the lighting or image quality is not important.

But if the story of the video doesn’t captivate the audience, it doesn’t matter if the video itself is 4K quality. Just think about the last time you had to sit around with friends or family and watch a Hollywood-grade film you weren’t actually interested in — did it matter that it was produced in Hollywood?

No, in fact, you’ve most likely consumed ten of thousands more hours of shaky iPhone5 uploads on YouTube than you ever have Hollywood-quality video. And I don’t blame you, those failure compilations and cat videos are quite engaging, I must admit.

You see, at the end of the day, it’s all about story.

Content — what you say and how you say it —is above everything.

So how do we approach scripting?

Part A: Hook

Let’s start with a sad fact — the average consumer on social media now has the *actual* attention span of a goldfish. That’s right, you have 3 seconds or less to hook your viewer. This is key. This is very key.

The 3-Second Rule: Make sure the first 3 seconds of your video hooks the viewer.

DO:

DON’T

In summary, model your own viewing patterns — what keeps YOU engaged when you’re scrolling through social media? This is likely your best strategy because your audience is your tribe and by default most likely has the same viewing patterns as you do.

Part B: Keeping the Viewer Engaged

Once you’ve hooked your viewer, there are several things you can do to keep them a viewer. You can play with the music, you can play with your energy levels and tone dynamics, you can build suspense and drop shocking facts, you can entertain and make the viewer laugh.

Again, model your viewing patterns — what wins your attention and keeps you sticking around to the end of a video?

Part C: Call to Action

If you’re creating a sales video for social media ads, what do you want the viewer to do? Do you want them to register for your workshop or book a call to speak with you?

If it’s purely a content video, what do you want the viewer to do? Do you want them to go to your website or subscribe to your channel?

Despite common belief, people actually want to be told what to do — make sure you never leave your audience guessing what you want them to do at the end of your video. And don’t feel bad about giving them an action step — if a viewer has stuck around and watched your video all or most of the way through (especially in “goldfish attention span” times), trust me, they like you and they are trying to figure out how to get more of you in their life.

So give them what they want or need, whether they know it yet or not.

Putting out a call to action, or CTA, to an audience who volunteers their attention, is how you enroll people into your world without worrying about feeling salesy.

A Word on The Script Itself

Very few people have the ability to just turn a camera on and magically record great content. On the opposite end of the spectrum, very few people have the ability to read a script word-for-word and still sound natural.

Follow these steps to get the best result:

A Word on Location, Set Environment, and Timing

Be mindful of the external elements that may affect your filming and plan for it. Is there an airport nearby that will disrupt your audio? Is there a storm on the horizon that will affect the audio or film quality? Will there be enough time to film the whole video before the sun goes down?

A general rule of thumb is for every minute of video you end up publishing, plan for at least three times that length of time for the actual recording of it. For example a 5 minute video may take at least 15 minutes to record, if pre-production was done well. So plan your film schedule accordingly.

As for backgrounds, make sure your backdrop is relevant to your topic and brand. The amount of messy closets in the backgrounds of way too many YouTube videos should be illegal. There I said it.

Audio

Audio makes up about 30% of the pie when it comes to order of importance of your overall production quality.

There are two main reasons why audio quality comes in second place, beating even video quality in order of importance.

First, bad audio is very noticeable.

Second, if you have good audio, there are lots of things you can do in post-production to save the video. Say you forget to press the video record button. Luckily, if you managed to capture the audio, you can still salvage the effort. However, if you were to film something but weren’t able to capture quality audio, well, then you’re either stuck with dubbing (which is fairly tacky) or ending up with subtitles and music (which is just weird.)

Video

As I mentioned, video is actually the least important piece of what makes a video viral — about 10% of the whole pie.

Equipment

But if you can manage it, invest in a quality camera. Here is a list of equipment you may want to look into.

Team

In this day and age, going viral takes a team. Invest as early as possible in the following:

If you‘re on a budget, try to leverage sites like Fiverr.com for the most affordable help. And if you’re really running on empty, enroll a ragtag team of believers, such as friends or family, who may be able to contribute some kind of help. If you’re really out of options, you might just have to bite the bullet and make the most with what you have — yourself.

But do whatever you can to save up for a team as soon as you can swing it.

Phase 2: Production

The actual filming can take anywhere from 1–3 hours if pre-production was done right. If not, expect to take up to several days, or even weeks depending on the scale of your project.

In the production part of the “VIRAL” series, I will get more into the actual equipment, tools and software, resources, and best practices to shooting your video.

Phase 3: Post-Production

Post-production is where the editing magic happens. This is where you can turn one video into 20 unique pieces of content to distribute across various platforms.

Yes, you heard me right — you can literally repurpose the same video over and over, which is great news for anyone who values their time and can never seem to get enough of it.

We will dive more into post-production later.

Phase 4: Distribution

In the distribution phase, we’ll get into the nitty gritty of choosing platforms and tailoring your content to capitalize on each one during the editing process.

We will learn more about distribution towards the end.

That’s A Wrap (for Now)

Hopefully you have a much better idea of how to create content that converts and gets your message out to the world. Keep following the “VIRAL” series for more in-depth tutorials.

Your story is special and deserves to be heard.

Happy filming!

Nareen is a writer from the San Francisco Bay Area with a focus on entrepreneurship, social media marketing, and content creation. Proud cat and dog mama.