Updated: Sep 5
This post contains *affiliate* links, which means that I may receive commissions for purchases made through these links. I only provide links to products that I use and wholeheartedly recommend.
In two years, I went from sharing my first terrible videos on social media to working as a video-centric influencer and creator. Now, about 75% of the content I share on Feed The Malik is short-form videos. The same stats hold for brand partnerships. The vast majority of sponsored content I create are videos that are two minutes long or shorter. More often than not, they're less than 60 seconds.
Short-form video content has also been a key growth driver of my creative business in other ways. I create and rely on short-form videos to drive traffic to my website, fuel the growth of my social media accounts, gain email subscribers, and also market my paid subscription community.
Sidenote: I use content creator and influencer as interchangeable terms. Some like to distinguish between the two, but in a practical sense, most folks use the terms as synonyms. Lissette Calveiro of Influence With Impact (who I have taken courses from and work with) has a great video with more on this conversation about influencers and content creators.
Today I consider myself a short-form video professional. While filming 95% of my content with just an iPhone, I've driven 500+ new email subscribers with one quick video, created videos that reached millions of people, and made thousands of dollars off of short-form video content.
I learned how to craft engaging short-form videos through painful trial and error. I made many, many videos that performed terribly and which I didn't particularly like. I failed many times publicly.
You don't have to suffer as much, at least I hope you don't. And since I firmly believe there is enough space for all of us to succeed as influencers and creators, I'm sharing the knowledge I've gained over the years below. These are the tips, tricks, rules, and pitfalls I keep in mind when creating short-form videos for social media.
These are the same guidelines my incredible third-party video editor and her team follow when editing videos for Feed The Malik. Yes, my business and demand for video have grown enough that I now outsource some of my video editing needs. It's wild to even write that sentence considering where I began a couple of years ago. But, whether I'm managing the process entirely from filming to postproduction or handing off a portion of edits to another team, the below guidance is how I ensure that short-form videos created for Feed The Malik remain consistent and engaging.
Table Of Contents
Why Learn Short-Form Video?
I firmly believe that serious creators should maintain at least one avenue for longer-form content. Whether it's a YouTube channel, podcast, email newsletter, or blog, longer-form content allows for a level of connection and community that short-form creation cannot match.
I also advocate for influencers to protect their livelihoods by diversifying their revenue streams and avenues for content sharing. Freelancing is unstable and often means inconsistent revenue for you as a creator. Platforms can change the rules midstream and your account suffers. Your account could be hacked or banned unexpectedly. Diversification is the safest bet for longevity in the influencer space, though it can also be exhausting.
So why, on top of all of that, should you, as a creator, direct time and energy into short-form video content?
Because not only is short-form video now a mainstay of social media, but it's also content that's easily repurposed to allow for a multi-platform presence. You can take the same raw clips or fully edited videos and use them again and again as Instagram Reels, TikToks, and YouTube Shorts. Even Twitter has optimized its platform for video in ways that benefit folks who post short-form video content.
In an industry that constantly demands influencers do more with less, creating short-form video content optimized for social media can help you do more with less.
Short-Form Video Tips For Instagram, TikTok, Youtube Shorts, And Beyond
From filming to planning your edits, below are the most important lessons I've learned about short-form videos.
Filming Tips: Capturing The Best Footage
A great video starts with the raw footage you capture. Here's what you need to keep in mind to capture the best possible clips to work with in the editing process.
Get Permission And Be Respectful Of Others
Many of these tips will involve filming other people beyond yourself. Be sure to get consent when doing so! Ask anyone who would be the focus of a scene whether it's okay to use their image on social media. This might include your friends who you're doing things with, servers and bartenders you film interacting with at restaurants, tour guides you're recording while they show you around, etc...
In some more crowded public spaces, like at festivals or street fairs it's not possible to get everyone's permission and often in those situations no single person is the focus of a scene. I still recommend asking permission whenever possible and always avoiding filming children that are not your own.
Also, don't be an asshole. If you're filming in public, don't expect other people to change their behavior or routines just for you. Being a creator does not mean having more rights to public spaces than others. And if you're tempted to film a stranger solely for the purpose of making fun of them, just don't.
Get More Footage Than You Think You Need
Filming as much as possible is a great way to practice, and over time you'll develop a better sense of exactly what scenes you need to capture for each project. But at the beginning, and especially when filming for more important or sponsored projects, there is no such thing as too much footage. Plan to get clips of everything you can think of.
If you're filming at a restaurant, for example, this could mean capturing the following scenes:
The street and neighborhood around the restaurant, the outside of the building, and the entire facade.
The signage outside and inside, plus anything with the restaurant's name on it.
The front entrance and doorway.
The table settings and decor inside the restaurant.
Scenes of the bar area, including the bartender crafting drinks.
Clips of the food in numerous ways and from various angles. Think through the different ways you can film the food while it's plated, served, and consumed.
The restrooms (if the decor inside is cute).
Lighting And Motion Are Key
I get regular questions about what camera I use to film my videos. When I tell them I film 95% of my content on my phone, with the exception of using a GoPro for some action shots, people are typically incredulous.
And then I tell them my secret: Lighting and motion are key elements for filming video clips that really draw and keep viewers' attention.
Well-lit video clips are easier to follow and understand. They are crisper and clearer, and much more likely to draw attention. Whether you're filming at home or out in public, do what you can to control lighting and find the best light environment. This will involve trial and error as the best light environment for you will depend on your video style, what camera you are using, and how advanced of an editor you are.
Things to keep in mind for lighting:
Check the weather before scheduling a shoot as the weather will impact the natural light environment. I try to avoid rainy or cloudy days when I can, as bright and clear natural lighting is better for videos I film on my phone.
Plan to film when the light is best. For me that means early to mid afternoon if possible, as whether I'm at home or in a restaurant, I want as much light as possible.
Natural lighting is outside of our control, so control what you can! I love my *Lume Cube Panel Mini for a portable light that fits in my purse. The battery lasts forever, and the diffuser cover makes for soft light that films well. I also have the Lume Cube Studio Panel Lighting Kit for filming at home. It sets up and breaks down easily, comes in a useful storage and transport case, and works well for anything from vlogs to cooking videos.
Capturing motion is another key for filming engaging video clips. A video clip of a steak just sitting on a plate is far less interesting than a piece of steak being picked up and moved around so you can see the glistening, juicy inside.
There are two ways to capture motion in the clips you're filming. One option is to record something moving, like a person waving to the camera or someone shaking a cocktail shaker. Another way is to move yourself or the camera if there's no natural motion in the clip. For example, you can film a building as you slowly walk forward to create the motion yourself, even though the building is stationary.
Keep It Steady
Nothing will make me scroll faster than a super shaky video. While perfection is impossible, focusing on filming with a steady hand can go a long way toward ensuring you have the best footage to work with for your videos.
Eat before you film so you can avoid shaky hands that might come with low blood sugar.
When walking or panning the camera around, pay attention to your breathing and move slowly to minimize shaking from the motion.
Whenever possible, brace your arms, body, and hands when filming. Steady your elbow on a tabletop, lean against a wall to hold your body still, and use a tripod when you can.
Don't Forget The Human Element
Sometimes it can be easy to forget after spending so many hours on social media interacting through screens, but we connect to other human beings. Engaging videos typically include a strong human element unless they feature cute animals; in that case, there is no need for humans to capture our attention. More cute pets please!
WITH PERMISSION, try to capture the actions and emotions of the people relevant to your video. It often takes a while for people to begin to ignore the camera and get comfortable when you're filming them. That's another reason why I suggest filming more than you think you need to. If you settle in and film a few solid minutes of someone at work and talk to them while you do, if it's an appropriate time for general chatter, then you can often capture genuine smiles, laughter, facial expressions, and more that really make the clips shine.
Don't forget the other ever-present human subject, yourself! Try to capture clips of yourself doing or engaging in any actions relevant to your video. Pro tip: turn your phone or around to film yourself using the back camera system, not the selfie camera. It takes a bit of practice, but the back camera is a much higher quality which will capture sharper clips with better lighting.
You've Got The Footage, Now To Put It Together
Now you've filmed the best footage you can, and you have plenty of it. How do you put it together to be truly engaging and memorable?
It's time to tell a story. Your videos can educate, inspire, entertain, make people think, encourage them, and so much more. How do your videos do that? Through the story, through the combination of audio and visuals that align to make people think and feel a certain way.
Much of that storytelling has to be figured out through trial and error. You have to make videos and practice different tones and approaches to figure out what works best for you. Long voiceovers that weave in a lot of detail? Fast-moving music that drives gorgeous imagery with minimal text on the screen for context? Something in between?
You have to test it out and see. But at least you can utilize these best practices for editing short-form videos while experimenting.
All About Audio
Selecting audio for your videos is one of the most important editing decisions you can make. I also highly suggest making it the first decision you make when you sit down to edit a video. Before you work on clip selection, on the hook, or on pacing, pick your audio. Editing your clips to your selected audio will make the final product feel more organic and dynamic.
You have numerous options for audio. You can select a trending sound, use a song you like, or record an original voiceover as your audio. That selection really depends on what you prefer and want to do with your video.
For recording original audio voiceovers, don't overthink it. You can type up a script quickly in a note on your phone and then, on iPhone at least, read the note out loud and record the audio directly into the Voice Memo app. If you're editing videos on an app on your phone, you can also record audio directly into the editing app itself by speaking into your phone. For both methods, as long as the room you're in is relatively silent, the audio will be of decent quality.
My success and the successes of many other creators I know using original voiceovers for short-form social media videos is an example of why you shouldn't feel pressured to use trending sounds. If you like them and they speak to you, use them! Trending sounds can be great tools for incorporating humor, leaning into sass, and connecting with pop culture. Consider those audios, like songs and music, tools for your videos rather than a requirement.
Just note that if you opt to use any audio that incorporates music, it's important to try to edit to the beat of the music. To ease that process, and for other reasons I get into in the Editing Tools section below, I recommend editing outside of social media apps. Their editing tools are limited and you'll have more flexibility if you edit in a third-party app.
Let's Talk Hooks
Generally, the "hook" is the first three seconds of your video, that short initial period in which you must capture someone's attention before they scroll on. There are two multiple primary elements to consider in the hook: the verbal or text hook, and the visual elements themselves.
Verbal And Text Hooks
There's so much advice out there about crafting verbal hooks, the opening line of audio people use to start off their videos to capture attention. This is also often accompanied by a sentence of text on screen, something of a title to introduce the video topic. Here's an example of a video with a clear verbal hook and title text (this one was sponsored).
Generally, yes, much of this advice about verbal hooks and titles works. Tell people what they're seeing, why it's important, or what they're doing wrong, and you're likely to get their attention. I'll admit, though, a lot of it feels kind of icky sometimes, or at least a little too formulaic and gimmicky. It's up to you whether you want every one of your videos to start with "here's the absolute best way to do X" or "You're doing your makeup all wrong."
I admit I often ignore these rules for verbal hooks and title text. Sometimes I have a great idea that feels right; other times, it's more fluid. Do what works for you.
Crafting The Visual Hook
No matter how you start off the audio or what title text you put on screen, don't forget to consider how you edit the first few seconds of the video itself.
My general rule is that the first clip of a video should start IN MOTION. For example, the first clip of a shot cocktail recipe video should be trimmed when editing to begin as the drink is being poured into the glass, not to begin during that moment of hesitation before the drink is poured. Here's an example from my series on falling in love with Portland. Note that the first clip starts as I'm walking, not before I start walking.
Lean on the human-to-human connection in the hook. There should be a human in the visual hook, preferably a face. So no matter what you're saying in the voiceover or what text you're putting on screen, include a person's face in the first 3 seconds of the video whenever possible. Here's an example of a food video that includes my face right at the beginning so that people can connect to my experience as well as to the food featured in the video.
Don't forget the lighting! Clips in the first 3 seconds of a video especially should be well-lit, clear, and sharp. Sometimes you may not have great lighting for all of your shots from a project. That's okay; it happens. I might film a meal in a restaurant that's dark and not use my light 90% of the time. But, I will use my *portable light to illuminate a few scenes. You can bet that those brighter scenes are what I'll use in the first few seconds of the video.
Pacing And Length
I talk too much, so I never follow my own fucking advice: try to keep videos 30 seconds or less.
People have short attention spans, and the shorter you can make your videos, the more likely people will watch the whole thing. And yes, it matters how many people not only begin but also complete your videos.
No matter how long or short you make your video, pacing is a tool you can use to help keep people engaged. You can achieve this in a variety of ways.
Focus On Clip Length
Try using as many individual clips as possible to create a video, trimming them so that each one ranges from less than a second to 1-2 seconds. Using fast-moving clips like this can make a video feel fast-paced and exciting even if you're just showing a quiet forest scene. @ashleemarjomoss does an incredible job of using fast moving-clips to keep viewers engaged.
Use Dynamic Pacing
Focus on dynamic pacing as well by including clips of different lengths and speeds. If most of the clips in your video are 2 seconds long, add in one slow-motion scene and a few interspersed clips that are much shorter. Editing those together will make your video feel more dynamic, like it slows down and speeds up as needed.
It's up to you what feel you want with your video. You can aim for something fast and energetic, something slower and peaceful, and anything in between. Pacing is a simple editing tool and framework you can use to help impart that feeling.
Sometimes in a one-minute video where you really want that fast feeling, you might use 60-90 individual clips. Bonus points if you vary the length of the clips (some very short, some medium length, others longer) to add a sense of dynamism. Even extra bonus points if you do all this pacing work TO THE BEAT of the music you pick.
Third-Party Editing Apps
It's much easier to do all of the above when editing your videos outside social media. It is also beneficial to edit in a purpose-built, third-party editing app for other reasons, so let's get into them.
Purpose-built video editing tools like Videoleap, Adobe's various video editing tools, and Final Cut have features that social media simply does not offer. As you progress as a video editor, those extra tools and features (special effects, more control over light and color, etc.) will be extremely useful for you.
Third-party editing apps allow you to create and save videos at the highest possible quality without a watermark. When you have high-quality videos without watermarks, you can post them to multiple platforms without negatively affecting the reach of the videos. For example, Instagram devalues Reels that have the TikTok watermark. It will depress their performance as the watermark is a clear indication that it's not original content.
Yes, you can use a web-based downloader or app; literally, google "download from TikTok" or "download from Reels" to find a tool that will allow you to download a video from Instagram or TikTok without the watermark. Often these downloaders will decrease the video quality, making them less crisp and sharp when you repost them.
Third-party editing apps also make it easy to tailor content to specific platforms. For example, I might edit a video for TikTok, export it and post it. Then, I'll duplicate it in my editing app to make a second version and make small changes to the duplicated version to tailor it to Instagram. Then, I'll export it again with no watermark and have two separate videos that definitely did not take me twice the time to create.
Recommendation for editing on your phone: Use Videoleap. Videoleap is my preferred mobile editing app as it has a feature that will show me visually with little dots where the beat of the music lies. That makes it easy to trim and align individual clips, so they move with whatever music I've chosen and feel really lively and dynamic. Here's a great quick tutorial for making videos synced to music on Videoleap on your phone! FYI I've worked with Lightricks, the company behind Videoleap, on a paid partnership.
Final Pro Tips For Short-Form Videos On Instagram, TikTok, Youtube And Beyond
I know this is long, but these are my final and best tips for crafting dope short-form social media videos. These final points are really designed to take into account user behavior and platform quirks to help you level up quickly!
Caption speech in your videos and your stories. Accessibility is important. From a selfish standpoint, the more people you can reach with the story you're telling, the better. Plus, many users scroll social media with the sound off. Without captions, they are likely to immediately scroll on.
Tip for caption placement: Place captions in the top left quadrant, but not too far up and not flush with the side of the video. This ensures they don't get cut off or covered by the buttons or text that appears around the outside of the video when posted. Here's an example of ideal caption placement.
The Instagram Reels Pause
When you upload a video to Instagram Reels that you edited outside of the app, sometimes the very first frame or two can be cut off by the platform when posting. This is especially noticeable in videos with voiceovers, as the first word of the voiceover can get cut off. To avoid this, edit your Instagram Reels with about a 1/4 of a second of silence at the beginning before the voiceover begins. For music-driven videos, this tip is not important as no matter where it begins, the music will drive the flow of the video.
Don't Expect People To Read
I hate to even write this, but people rarely read captions on short-form video posts. I'm not talking about captioned speech placed in text over the video. Rather, I'm referring to the written captions with more information that, in the old days of Instagram, were used to tell us about the photos being posted.
TikTok also had a very short caption character limit for a long time, though it has been extended now. On that platform as a result, people got used to having all the necessary info contained within the video itself. On Instagram, when Reels show up on the explore page and feed, there are only a few words of the caption visible unless they click for more. On Youtube Shorts, users also have to click to expand and read longer captions.
To account for these platform quirks and user behavior, put as much information as you can into the video itself, either in audio or visually. For example, you could: place text on the screen in short blurbs to provide context or answer questions people might have about your video in the voiceover itself. In addition, you should always include your call to action in the voiceover itself or on the screen in text for your short-form videos.
And if you don't have space for all the information you'd like to include in your video, include a nudge to direct people to the caption. For example: say in the voiceover or write in the text on the screen, "get more deets in the caption," to encourage people to read the caption text.
Conclusion: You Are The Special Sauce
There are so many approaches to short-form videos that can be successful. Ultimately what's most important is that you show up as your authentic self. Develop a style, tone, and workflow that works for you, your goals, your personality, and your platform. Taking these tips and putting your own spin on them, layering them with your own voice and vision, that's what's really going to make your work and your videos stand out.
These are just practical tips to get you started. And if you have any questions, please drop them in the comments below!
Have more questions you need to be answered? Book a creator consultation with me!
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