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How To Make Your Videos Stand Out

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By Jessica Mayberry

The digital divide in India is huge and COVID-19 has deepened it, furthering inequality. ‘Physical distancing’ on account of the COVID-19 crisis, is devastating for communities that are offline, or barely online. For these ‘barely online’ communities, it has been exponentially harder to get information, access food and education, and organise with neighbours or connect with the government.

Video is one of several great tools for the social sector to invest in right now because it amplifies community voices. It doesn’t require high degrees of literacy and can capture unedited narratives and ground realities. We, at Video Volunteers, employ community video as a tool for social change. There are various definitions of community video, but for us, it represents media that is of, for, and by communities.

With community video, youth and other local volunteers can use even a basic smartphone to capture evidence of their communities’ needs or organisations’ work, share them with their neighbours and the outside world, and spread accurate information about their circumstances.

Recently, we’ve been seeing an increased interest from nonprofits in community media and generating video content. Many of them work in remote rural areas, where the need to see ground realities in real-time is huge. Today, technology has made this possible; but there are also challenges we need to acknowledge.

Barriers To Amplifying Video Content

YouTube is not designed with the needs of nonprofits in mind. Rather, its great strength is that a video producer, no matter where they are sitting, can potentially reach a global audience. But global virality is rarely the goal of nonprofits, who are usually interested in reaching the ‘right audience’ not a global one. That ‘right audience’ might be a particular demographic, a particular government official, or very niche geography.

So, as you begin your YouTube journey, you may face the challenge of making a video on a narrow specific topic and saying in frustration, ‘why can’t I target this more directly to the people I know are interested in it?’ YouTube does not make it easy to target a particular audience.

“YouTube’s algorithm favours high-quality content. But if you are creating content about the communities you work with, you may be more concerned about the message.”

A second challenge is around the notion of quality. The algorithm favours high-quality content with mass appeal. But, if you are creating content about, for instance, your work, or the lives of the communities you work with, you may not be concerned about the visual quality, but rather, about the message. As a community media organisation, we publish nearly everything our producers send us, and we don’t implement strict quality control (though we do have standards for fake news). It would be counter-mission for us to publish only expertly produced content.

Below, we share some of our observations, lessons, and tips for setting up or running a YouTube channel.

1. A Single YouTube Channel Is An Easy Place To Start

Make one primary channel
This ensures that your audience doesn’t get split. At first, we thought of setting up many different YouTube channels, even separate channels for separate villages or individual channels for individual producers, to allow them to develop their own ‘brand’ and following. In late 2018, we were winners of the Google News Initiative through which we received mentorship support. Our mentors at YouTube decided this would not be a good idea—it would split our viewership too broadly, and it wouldn’t help individual correspondents to grow their audience, as they benefit from being on a channel with lots of subscribers.
Use playlists and tags
Organise playlists based on geography, language, and particular themes, and promote those individual playlists with tags and a strong visual identity. In this way, you tell the audience which specific geographies and issues you focus on, and the algorithm may pick that up.
Label your videos smartly
If your channel has content made by multiple people (ours has content produced by more than 400 people) it is challenging to find content made by a particular individual. Remember to always tag and label the videos’ creators—their first name and last name. Then, if you are logged into the channel, you can find all of their videos by searching for their first name and last name. In this way, different creators can promote their own videos as if it’s their own channel. With videos, it’s important to be localised while also centralised.
Rita devi dong a story interview_Video VolunteersFocus on an issue that is important to your organisation and create a series of videos on the same, then, put all the videos on a single YouTube playlist you can share. | Photo courtesy: Video Volunteers

2. Don’t Get Overwhelmed By Too Much Or Too Little Content

Many nonprofits want to use their YouTube channel to document their work and create an archive. If so, you might quickly be overwhelmed by a mass of content. In this case, organising your playlist is really important. Also, remember that you can mark certain playlists as private; in this way, YouTube, with its excellent and free and accessible storage system, can be your main archive.

Other nonprofits may face the opposite problem. They start a YouTube channel with only a single video—say a well-produced promotional video. In that case, create playlists with other good content from around the web on your issue of expertise. This is also a way to say thank you to others who have worked on the same issue you care about.

Even if you have a good system in place to turn your raw footage into watchable videos, the number of videos on your channel will grow quickly. Our challenge has been we don’t have enough staff resources to promote each video, so many videos come and go without any sort of ‘bang’.

3. Produce Content That Will Appeal To A Wide Audience

Produce content that is evergreen
This means that the topic your video is addressing will be of interest at any time. So, instead of giving a headline that references something in the news at that moment, title your video about a long-standing issue that will still be of interest a year later.
Frame videos as explainers
Explainers, also known as ‘how to’ videos, are a nonprofit-friendly format. How-tos such as ‘How to access NREGA’ or ‘How to register for the widow pension programme’ are almost non-existent in many Indian languages on YouTube, and could go a long way in helping citizens access government welfare schemes.
Create a series of videos on a single issue
Focus on an issue that you think is important, one that your organisation or community is particularly focused on. For instance, when we observed that lots of our correspondents were reporting on gaps in the government’s Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, we converted it into a video series called ‘ODF Pass ya Fail’, that monitored whether the scheme was working for villagers. Producing five videos on one topic costs the same as producing five videos on five different topics. Create a series of videos on the issue, then, put all the videos on a single playlist you can share. This is an example not just of strategically using the content communities create, but also of fashioning disparate voices into a collective call for change.

4. What Language Should You Publish In?

With India’s linguistic diversity, it’s often hard to know what the main language of a YouTube video should be. For instance, if a video is entirely in a regional language (for example, Marathi), but the subtitles are in English and the text plates are in English, should the video be considered as an English video or a Marathi video?

This is made harder by the fact that YouTube doesn’t currently allow you to see and analyse your audience based on language. If they did, you would be able to put the video’s title, description, and thumbnail in the language most of your viewers speak.

Based on suggestions from the YouTube Google News Initiative India team, here is what we’re doing to address this:

  • Put titles in more than one language, separated by a pipe (|). The downside to this though, is that it means the titles have to be very short.
  • Put some English words in anyway, because many non-English speakers still search using English words. Use English words in tags, descriptions, or titles.
  • Make language or region-specific playlists, so that people can find everything they can watch in a particular language, in one place.

Lastly, help people with their writing. Regardless of language, every video should be accompanied by a coherent sentence and description, that will make people want to watch it.

5. Get Seen Locally

As more people get online, the chances of hyperlocal content from India’s rural areas being seen by people in those areas is increasing. Remember, using video for social change is rarely about getting millions of views. Rather, it’s about getting the right viewers, and often, those viewers are the people who live close to you.

On YouTube, tag the block, village, district, and state for both where the video was shot and where the producer of the video comes from.

“Encourage outreach through WhatsApp groups as they have tremendous power. We also use Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, in that order of priority, to share our videos.”

Encourage outreach through WhatsApp groups—they have tremendous power. We also use Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter—in that order of priority—to share our videos. Facebook was the first social media platform to emerge in a big way in India and has a large following; Instagram allows nonprofits to give people a visual window into their work, and Twitter (and often WhatsApp) is a great way to reach officials. During the pandemic, we’ve seen a few instances where government officials have engaged via social media and taken action immediately.

Related article: Building your website 101

So, What’s The Best Way To Get Started?

For organisations that want to get their feet wet with video, it’s important to start by doing your research. Identify a particular theme for your YouTube channels, such as the issue your nonprofit works on, or the particular geographic area (maybe a village, panchayat, block, or district) where you work. Work out the logistics as well: How often can you upload on your channel? Who will do it? How will you publicise it? Where will your audience be based—in India, in other countries, or a mix of both?

Next, consider equipment. If your videos are being produced on a budget, existing smartphones that people may already have work well. We usually work in places where people only have very simple phones, and so we give our trainees an equipment set. It costs around INR 15,000 in total for a tablet to shoot, screen, and upload; headphones; a microphone; and a tripod.

Last, orient your staff and hire strategically. Sometimes, the best way to start producing videos in your organisation is to make it part of the workflow for your communications team. If you’re making any fresh hires, hire a digital native who says they love to make videos or spend lots of time watching YouTube creators and online news shows.

Build video into your ‘work from home’ strategy, at a time where many nonprofits are finding that their volunteers and staff cannot do their regular work. If you are looking for new activities for your teams, consider asking your team members to shoot explainers, or share videos online, as they work from home, to spread information.

And then you are off!

This article was originally published on India Development Review (IDR).

About the author: 

Jessica Mayberry is the founding director of Video Volunteers, an organisation working towards empowering marginalised communities with a voice. For more than a decade, Video Volunteers has devised models for community video production which emphasise on empowerment, community mobilising, and engaging large audiences. Jessica is an Echoing Green, TED, and Ashoka Fellow, and a graduate of Oxford University.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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