This article continues a series on church technology, particularly geared toward small to medium-sized churches. The previous article covered video production.
Video distribution is the process of taking a well-produced video and making it available on the web. Let’s look at several different avenues for video distribution and some tips for making the most of each one and some additional observations where needed.
Vimeo is a paid video hosting site that handles large video files in a clean, elegant interface. It’s important to think of Vimeo as a mom-and-pop hardware store. They don’t get a ton of foot traffic, but what they do, they do well. They provide a solid quality product, but you may have to go out of your way to find it. Here are some tips to make the most use of the medium:
- As with all other platforms, add captions and a thumbnail for the ideal user experience.
- Customize your embed settings and the player color scheme to match the colors for your ministry.
- Change up the end screen to feature links, videos, etc.
Because Vimeo is a paid platform, it’s worth considering the pros and cons of using it for your video.
- Vimeo gives you the most options when it comes to privacy. You can use this to your advantage when shooting video that addresses issues for members or that you want to keep from being embedded on another site.
- Vimeo is the best ad-free, beautiful, and elegant video streaming player out there, bar none. If you want your video to look good on your site, use Vimeo.
- Vimeo doesn’t downgrade your video quality, storing even the original video file for you to upload at any time.
- Vimeo has stepped up its sharing tools, allowing you to push videos from its platform to YouTube and elsewhere with ease.
- Vimeo is a competitor to Google-owned YouTube, and simply does not perform as well on Google search results as YouTube does.
- Vimeo is not treated like a “social media platform” like YouTube, so don’t expect the kind of constant exposure that YouTube generates through subscriptions, especially among younger viewers.
- Vimeo lacks tools for scheduling videos, exporting lists of data, and any sort of robust analytics. For example, I had to have a friend code an app to help me download a list of our videos on Vimeo.
- Vimeo isn’t cheap. Expect to pay between $20–$99/mo depending on how much video your ministry is uploading. They do have a free plan, but its small upload limit may not be sufficient for a 30–45-minute Sunday sermon depending on its quality.
Facebook provides an excellent outlet for all sorts of church video content, but you should be aware of some best practices for that platform:
- Make sure you have captions and thumbnails, as always. Note that Facebook requires subtitle files (.srt) to have a specific filename structure: name+.en_US+.srt. So, the filename should be sermon.en_US.srt.
- If you have a video series, upload them in bulk as drafts via Creator Studio. Once they’re uploaded, you can schedule and craft the posts.
- Figure out peak times for video engagement for your ministry. Usually I’ve found that pre-8:00am, noonish, and post-5:00pm are the best slots for us. Once you find these slots, make it a regular practice to publish specific types of videos at those specific times.
- Post video natively to Facebook, and do not link off to Vimeo or YouTube unless absolutely necessary (or if you’re cross-promoting those platforms in addition to the video on Facebook). Native video auto-plays and is treated better by Facebook than cross-posted video.
Keep this one in mind, but don’t invest too much time in it. You can upload videos to Twitter’s media studio, and add title, description, thumbnail, captions, etc. One unique aspect of Twitter, is that you can add a call to action on this step. From there, you can schedule tweets with those videos. I don’t put a heavy emphasis on Twitter because Twitter is constantly a low-performer when it comes to video minutes watched. It’s simply not a medium where people go to consume video content.
The opposite of Twitter, I encourage ministries to invest heavily in YouTube. Here are some best practices and observations you should know:
- You can use your personal or work Google account to start a new channel. Use YouTube’s studio to manage uploads, video details, analytics, comments, and more. Make sure that your channel name and description draw on your ministry’s branding and mission statement. Each week, review and respond to comments and follow other likeminded ministries.
- Thumbnails and captions are absolutely critical on YouTube. Those thumbnails show up in all sorts of places. A good thumbnail guarantees good traffic. While Google auto-captions videos, those auto-captions are generally quite terrible. Quality captions get crawled by Google, letting the internal content (not just the titles) of those videos show up on Google searches as well as YouTube searches.
- End screens should be unique. We talked about this under video production, but you need a unique video file with a special 20-second outro that allows you to point to a subscription section and to other videos. Play around with this before you commission an outro video so you’ll know what to request.
- Schedule your videos. The biggest mistake that I see ministries make is that they get excited about YouTube and then they dump all their content onto the platform day one. But YouTube for all intents and purposes is a social media site, not a video storage site. So treat it like that. If you want people to see your content, don’t post more than three items each day. If you have a big backlog of video, count your blessings and schedule them out for the next year or two. Never, ever, ever, dump them all at once just to “build a large channel.”
- Use your community feature. Once you start getting subscribers, you can begin sharing posts with text, photos, GIFs, polls, etc. This is a great way to keep your audience engaged with your video content. I try to use this feature to flag a new video series.
- Build playlists. You can do this with your own videos or with videos of other ministries. These can be really helpful, especially if you are trying to provide your people with worship music that you tend to use on Sundays or preaching/teaching on key issues. But certainly build playlists of your sermon series. More on that in a sec.
- Tag wisely. Choose tags that reflect your “brand” as well as the content of the video. You can set a series of channel tags that will be the default for any videos you post on your channel.
- Build out your homepage. Make a featured videos for subscribers and non-subscribers that auto-play on your channel homepage. This will help tell people what you’re about. You can customize the sections of your homepage by grouping your playlists and presenting them as “sermon series” or “teaching series” or “testimonies” for those who land on that channel page.
- Weigh advertising carefully. You may eventually reach a threshold where advertising becomes an option for your channel. This creates a revenue stream, but it also clutters up your video with ads. The one upside of advertising is that it unlocks some unique features of YouTube, such as linked cards and links on the end screens. These are quite powerful for steering viewers to your website, books, podcasts, etc.
- Write good descriptions. Don’t just echo your video title. Make a description that’s catchy and put links to your site and other relevant resources down below (e.g., study guides, recommended books, landing page on your site, etc.).
- Crosspost where you can. Many churches have a strong Facebook following but a poor YouTube subscription audience. Try linking the YouTube videos or subscription link (maybe with a video thumbnail or other picture) to push followers over to YouTube.
- Engage with your audience by calling for comments during the video and then interacting with those comments. Don’t engage with trolls.
LinkedIn is a great option for video, especially when it comes to reaching the professionals in your church. I may need to come back and revise this section at some point, but my preliminary work with LinkedIn video has limited me to 200MB uploads (even when I’m not selecting anything for advertising). This limits video length substantially. So, if you have a short 1–3 minute video for professionals in the community, this is a great way to do it, and you may end up getting better analytics than you would with Facebook given that LinkedIn is less algorithm-heavy in their newsfeed.
Consider making landing pages for each of your sermons that would include the embedded YouTube video, audio links/player, and a full-length transcript of the sermon audio. The key is the transcript. These will get picked up by Google and make inroads on Google searches. The more text content you have on your site around particular topics builds up its site authority on those topics, pushing up your ranking on those search terms.
ORR: Other random recommendations
- I don’t use HootSuite/Buffer/other schedulers for video for a few reasons. (1) They tend to be more prohibitive with upload sizes (often taking a lowest common denominator approach). (2) They frequently don’t give me as much control over the custom aspects of videos that the native uploaders on the platforms allow me. (3) Videos are such a small aspect of most churches’ social media posting that you’re not really gaining much in terms of efficiency.
- Watch what performs well and consider how to make repeat wins. Learn the nuances of each platform and its respective audience. Over time, you’ll be able to make the best use of each platform and each video.
- Find ways to repurpose old content. Maybe a longer video or a panel discussion can be chopped up and released over a month rather than a single video on a single week.
- Try to distribute new content around particular seasons in the life of the church. Quite literally, videos around Advent and Easter are valuable resources for the church body.
What other insights do you have from your experience distributing video? I’d love to hear your feedback. Any other recommendations or questions you’d like to have answered? Leave a comment, and I’ll address it.