Project: T-Pain In a Bathtub of Coal (2018)
Employer: Liquid Social
Client: Arcadia Power
Turnaround: Four Months
Metrics: 10m+ Organic Impressions
Description: Arcadia Power provides a free service that connects to your utility bill and offsets non-renewable energy consumption by purchasing RECs (Renewable Energy Certificates) corresponding to the number of kWh (kilowatt hours) that your household consumes. Arcadia Power asked Liquid Social to help punch through social channels and deliver Arcadia’s message of accessible renewable energy to middle-income 22-34 year olds in the 13 locations where Arcadia offers service (New York, D.C., Los Angeles, etc). We decided to create an engaging 15 second top of funnel video ad for Facebook and Instagram with a trustworthy influencer to cut through to the target audience and acquire new customers who might not otherwise be actively seeking clean energy solutions.
Facebook and Instagram are both highly visual platforms, so the first challenge was to visualize Arcadia Power’s service of converting ordinary homes and apartments to clean, renewable energy. We researched metrics on energy consumption and discovered that the average American household burns through roughly the equivalent of a bathtub full of coal every week. A spokesman in a bathtub full of coal struck me as a compelling way to visualize everyday “dirty” nonrenewable energy use, so I wrote a rough script and presented the campaign to Arcadia Power. Arcadia gave an enthusiastic green light and specified a preference for a high-profile influencer.
Liquid Social has access to audience data on thousands of Facebook pages through our influencer distribution service, and we found multiple influencers in our network that hit the target audience and were popular in the locations where Arcadia operates. Once we talked through options with Arcadia and settled on T-Pain as an exciting and brand safe option, I adapted the script to fit his personality, negotiated with his team on the specifics of the agreement, and worked closely with our lawyers to finalize a contract that was acceptable to all parties (Team Pain, Liquid Social, and Arcadia Power).
Shooting took place in Dunwoody, Georgia with a total budget of under $10,000 (excluding T-Pain’s fee of $45,000). I hired a four-person production crew and directed the shoot. I also completed all of the post-production for the project within one week. Liquid Social A/B tested multiple creatives with the target audience to find the best format to cut through the noise on social media and stop viewers mid-scroll. We distributed the ad via midroll campaigns, Instagram ads, and Facebook News Feed targeted video ad placements. After the ads ran, Arcadia retargeted the most engaged viewers with special offers and ads which emphasized the accessibility and ease of use of Arcadia’s services.
Project: Cereal Truffles Four Ways (2016)
Employer: Spoon University
Client: General Mills
Turnaround: Two Weeks
Metrics: 3m+ organic views on Facebook for a single post
Description: General Mills wanted Spoon University’s help in capitalizing on the overhead recipe video trend of 2016-2017 that was first popularized by Buzzfeed’s Tasty. They shipped us a 50 pound box of every cereal that they produce (this is not an exaggeration) and asked us to pitch highly shareable, trendy recipes using their products. An emerging trend at the time (accelerated by the success of Milk Bar) was cake truffles, so we put a cereal twist on it and landed on “Cereal Truffles Four Ways.” Our incredibly talented in-house video producer and chef Elena Besser (who went on to host shows for Cooking Channel and Amazon) concocted four different truffle recipes using four of General Mills’ signature cereals with the greatest nostalgia factor (Cookie Crisp, Reese’s Puffs, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, and Lucky Charms), a process which took approximately four days. Shooting the video took a solid half-day, and post-production was finalized in approximately one week after receiving two rounds of feedback from the brand. The video performed quite well on social channels, even outshining most of our non-branded content released around the same time.
Project: Dating Advice From @FoodBabyNY (2016)
Employer: Spoon University
Client: Food Network
Turnaround: Two Days
Metrics (Approx): 20m+ Combined Organic Views (Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat Discover)
Description: In late 2015, Food Network began a consortium agreement with Spoon University to create social content targeted at college-age millennials for Food Network’s Facebook Page, Instagram, and Snapchat Discover channel. This required our core three-person video team to complete 10-15 pieces of content every week to flesh out Food Network’s social content calendar. This particular piece of content is a Valentine's Day video featuring Instagram star @FoodBabyNY. We were given approximately two days to shoot, edit, and deliver completed versions for Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat Discover by the holiday deadline, in addition to our other responsibilities. Our video team prepared a script ahead of time for FoodBabyNY to read, but upon FoodBaby’s arrival it became clear that he was too young to memorize and repeat more than a word or two at a time. So, we improvised. We shot about an hour of raw footage, and afterwards I edited it together and came up with subtitles to create some interesting and shareable moments. Food Network featured this video on their Facebook page, Instagram, and Snapchat Discover Channel, and it received tens of millions of views in total. The success of Spoon University’s social content consortium agreement with Food Network eventually lead Scripps Network Interactive (now Discovery Inc) to acquire Spoon University in Q2 2017.
Project: Tiny Hands Kitchen: How to Perfectly Boil an Egg (2016)
Turnaround: Three Hours
Metrics (Approx): 50m+ Organic Views (across various social platforms)
Description: Hastily created on a Sunday afternoon as a way to make my coworkers laugh on Monday, this parody video ended up going viral, was itself parodied by Buzzfeed, was distributed across Food Network’s social channels, and spawned a small series of follow-ups. No matter what I do from now on, a link to this video will probably be etched on my tombstone.
Project: Vital Voices: Amira Yahyaoui (2015)
Turnaround: Five Days (Production) // Two Weeks (Post-Production)
Description: Hundredth Monkey Collective partnered with Vital Voices Global Partnership and Tunisian activist Amira Yahyaoui to create this short documentary about the current state of democracy in Tunisia, as told from the perspective of ordinary Tunisians. The film was shown at the 2015 Vital Voices Global Leadership Awards at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall in Washington, DC on June 16, 2015. I handled pre-production planning, on-location production coordination, music composition, interview recordings, and sound design. I also supervised final mixing. Interviews were recorded using a Sennheiser MKH416, a Sennheiser MKH50, and a Sound Devices 633. Final mixing by Heard City.
Project: Vital Voices: Yin Myo Su (2015)
Turnaround: Five Days (Production) // Two Weeks (Post-Production)
Description: Hundredth Monkey Collective partnered with Vital Voices Global Partnership and Burmese entrepreneur Yin Myo Su to create this film in support of sustainable business practices in Myanmar. The film was shown at the 2015 Vital Voices Global Leadership Awards at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall in Washington, DC on June 16, 2015. I handled pre-production planning, on-location production coordination, along with music composition, sound design, mixing, and voiceover recording. Additional musical elements by Dan Radlauer. Final mixing by Heard City.
Strategy Case Study: Spoon University Video Strategy Overhaul
Summary: In late 2015, I was tasked with overhauling Spoon University’s video strategy to increase production efficiency, maximize video views on social channels, and use video to increase the reach of Spoon University editorial content. Below are some insights and recommendations that I delivered while working alongside Elena Besser (Video Producer) and Giselle Waters (Strategist). By changing the kind of content that we created and the way in which we distributed it, Spoon University’s monthly video views increased from 50,000 in November 2015 to over 120 million in March 2016. The power of Spoon University’s overall content strategy combined with the success of our content consortium agreement with Food Network eventually prompted Scripps Networks Interactive (now Discovery, Inc) acquire Spoon University in Q2 2017.
Insight: Through an analysis of our own video performance, as well as the performance of our competitors (such as Tasty, Tip Hero, and Tastemade), we found that “Hands & Pans” overhead recipe videos received over 10x more engagement than hosted videos and required much less effort to produce. A small portion of our audience engaged with hosted content, but only a few thousand people actually watched our hosted videos.
Recommendation: Instead of releasing a single five-minute hosted video per week, release three one-minute recipe videos per week and one polished hosted video per month.
Result: An immediate, dramatic increase in video engagement on Facebook. Views on each video went from thousands to millions, which created a feedback loop of rapid Facebook audience growth, accelerated proliferation of written content through social channels, and increased ad revenue on our main website.
Insight: Recipe videos created by members of the Spoon University community often perform just as well as videos created by our team at Spoon University HQ, but quality and branding are inconsistent.
Recommendation: Create a video production training program for members of the Spoon University community, distribute uniform brand assets and templates, and encourage content output from chapter members.
Result: I worked with members of the Spoon University team to create a series of video production training videos, which were very well received by the community. In a survey of Spoon University chapter members, nearly 30% of respondents cited these training videos as the best perk of being a Spoon University chapter member. Further, by leveraging content generated by chapter members, we more than doubled the number of high quality videos that we were able to release on a weekly basis. Out of this training program came Smiley Fries, which was produced by a chapter member using the templates and tools we created, and became one of highest performing videos across all of Facebook in 2016 with over 70 million organic views from a single post.
Insight: Spoon University’s top-performing video for the first week of February 2016 was Traditional Israeli Salad. Health videos tended to perform terribly before this, so the immediate reaction among our staff was that health videos were back in style and that we should start producing more salad videos. However, I dove into the comments section of the video and discovered that the conversations were almost exclusively about the video’s name. As it turns out, another name for an “Israeli Salad” is “Arab Salad,” and controversy over alleged Israeli appropriation of Arab cuisine was the actual source of high viewer engagement.
Recommendation: Audiences respond to controversy and engage more readily with content that prompts discussions and allows them to express deeply-held opinions. However, content that spurs controversy needs to be brand safe to prevent alienating large segments of our audience. We should create content that starts conversations where possible and stick to our guns on important social issues such as inclusivity, but avoid topics that unnecessarily divide our audience and create conflict rather than discussion.
Result: We avoided wasting time making a bunch of salad videos that weren’t going to perform well. We also avoided pouring our paid media budget into boosting a highly controversial video that could potentially alienate a portion of our audience. Unfortunately, my idea for a similarly controversial video called “Pancakes Are Better Than Waffles: Prove Me Wrong” was not well-received.
Insight: Giselle Waters and I discovered that many of the highest performing articles in 2015 (according to BuzzSumo) were location-based listicles such as “The 10 Worst-Dressed States.” It’s clear that audiences love to share articles about locations and communities that are important to them. Much of Spoon University’s audience is college-age, and college students find a sense of place especially valuable. If we produce content (articles, videos, etc) that references where these students are from or their university locations, then the likelihood that they’ll share the content amongst their peers will increase.
Recommendation: Lean into this sense of place and produce location-based listicles and videos. Put a small, highly-targeted paid media budget behind these listicles/videos. For example, you could write a listicle called “The Top 5 Public Universities in Georgia” and target the article to college students in Georgia. Those students are sure to share the article if their university is mentioned (no matter the placement of their university on the list).
Result: We arrived at a simple and easily replicable formula to produce location-based content that resonates with particular audiences. Many of our highest performing articles were easily-produced listicles
Insight: The first three seconds of a video are absolutely vital to video performance on social media platforms. If the beginning of a video isn’t interesting enough to stop the viewer mid-scroll, then there’s no chance they’ll see the rest of the video.
Recommendation: Originally, every video posted to Spoon University’s social platforms included a brief introductory logo animation before the content began. This should be removed so that the content starts immediately. Additionally, using a portion of our paid media budget to A/B test multiple versions of the same video with disparate introductions will allow us to identify the most attention-grabbing openers, thereby amplifying the organic reach of our videos.
Result: Measurable uptick in performance of all Facebook videos without introductory logo animation, including reposts of old videos with the intro animation freshly removed. The first three seconds of all high-profile or branded videos are now A/B tested in Ads Manager to maximize organic reach upon release.
Insight: 85% of Facebook users watch video with the sound off (as of Q2 2016, but these things change).
Recommendation: Include .srt sidecar caption files on all Facebook videos with hosted content. These sidecar caption files appear automatically in the newsfeed when the viewer has sound disabled, and disappear immediately when the user turns the sound on.
Result: Increased performance on all hosted videos - enough to prevent the elimination of several well-liked but low-performing recurring hosted shows such as Five O’Clock Fridays.
Insight: From an analysis of all of our top-performing videos and top-performing posts on Instagram, the Spoon University audience responds quite well to bright colors, and will devour almost any recipe video that involves rainbows or color swirls. It doesn’t really even technically matter if it’s edible.
Recommendation: Simple. More rainbows, y’all.
Result: Rainbow Bagel (30m+ views), Funfetti Nachos (50m+ views), and the infamous Disappearing Rainbow Unicorn Tie-Dye Chocolate Ball (20m+ views) became some of our top-performers. Also, I will never look at Grilled Cheese the same way again. More than a year later, Starbucks would pick up on this colorful trend with their highly Instagrammable Unicorn Frappuccino.
Insight: As Snapchat Discover lacks many of the social engagement metrics of Facebook and Instagram, Food Network’s primary metric for their Snapchat Discover channel was overall engagement time - for how long were viewers watching Spoon University videos when Spoon University takes over the Food Network Snapchat Discover Channel on Saturday mornings? The problem was that Spoon had a Facebook-first video strategy, and the most popular content on Facebook lasts about 1 minute. Food Network wanted to bring up the average video view time on their channel to 2+ minutes. We tried out 3-5 minute hosted content, but it took forever to produce and simply didn’t work on the platform. We needed a novel solution. At the time, ASMR and “satisfying” videos were just emerging as a trend on YouTube, and I had the idea to introduce Food Network’s Snapchat Discover audience to slow-moving, structureless, satisfying videos (which, as a bonus, were extremely cost-efficient to produce).
Recommendation: Every week, create a 3-5 minute “satisfying” video specifically for the Saturday morning Food Network Snapchat Discover audience. For instance, we produced a three minute sped up video of a popsicle melting (in reverse) and a five minute video that was just cream being poured into coffee in slow-motion. For Easter, we produced a 6-minute long video of marshmallow peeps expanding in the microwave.
Result: Average view time for our videos on Food Network’s Snapchat Discover channel significantly increased, which eliminated Food Network’s concerns about their key metric.