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Contagious Video

Justin Watkins

January 2016

Sometimes the Internet surprises you.

When San Jose asked NATIVE to shoot photography and video last August, we had two goals in mind:

1. Build up the video content library

The meetings-focused Team San Jose was transforming into the new meetings AND leisure-focused Visit San Jose, creating a need for high-quality leisure content where little of it existed.

2. Make it contagious

Nothing leaves NATIVE without feeling contagious and shareable. We even have a 7-point checklist we run everything by to make sure we’re staying true to those words.

The order of those goals was intentional. We knew our four-day shoot would fuel a lot of content and advertising, and we needed to cover a lot of San Jose to give us material to work with.

san jose travel images

Instead of starting with a conceptual script and storyline, we left the narrative open, to let the destination speak for itself. We chose to focus on the camera’s movement. As the heart of Silicon Valley, San Jose is constantly on the move, reinventing itself almost daily. We decided to never lock the camera down. It would push through San Jose to convey a constant, dynamic flow.

Two weeks later, the Visit San Jose team premiered their new 1:30 minute video at World Travel Market London. Once shown in London, the Visit San Jose team uploaded the video to both YouTube and Facebook, ready for organic sharing like all the other +18,000 days of video uploaded to the Internets that day.

So what happened on YouTube? Not much.

Facebook was a different story. November 18th I’m landing at Lambert Airport in St Louis. I turn on my phone the instant the plane touches down (as you do). The first email I see is:


Excited, I sent a handful of emails to our team around midnight. In the morning, they responded: “That’s cool, but it’s 100k views now.”

Now, let me just say, these are not monster numbers. We’re not OK Go. BUT when your audience size is 2400 and past videos only reach 300 views, you’re now on to something. As of June 2016, the video has generated:

san jose video stats

View count is the easy headline here, but it can be a bit deceiving. Views on Facebook only require 3 seconds of watching, whereas YouTube requires 30 seconds. The likes, shares, comments and added fans are the real prize. In fact, the comments are a treasure trove of audience research and input for future projects.

One might conclude from this that Facebook is always the better platform for hosting videos.

I wish it was that simple. To me, there are two takeaways:

1) Latent demand

The city of San Jose was waiting for an anthem to rally around. The comments were full of long-time residents saying “yeah, that’s my hometown” or new residents tagging friends, saying “check out my new city.”

2) Open strong

Unlike YouTube, Facebook’s timeline interface is built for the scroll-happy. When a video auto-plays in a user’s timeline, you have 1-3 seconds to make an impression. Some of our best shots were in the first 10 seconds. We grabbed attention fast and held it until the final logo reveal.

When choosing a partner for your next video creations, make sure it’s someone intimately familiar with your audience and the channels where they’re most active. That’s when things get really interesting.