Get Better User Generated Content

Photo by jsawkins via flickr

User-generated content can be an inexpensive, effective way to boost the video component of a campaign and increase brand engagement. But the downside is that you have very little control over the content and quality of the video that’s coming back to you, video you assured your client would be a great addition to their program and representative of their brand. (Is anyone else breaking into a cold sweat?)

As much as you’d like to be at every shoot with a professional crew to ensure material with real viewer benefit is being created, lighting looks good, and all cell phones with a Macarena ring tone are silenced  it’s not feasible on a limited budget. When you’re counting on fans to create their own videos or mailing Flip cameras to bloggers … just pressing record doesn’t cut it. These simple production tips will provide direction when you can’t be there to call the shots … and help you when you’re putting on your producer hat and filming the content yourself.

– Find a quiet location with minimal background noise. (This can be challenging at an event or conference. But you can film the interview in a quiet hallway or lobby area, and then go back inside for b-roll.)
–  Do a sound check before you start shooting, so you know what your video will ultimately sound like.
– Frame your subject a bit off-center, to the right or the left. I like medium shots (from the waist up, or the elbow up). Avoid extreme close-ups and wide shots. And don’t use the zoom button  it makes the video look blurrier.
– Decide if you want your subject to be looking directly into the camera, or just a bit off to the side and make sure you guide them. People with less media experience have an easier time talking to a real person, rather than right into the camera. If you’re filming and doing the interviewing, make sure that you’re holding the camera just to the left or right of your face so when they answer, their eye line is on the same level as the camera and looks natural.
–  Make sure you stand just a few feet away from the subject so that your audio quality is good.
–  Assess the lighting situation. If you’re filming outside, don’t have subject face directly into the sun (squinting = bad). And beware of too much shade. If you’re filming inside, make sure it’s a well-lit room.
– Set the camera on a flat, steady surface for filming if you don’t want to hold it. But keep person’s eye line at the same level as camera.
–  Get a release form signed! (If you don’t have one, ask the subject to state into the camera that they give you permission to use the footage on XX client’s social media channels.)
–  Make sure all cell phones are off!

–  First, always have the person on camera state their name and position/title in case you need to create a lower third when you edit. Ask them to spell it too just in case.
– Pay attention to your surroundings while you’re filming. Is it noisy? Is someone doing The Running Man in the background? If a loud noise interrupts you, stop and start from the beginning again. It’s okay to pick up where you left off, but know there will be a “cut” in your editing. And if you don’t have any additional b-roll to cover it, it won’t look as smooth.
–  Make sure the subject projects their voice for best volume without awkwardly yelling. (The Flip camera mic is on the side facing the person filming, so the person on camera is actually harder to hear.)
– Film multiple takes if possible so you have several options for the editor to work with. Yeah, it was awesome, probably can’t be used because we don’t know the context. Test driving the 2012 model was awesome, is better. Ask your subject to repeat your question in their answer to cover your bases.
–  Shoot b-roll of surrounding environment, especially anything that your subject mentioned. This way, you have something more exciting than just a talking head.
–  Tell subjects ahead of time (if possible) to avoid wearing bright red, all white shirts, stripes or 70’s type paisley patterns (on camera and life in general).


– Playback clips on-site to ensure that everything looks and sounds good before it’s too late.
–  Put camera/tapes/drives in carry-on, not checked luggage.
–  Review footage and mark the best takes before giving it to your editor. No one should be a victim of the dreaded Dump and Run.

While these tips are geared towards video production, get creative with other mediums. This band asked their fans to share instagram photos to create a crowdsourced music video. Pretty genius if you ask me, considering everything looks cool on instagram. All fans had to do was tag their photos of music festivals with #vaccinesvideo.

I recently sent some similar tips/guidelines to a client, so feel free to tweak these for your own program needs. And leave a comment below with any tactics you’ve found helpful for gathering great UGC.