How we do social video: Q&A with the DWP’s deputy head of digital comms

In the summer we published research on how government departments were using video to communicate on Twitter. The Department for Work and Pensions produced the most multimedia tweets of any department during the study period. So when Andrew Read, the department’s deputy head of digital communications got in touch to ask us a few questions about the study, we thought we’d open up the conversation more widely and turn it into a blog. Here is what Andrew has to say about how the DWP goes about filming and using social channels.

What is the DWP’s mission when it comes to social media?

We understand the importance of social media as part of the channel mix when it comes to reaching our audiences with our communications. Each channel and account that we run has a different audience and we manage them differently. However, they all combine (along with more traditional routes to audience) to contribute towards our key objectives – in particular our departmental objective to ‘build a more prosperous society by supporting people to enter into, and progress in, work.’  Our primary mission with the Digital Communications team is to ensure that our social media content is presented to the right people at the right time to make a positive difference to citizens’ lives, and to support customers, future customers and others within society to make the most of the support available from us, and to ensure financial security for current and future pensioners.


The DWP runs 2 Twitter channels (@DWP and @DWPpressoffice). What is the thinking behind this?

We joined Twitter in March 2011 with our @DWP channel, and in September of the same year we launched @DWPPressOffice. This was so that we could target different audiences with the two handles.

@DWP is primarily for longer-term campaign content aimed at customers and the general public – for instance, Universal Credit case study videos, or animations to explain pension concepts.  

As the name suggests, @DWPPressOffice was set up primarily to supply journalists and the politically engaged with news about DWP Ministerial visits, events and interesting initiatives. It’s more immediate and short-term content. It’s also the account we turn to first when the Department feels it needs to correct any misinformation circulating in the news or on social media.


Which social media platforms do you currently post video on as a department? Which platforms are you seeing a) the best views, and b) the best engagement?

We currently post video content to Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube and have a plan in place to start building our Instagram account.  It’s hard to compare between the channels though.  It’s about setting tailored benchmarks and seeing how video content performs against them. Certain videos on YouTube get great views. This can be driven by promotion of a page on which the videos are embedded, a good boost from the YouTube search tool, or from recommended videos. 

For example, we had a recent five-minute explainer video hit 9,000 views and the average user watch 60 percent of the content. This was solely driven by YouTube search.

Our video content on Twitter can often get a high engagement rate – an ongoing video series is currently averaging at 1.7% and has reached a high of 5.3%. Our Facebook channel tends to have fewer views on average, but still can have instances of high view counts/ good engagement. 


Our research shows that you are the most prolific department on Twitter when it comes to including multimedia (videos and GIFs) in your Tweets. What’s driving your use of multimedia on Twitter?

Multimedia social posts are known to get more engagements and, to help our content cut through the noise on social media, we strive to make our content visually engaging.  When there are two or three key messages we want to get across, a video or GIF is able to communicate that much more efficiently than static graphics or a copy-only tweet.


How do you approach video content for social media? Specifically, do you produce ‘social first’ content, do you repurpose other content, or is it a mix of both?

Our team is focused on producing content for social media, so in that respect, it is always ‘social first’. We ensure that our videos start with an interesting hook and are accessible with clear and consistent subtitles. But we don’t have a one size fits all approach to creating video content on social media, although for speed we often do re-use content on different channels if appropriate. We have an audience in mind when making videos, and will tailor the video to that audience and channel. For instance, when time is of the essence and we have messaging from a Minister at an event for example, a press officer might record a clip on a mobile phone which we then edit quickly and tweet out on the @DWPPressOffice Twitter account. Other times, when recording a case study discussing Universal Credit or Disability Confident, we will have time to plan a multi-channel approach over a longer period. An example of this is our #MyWayIn campaign. We had square versions of case studies for Instagram and then produced 16:9 versions for use on the MyWayIn microsite.


Your format of choice is film (and more specifically interviews or pieces to camera), followed by GIFs. What’s the reason for going down this route?

One of our leading aims when producing video content is to showcase the success stories of people who have received support from jobcentres. Video content is the best way to tell these authentic and personal stories with a human voice and face, and it’s a great way to engage an emotional response from an audience. That is why we favour video.

GIFs are often our first choice for content relating to press announcements. Mainly because, as mentioned earlier, it allows us to put multiple messages in one multimedia tweet.


You have chosen to use animation/motion graphics less frequently (though you are still 4th of the departments we looked at). Given the performance of animation/motion graphics, or films featuring animation/motion graphics, in terms of engagement levels according to our research, is this a format you would consider using more frequently moving forward?

We’d certainly like to use more animation/motion graphics, but for us it’s a resource issue. To do it well and to make it look professional, it can take more time than other multimedia approaches. We do animate explainer content; this kind of content is less in need of an emotive angle and tends to be very factual, so animation seems the right medium for that.  However, based on your research we’ll definitely see if we can introduce a little more animation or motion graphics into our filmed content. 


Your preferred format for Twitter at present is 4:3. What is the thinking behind using this rather than 16:9 or 1:1 format?

16:9 uses less vertical screen-real-estate on a vertically held mobile phone than 4:3 or 1:1 does. It also often results in harder to read subtitles, unless this is factored in.  While some of our content only goes on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn, much of it also has a use on our YouTube channel, or internal TV screens. Our cameras film in 16:9 by default, which is optimal on YouTube. In adopting the 4:3 format for social media, we can take a bigger bite of the screen-real-estate without compromising the shots or excluding something of relevance by making it 1:1.

We also use the square format, something we’ve being doing more and more of. But for me 4:3 does remain a viable and practical alternative. 


How do you measure the success of your video output on social media at the DWP? We have used ‘engagement’ (likes and retweets) but there is a growing movement towards seeing these as ‘vanity metrics’ and preferring to look at amplification (reach and impressions) or conversions. What is your take on this?

At a basic level, we will keep an eye on the view count on our social video content. It’s an indicator for us to see whether something is getting good reach. It’s certainly not the only measure though, and we also review against our benchmark engagement rate. Some content has clear performance indicators, such as a click through to a webpage. On YouTube, we review average view duration and the ‘total number of minutes watched’ – to give us an indication of how engaged the audience has been with it. 

Sometimes, it’s hard to measure success from just one video. For example, content aiming to improve the understanding or reputation of Universal Credit requires longer-term sentiment analysis, which could be hard to attribute to any single piece of content.


What innovations can we expect to see from the DWP when it comes to video and social media over the coming years?

This year we’ve been trialling longer Twitter content, clips up to five minutes long, and we’ve been really pleased with how well it has performed. That said, knowing your report mentions videos of 30 seconds or less are optimal for Twitter, we’ve set in motion the production of short, square teasers for some of our longer films, which will then point to the longer films on YouTube. Apart from the insights native on Twitter, this would allow us to measure the success of content in driving visits to YouTube. 

Looking further ahead, you will hopefully see us developing more ways of responding to questions raised on social media. We also have plans to improve our use of Instagram and storytelling. And of course, we are going to have to adapt to the ever-changing social media environment, as channels and audiences change and new technology emerges.