Your dog is doing something adorable in the backyard, and you reach for your phone.

Your baby niece shakily rises to her feet and takes her toddling first steps, and while everyone in the room cries out in delight and cajoles her to keep going, someone is recording the occasion for posterity, met with a chorus of “hey, can you send that to me?” the second the moment has passed.

A celebrity flubs a line during an interview, and the entire world sees it within minutes on a myriad of platforms, the footage replayed, forwarded and meme-ified within an inch of its life.

According to Pew Research Center’s February 2018 Mobile Fact Sheet, 77 percent of Americans use smartphones, which is more than double the number of smartphone-owners reported just seven years earlier. It’s no surprise, then, that mobile devices and digital content have reshaped the way we communicate, personally and professionally. This isn’t just reflected in the medium of communication — digital, texting, streaming content, email — but in the actual expressions themselves, from the shorthand of texting to emojis and, most recently, a steady surge in vertical video.

What is vertical video?

The label is as straightforward as it sounds: You grab your phone to shoot a video, and if you’re
like 94 percent of smartphone users, you hold your phone upright, or vertically (think portrait
orientation on your phone’s camera), not turning it to the side.

It makes sense that this is how our phone usage naturally evolved because this is the visual orientation of most social media platforms and the orientation of the phone in general — meant to fit easily in one hand while having a conversation or easy to hold while scrolling through feeds with your thumb.

Of course, you can turn your phone sideways to shoot a video, but can you remember the last time you did it? Probably not. And if you did, you found out your video didn’t have that seamless proportion ratio to your social media outlet when you posted it.

How we got here

How did it happen? Inseparably from social media platforms and smartphones. It might be a bit of a chicken-or-egg endeavor to figure out whether it was the orientation of our phones or our increasing engagement with social media platforms, which are now just as likely to be built mobile-app-first with a desktop iteration a secondary concern. Regardless of the true answer, all of these factors have inextricably affected user-end design and the aesthetics of how we view — and shoot — video content.

Snapchat pioneered the Stories format in the social realm, but the feature is now available on Instagram and Facebook too, and it has truly evolved how we tell and absorb stories. The Story format allows for video (vertical, of course) and photographic content, layered with text, filters or GIF animations. Also, the format represents another major revolution in how we display and consume content. Instead of scrolling through a feed, users move through a story from left to right, with newer content showing up to the right of the old, making it closer to the old-school experience of reading a hard-copy book.

What it means for you

As with any new social content platform or format, the uptick in vertical video presents challenges and opportunities (shoppable content, anyone?) for your brand and, ultimately, your business. Since Snapchat helped create the vertical video/Stories phenomenon in 2013, the format has spread throughout the social ecosystem, and more platforms than not sport the feature. As vertical’s reach has increased, everyone from major traditional media outlets to massive brands has embraced the opportunity to further engage with their base and capture new eyes on their content.

The close-cropped, inherently short nature of the format drastically affects the storytelling style, and it pays to be mindful that traditional content production methods might not transfer. On the plus side, the cost of production is often much lower.

If you’re looking to get started, here are a few tips for getting the ball rolling on your vertical video campaigns:

  • Dive in. Platforms are rolling out new features in their Stories sections all the time. It’s not a medium that lends itself to a traditional approach for content production, and experimentation is more likely to be read as just that, rather than a lack of facility with the medium.
  • Consider your consumer target demographics. We’ve established that Snapchat is the original, but consider this: Within a year of launching, Instagram was reporting double the daily number of users, and those numbers spike in younger demographics. If you’re looking to branch out into vertical and have established Instagram and Facebook channels, Instagram Stories is your best bet for increasing impressions and reach.
  • Influencers are an option, but if you haven’t worked with them, consider seeking the advice of a reputable digital-influencer agency that has experience with these types of contracts and the setting of expectations. At the micro level, think of asking a brand ambassador to do a daylong account takeover — as long as their brand is aligned with yours.
  • Share across platforms. There is a major benefit to this, and it’s simple: It makes your content go farther and work harder. Given the size of your reach, it’s possible that there’s very little overlap in your audience. Facebook and Instagram make this a pretty seamless option.
  • Interact and engage. Create a poll, re-share content, and try out all the bells and whistles. Do your core customers/clients spout your praises on social media? Ask them if you can share their reviews, feature them with a photo, ask them to take part in some vertical content. It’s likely that they’ll share the result with their networks as well.

While vertical video is by no means the death knell for horizontal or widescreen content, it’s become such a juggernaut in a mobile-content-consumption world that you’d be remiss to not take advantage.