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 smart phones, which is more than double the number of smart-phone-owners reported just seven years earlier. It’s no surprise, then, that mobile devices and digital content have reshaped the way we communicate, personally as well as professionally. This isn’t just reflected in the medium of communication—digital, texting, streaming content, e-mail—but in the actual expressions themselves, from the short-hand 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 current smartphone users, you held 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, as 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 phone 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 tried to post it.

How did it happen?

Inseparably from social media platforms and smartphones. It might be a bit of a chicken-or-the-egg endeavor to figure out if 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), but 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.

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

What does that mean for your business or brand?

Like 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 its way throughout the social ecosystem, and now more platforms than not sport the feature. As its reach has increased, everyone from major traditional media outlets to massive brands have embraced the opportunity to further engage with their base and capture more new eyes on their content.

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

If you’re looking for the best route 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, and
    it pays to experiment. It’s not a medium that lends itself to a traditional approach to
    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. While we’ve established that Snapchat
    is the original, consider this—within a year of launching, Instagram was reporting double
    the daily number of users, and those numbers spike higher in younger demographics. If
    you’re looking to branch out into vertical and already have established Instagram and
    Facebook channels, Instagram Stories is your best bet for increasing impressions and
  • Influencers are an option, but if you haven’t worked with them before, consider seeking
    out the advice of a reputable digital influencer agency who has experience with these
    types of contracts and the setting of expectations. At the micro level, think of asking a
    current brand ambassador to do a day-long 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, and given the size of your reach, it’s possible
    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 they’ll share the end result with their networks as well.

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