Congratulations, you produced a nice video for social media! Now, what format and specs do you need so your video upload is accepted and looking its best on each social media channel? I’ll guide you through requirements for the major players: YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
Like many things in life, there is a tradeoff. When compressing video, it comes down to quality versus the time it takes to compress and upload. I almost always opt for quality.
If you spend hours shooting and editing a video, you probably can spend some time creating a file that delivers the best quality to your viewers. Always export a master file in a lossless codec, such as ProRes or DNxHD. This way you’ll have a high-quality original version to make other compressed versions from. You want to avoid compressing a file that has already been compressed, as each generation loses quality. Remember the saying, garbage in, garbage out.
YouTube has over two billion users and an unfathomable amount of video content that grows every second. The nice thing about YouTube is you can upload a high quality video in a lossless format because they will transcode your video file behind the scenes into different versions to optimize playback. This means that viewers with a great connection will see high quality video play smoothly, while viewers with a poor connection will see a lower quality version that plays smoothly. The users won’t experience stuttering and buffering because they are receiving a version that their connection speed/data rate can handle.
Therefore, it is in your best interest to upload a video with a high bit rate to YouTube. Crank that bit rate up, especially for 4K video with high frame rates! Just keep your file size under 128GB and your content under 12 hours in length. There is no reason to upload a lower bit rate video knowing that it will undergo compression again within YouTube.
YouTube will upload many video file formats, including .MOV, .AVI, ProRes, DNxHR, h.264, and even h.265 (for a full list, click here). 1280×720 for 16:9 aspect ratio videos is the recommended size, although they will accept up to 3840×2160 4K size. YouTube also accepts almost any frame rate, although progressive footage is recommended.
Facebook feeds can accept 16:9 or 9:16 video, but also the 1:1 square video ratio that is gaining traction with digital marketers. Although they accept several file types, including .MOV, they highly recommend the .MP4 format. Facebook seems to change their video guidelines often, but last I checked their recommendations were 1280×720 (when 16:9), <4GB file size, 30fps max and a 4-hour length.
For .MP4 format, I recommend the h.264 codec. This popular codec balances good quality and small file size. If you are an Adobe user, you can use Media Encoder (I’ll write an article on optimal h.264 settings soon, hopefully before h.265 takes over).
Due to the nature of Facebook, where people often scroll through their feed without sound on, many video producers use text or captions in their Facebook videos. In these cases, good compression practices and font choices are especially important for readability.
Facebook 360 video has some different specs. Most notable is the 4K 4096×2048 dimensions and 60fps max. For 360, the aspect ratio is 2:1. .MP4 remains the recommended format.
Instagram accepts landscape (16:9), vertical (9:16 or 4:5), and square video (1:1), but square video is recommended (between 600×600 and 1080×1080 resolution). Like Facebook, .MOV and .MP4 are accepted, with .MP4 being recommended. Limits include 4GB file size, 2-minute length and 30fps.
Instagram Stories are 9:16 videos that can be up to 1080×1920. These .MP4 or .MOV videos can be up to 15 seconds in length and 4GB in size.
Just to keep you on your toes, Instagram TV (IGTV) has different guidelines. The recommendation includes 9:16 aspect ratio, which will make traditional videographers cringe but makes sense in this platform. Resolution must be between 720×1080 and 1080×1920 and between 1-10 minutes long for standard accounts. There is a 650MB file size limit. .MP4 is required.
Twitter allows landscape, portrait and square video, with max resolutions of 1920×1200, 1200×1920, and 1200×1200 respectively. In either case, there is a 512MB file size limit, 140 second time limit, 40fps max rate and 25mbps max bitrate. .MP4 is recommended, although you can use .MOV in the mobile app.
While some of the information listed in this article is a requirement, other specifications are just recommended suggestions. Use what is right for your workflow and intended outcome. Please note that as technology evolves, recommendations will change. Websites like Sprout Social keep their social media video specs up-to-date, so you can be sure you’re getting the latest information.