Designing your IGTV Video Cover Photo or Thumbnail

Lessons from a Digital Marketing Virtual Assistant Who Actually Does the Work:

Ok so, I’ve had a lot of fun working on my clients’ Instagram account lately and trying to get her to the big 10k. One of our strategies has been to utilize IGTV and repurpose some of her longer FB lives into short fast-paced episodes. And a big part of that is the IGTV thumbnail design!

I take an hour of content and make it fit in under 10 minutes. That’s not easy but I have learned a few design lessons as I’ve explored this new platform in depth and I want to give you the short cuts!

Whether you are a digital media specialist or a business owner DIYing your own Instagram… just stick with me for a minute. Because if you like to figure things out the hard way, you won’t be able to “un-do” these designs later, like you can in, say, Facebook. Instagram LOCKS YOU DOWN!! LOLOL.

So let’s dive in…

The All-Important Cover Photo

aka IGTV Thumbnail Design 101

You only get one shot to upload a separate cover photo and this is the image that will post into your regular feed if you choose. So design this main cover photo first but also keep a few things in mind….

Think about: The Feed Preview

Only the first 60 seconds of the IGTV episode will show up in the feed before a viewer is forced to click the “Watch Full IGTV Video” button. So there are some things to pay attention to that are easy to forget when you’re focused on video editing and content creation.

Upload a custom thumbnail, otherwise IGTV will select the first frame of your video, which is most likely NOT your best shot to capture followers’ interest and tease where the video story is going. Instead, grab a still shot in the recorded video or get in the habit of taking photos after recording to make thumbnails. I say go with images that carry action, emotion, color and visual interest.

IGTV Custom Thumbnail Design photo by Emily Reagan PR

This is the custom IGTV thumbnail I created for this episode and it shows up first in the feed and THEN the video rolls for 60 seconds… If I hadn’t created and selected my own image her feed would look like this, only cropped to a 4:5:

IGTV Custom Thumbnail Design photo by Emily Reagan PR

It’s a pretty boring establishing shot!!! There is some action: cutting that yellow squash. LOL. But we already know instagram feed posts do better with people in them so I selected a shot where I see two eyeballs (Remember the newspaper editor in me, likes two eyeballs!!!!) and I added text within the 4:5 aspect ratio.

Now her feed looks normal with this custom IGTV thumbnail

IGTV Custom Thumbnail Design photo by Emily Reagan PR

IGTV Thumbnail Design Tip

Do you see how my “Lifestyle Tip” words on the top half of the image run into the white IGTV icon? I recommend NOT having your text overlay go all the way to the right corner. Just look at how the episode with “Transfers & Colored Waxes” text overlay doesn’t touch the icon. And the video above it, I just left words off completely. Both look better. Lesson learned.

I love how in Jasmine Star’s feed the Every Yes is a NO to Something Else post doesn’t even look like a video!!! At first glance it looks like a on-brand meme. But if you were to click on the post the video starts playing instantly.

IGTV Custom Thumbnail Design photo by Emily Reagan PR

I’d love to know the insights on that particular video. Did followers know to click on it? At a quick glance I see that video has half the views as the other two, but there are a lot of variables (for instance this video is not just her, she’s talking to someone so maybe that affects stats). And so I may have to reach out to her and ask just that! =) Am I a nerd or what?

Think about: the IGTV Feed

I also realize that this very same custom thumbnail will look COMPLETELY DIFFERENT on the IGTV feed page….

IGTV Custom Thumbnail Design photo by Emily Reagan PR

So when designing your IGTV thumbnail, you will also have to consider not interfering with the video’s title and time stamp. I also like when the photos are darker on the bottom so I can read the white video title font.

You can see that Jasmine Star learned her lesson the hard way too… And what stinks is that once you select your thumbnail YOU CANNOT CHANGE IT!!! EVER, EVER!!!

IGTV Custom Thumbnail Design photo by Emily Reagan PR

This is not the end of the world. But the perfectionist in me is not happy with some of my earlier custom thumbnails.

So you can see why many IGTV makers just leave their thumbnails text free… and hassle free….

IGTV Custom Thumbnail Design photo by Emily Reagan PR

Think About: the IGTV Video Title

I’m not going to get into copywriting and how to write a click-worth headline here (although I do go over all those details in my VA Crash Course). However, from a design standpoint, do remember the title that shows up is limited to up to 50 characters. There is room for cutoff but have your title fit into this space. It will only take up a two-line maximum. You can even have it fit on one line and be really uncluttered, which I think looks cleaner in the design.

Your video title is an opportunity to use search words, and your custom thumbnail design is an opportunity to make your video look entertaining, informative and enticing to watch. For me personally, watching another talking head video is not my thing. It actually turns me off. Like I mentioned, focus on those action shots and interesting perspectives that give people a reason to click.

The First 60 Seconds aka Video Preview

And one last thing, really quick. When you start editing the video there is one big thing, design-wise, to consider..

…When you post a preview video to your IG Feed, it will crop it to the vertical size. So make sure any text overlays and animations are within the 4:5 safe area. Otherwise it will cut off and look like this in the preview:

YUCK! Less than ideal, but maybe it has the effect of getting viewers to click over so that the words don’t cut off? LOL. Fingers crossed. I’ll have to do research on this. Leave me a comment if you know!

The Takeaway

To get the most professional looking Instagram feed, just pay attention to these design tips, especially if it’s your first time creating an IGTV channel and you haven’t yet learned the hard way. It’s so easy for me to forget them when I’m over-eager to share my client’s really good content!! It took me 7 episodes to get it down and understand the design elements, like the IGTV thumbnail design, and how they changed in appearance from IGTV to Feed.

If you found this helpful and you want to do this for client, or want more tips for to DIY your own social media marketing, please get on my email list . I’ll be sending out a useful article next week and I’ll keep pushing out new tips and strategies. Of course, if you’re working your own VA biz and want more clients, I have a ton of these hands-on tips to help you get hired in my complete VA crash course.

Good luck!

-Emily, Digital Media Consultant (and Virtual Assistant …)


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Further Reading

5 Retargeted Facebook Ads Ideas: The Good, The Bad and the Popular

The One Thing I Should Have Done to NOT GET FIRED

How I became a VA {Virtual Assistant & Social Media Sidekick}

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Emily Reagan is a jill-of-all trades when it comes to digital marketing and techie skills. She’s worked as a behind-the-scenes digital marketing implementor and strategist for a decade for online biz owner clients.

She’s a mom of four, Air Force wife, and founder of the Unicorn Digital Marketing Assistant School, where she teaches smart women the in-demand, highly-coveted digital marketing skills to get flexible, online work.

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