They say a picture’s worth a thousand words, so how many is a video worth? That’s the question that’ll be on the lips of content publishers across the internet this year as video becomes an integral part of their online arsenal. It’s always been like that, of course – video is a quick and engaging way to impart information to an audience – but with the proliferation of mobile devices and the need to catch your audience’s attention quickly growing more urgent, it’s become even more significant in recent years. YouTube is still very much the dominant player in this area, but recently other social networks have started moving to stake their claim.
Last year, Facebook announced a native video player that would allow publishers to add video content directly to their Facebook page, rather than posting them to YouTube and then posting a link to YouTube on to Facebook. Not to be outdone, Twitter is following suit, revealing last month that it too will be launching a new native video player. This technology will sit alongside its other video platform Vine, which has proven a huge success since launching in 2013.
The development has been welcomed by publishers keen to get as many eyes as possible on to their content. The Discovery Channel, for example, has been using Facebook’s new functionality for the last few months and has found it greatly expanded its audience. “Hands down, almost in every instance, the video posts outperform any other content types in terms of overall reach and engagement,” Derek Dodge, the channel’s Director of Digital Programming, told Variety. “It changed the way we think about using Facebook. In the past we saw it as a marketing platform — now it’s more of a pure media platform. This is helping us extend our video strategy into social media.”
According to Mashable and CrowdTangle, the likes of Buzzfeed, Upworthy, CNN, The Huffington Post, and ESPN have all started using the functionality in the last year, seeing significant boosts in views. ESPN, for example, received just 6,500 shares of its last 15 non-native Facebook videos, while its last 15 native videos received around 53,000. In an online culture where the recommendations of those you follow are so important in helping content achieve expanded reach, such statistics are exciting and not to be viewed lightly – but nor should they pass without scrutiny.
Intention and Engagement
One of the major benefits Facebook and Twitter have over YouTube is that their News Feed makes it easier for users to discover content. Sure, YouTube has recommended videos and the ability to subscribe to your favourite channels, but there’s still a certain level of work needed to seek the content out. This isn’t the case on Facebook and Twitter, where if you’re following a page, videos appear in News Feeds and can be discovered almost by accident, viewed, and subsequently shared.
Views aren’t everything though. In fact, on Facebook, they’re a very misleading metric to judge success by. If a video is played for three seconds on Facebook’s player, it counts as a view, and if the video plays again, that’s another view. Fair enough you might think, but Facebook videos play automatically, so simply reloading the page, or scrolling through your News Feed could activate the video, and suddenly it’s racked up another view, whether you’ve actually watched it or not. Contrast that with YouTube, where user interaction is needed to activate a video, and where repeat views are not counted to the view total, and Facebook metrics start to seem a little less impressive.
Speaking to DigiDay, Greg Hounslow of American airline WestJet, broke down the stats behind the company’s Spirit of Giving Christmas video. Without any money being put behind paid promotion, the advert garnered over 1.1 million views using Facebook’s native player, attracting 77,000 likes, 45,000 shares, and 21,000 comments. Impressive though these stats may seem, they lose their lustre when analysed. Facebook also offers metrics on videos that are viewed for more than 30 seconds, and only a third of the 1.1 million people who saw the video stuck around for that long. “A huge percentage of people are dropping off after a very short amount of time as they scroll through their feed,” said Hounslow. “Meanwhile, if you arrive at a YouTube video, you’re probably in a dedicated video-watching area, so retention tends to be a lot higher.”
The message is clear: Facebook may get more eyeballs on a video, but if the user intention isn’t there, chances are the engagement won’t be either.
YouTube is still YouTube
Facebook has undoubtedly been making waves with its video player, but not without sinking a few ships along the way. As it’s sought to make its own video content as attractive and engaging as possible, it seems to have reduced the power of YouTube videos. As Contently points out, while a Facebook video appears in News Feeds as a beautiful, big, visual screen, YouTube links are plain white and littered with text; only a small image with a play button is offered to suggest that there’s a video to play. No surprise then that while metrics for Facebook videos went up, those for YouTube videos went down.
YouTube is still the number 1 site for online video content, and with 100 hours of video uploaded to the site every minute and over 6 billion hours viewed every month, that’s not going to change any time soon. Moreover, YouTube isn’t just a video behemoth; it’s also the web’s second largest search engine, processing 3 billion queries every month. Facebook has been looking to expand into Search for several years, and is likely to redouble its efforts in 2015, but it’s still some distance off achieving YouTube’s power and likely to remain so for a while to come.
Choosing YouTube over Facebook clearly isn’t the right policy then, but should publishers put their content out across both platforms? Facebook Video will certainly give you the reach, and with the company doing so much to push its own technology over YouTube, there’s an element of risk involved in publishing only to YouTube. But is it really in a publisher’s best interest to split their audience in this way? As with all Google products, YouTube rewards clicks, shares, and interactions, and the more you’re taking away from YouTube and giving to Facebook, the more you’re suffocating your video’s chances of strengthening its place in the YouTube and Google rankings.
Native video is the choice for Facebook success, but for holistic success, YouTube remains in the lead.
Who has the power?
Be under no illusions, Facebook branching out into native video isn’t about video. Just as its interest in Search isn’t about Search and its interest in online gaming wasn’t about games. Facebook has a very clear end-goal in sight and it’s not to deliver really great video content; it’s to be a giant, holistic content publication platform. That means video, audio, image, and text content all coming together under one roof. Facebook’s roof. As The Awl notes: “All the things we link to on Facebook now, Facebook could conceivably host.”
This is bad news for publishers and creators. As they’ve already proven with their demoting of YouTube content, Facebook insists that if you live under its roof, you’ll live under its rules, and the more content hosted on Facebook, the more it’ll be empowered to start imposing its rules on its users. So if Facebook wants to start rewarding paid advertising with more views, it can do that. And if it wants to squeeze referrals to third party sites to reward content that’s hosted natively, it can do that too. Facebook is interested in Facebook, and it’ll do what’s necessary to keep users on its site and the dollars and cents rolling in. Understandable – wouldn’t you do the same?
Of course you would, and that’s why maintaining as much control over your content (be it video or not) as possible is so important. By doing so, you’re largely immune to the tweaks and changes Facebook will make to design and algorithm, and the ebb and flow of metrics that those changes will cause. As ever in digital, the best approach is a holistic one that finds a balance between social and Search, third party and self-owned.
To find out more about content marketing, click on the image below to read our post where we uncover 7 popular content marketing myths.