Can Facebook Win the Video Marketing Battle?

Marketers are all aflutter about Facebook’s potential for video marketing, especially after the social media giant’s announcement that it was now totaling 4 billion video views each day—after hitting the 3 billion views-per-day milestone in January.

The rapid growth of Facebook’s video viewership has led many to question whether the social media giant will soon surpass (and perhaps even overwhelm) the current leader in online video, YouTube.

Facebook’s Offerings

Facebook may be pleased to have such a large number of daily video views, but are they really even that valuable? A large contributor to Facebook’s view count is the introduction of autoplay: a video will begin playing on mute the moment it appears in an individual’s newsfeed.

Facebook counts a video as “viewed” when it plays for three seconds in a newsfeed, regardless of whether that person chose to un-mute it. So while Facebook can tout that it has achieved the milestone of 4 billion video views a day, the truth is that the number of videos viewed in a meaningful way is actually much lower.

Facebook doesn’t necessarily want marketers to think of that—the company’s reporting doesn’t break down how many video views come from auto-play, or what the site’s average video view length is (though this information is available to page owners who dive into their analytics). But by broadcasting impressive numbers that signal rapid growth, Facebook can charge advertisers with higher rates to get their premium advertising content to appear in someone’s newsfeed.

Of course, Facebook does offer unique advantages over its competition that may be well worth the cost for video marketers. Specifically, Facebook’s extensive targeting options allow marketers to reach very niche groups, allowing videos to more effectively reach the exact desired target audience (something YouTube and Google are not able to provide). And when content is properly packaged and curated for Facebook’s more easily distracted audience, engagement can quickly exceed that provided by YouTube.

Facebook has made it quite clear that it intends to make video the medium of choice on its platform. Analysis by Socialbakers found that natively embedded videos have the highest distribution rate of any type of post on Facebook, which is good news for brands eager to get the greatest reach without needing to promote every post.

YouTube—the Defending Champ

YouTube is a very different beast for video sharing. First and foremost is the difference between when a video is considered to have been “viewed.” The video-sharing site’s standard for video views is about 30 seconds. Add to that the fact that YouTube surpassed the 4 billion views-per-day milestone in 2012, and it’s clear that viewers actually consume much more video through YouTube.

For advertisers who place pre-roll advertisements before other videos, YouTube’s system also guarantees that viewers will watch at least 5 seconds of an ad before having the option to skip to their desired video—and if they do, advertisers don’t have to pay at all.

Another advantage offered by YouTube (and one that Facebook would not be keen to announce) is that its domestic Web traffic has passed the social network—Facebook has actually seen a drop of 14 million unique monthly users since March 2014.

Though YouTube has also seen a drop in unique monthly users during that time frame, it currently draws over 8 million more unique users each month than Facebook does in the United States.

What Really Counts?

Total views should not be nearly as important to marketers as meaningful engagements driven from a video being shared on Facebook or YouTube. Whether that engagement comes in the form of likes, shares, new followers/subscribers, or actual sales (isn’t that usually the end goal of advertising?), marketers need to determine what metrics provide the most true value for their brand’s needs.

While it may look great to have a video reach one million views on Facebook, the simple fact is that those numbers are inflated by auto-play views that were likely never even taken off mute. Yet raw engagement on Facebook can easily exceed that of YouTube when videos are properly packaged for the social network.

Each platform should play a role in one’s digital video strategy. We’ve yet to see how significantly Facebook’s foray into video marketing will affect YouTube—if it affects it at all. Though YouTube continues to be the dominant source for Web video, Facebook’s superior targeting allows marketers to reach niche audiences better than ever. Marketers who wish to truly succeed with online video would do well to incorporate both platforms into a carefully curated strategy to receive the biggest return on investment.

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