Remember when Facebook launched more than a decade ago? We were all pretty excited about status updates and changing our profile pictures whenever we wanted.
How things have changed. Back then, Facebook was a social network with the humble goal of helping college students connect with other college students.
Now, Facebook is set on becoming a media empire, wrapping social, advertising, content creation, and entertainment up into one neat platform. Video is a key component to this strategy. The strategy makes sense. In today’s frenetic digital world, video has a unique ability to engage audiences. Online video has seen huge growth in the past few years. Brainshark predicts that online video will make up 74% of consumer internet traffic by 2017. With numbers like that, it’s only natural that Facebook wants to get in on the game.
Paving the Way
In the past few years, Facebook has been laser-focused on working to unseat the video giant from its throne. Back in 2013, the network unveiled autoplay video on mobile. A few months later, it launched autoplay video ads. At the end of 2014, it announced a brand new design for the Video tab of Facebook Pages, giving brands the opportunity to feature videos at the top of their page and create playlists. At the beginning of 2015, it acquired QuickFire Networks, a startup whose technology supports high-quality videos that don’t take up lots of bandwidth.
In addition to developing features to rival those on YouTube, Facebook has also thrown a few jabs to wobble the video giant. According to Contently, “Facebook has also claimed YouTube videos are now ‘incompatible’ with Sponsored Posts. Try to include a YouTube link in a Sponsored Post, and Facebook won’t let you. This has neutered the paid distribution plan for any video campaign that’s hosted on YouTube, and comes as an especially strong blow to YouTube stars that are trying to generate more traffic.”
Facebook’s efforts seem to be paying off. A company press release from January 2015 heralded a “shift toward visual content on Facebook, especially with video. In just one year, the number of video posts per person has increased 75% globally and 94% in the US… Since June 2014, Facebook has averaged more than 1 billion video views every day.”
Sure, these aren’t YouTube-level numbers—at least not yet. The undeniable video leader boasts more than a billion users and “billions of views” per day, according to company statistics. (As MarketingLand points out, YouTube’s edge is solidified further by the fact that “Facebook records a view after just three seconds, whereas YouTube records a view somewhere around 30 seconds.”) Nevertheless, Business Insider reports that “Facebook is gobbling up YouTube’s audience.” They cite comScore data which shows that YouTube had a 9% decrease in viewers from 2013 to 2014.
Embedded Video: Changing the Model
At the end of March, Facebook rolled out even more improvements to their video capabilities. Previously, users could only embed videos from Facebook alongside the supporting Facebook post (which tended to break up the flow of content). Now, anyone can seamlessly embed Facebook videos onto their own site, just like a YouTube video. When a user clicks on an embedded Facebook video, she’s brought back to the social network—giving her the chance to comment, like, and interact with other content (video or not).
Many see Facebook’s new video player as a major upgrade compared to YouTube’s. As Contently puts it: “The Facebook player is big, bright, and beautiful. The YouTube player, in comparison, is made to seem as ugly as possible. At a quick glance, you can barely tell that there’s a video to play.” For content creators, there are also new analytics tools and an API to allow more control over uploads (publishers can, for example, use age filters to restrict who can see a video) and provide greater insight into video performance and audience engagement.
The ability to seamlessly embed videos may signal a larger change in the way users are served videos on Facebook. Right now, MarketingLand explains, “One of the biggest differences between Facebook and YouTube is intent and discovery. Users go to YouTube with the sole intent of watching videos and to search for them on their own… Facebook, on the other hand, curates videos for its users. The videos show up in the news feed based on what the Mighty Algorithm decides that user might want to see.” The ability to easily embed Facebook videos around the web will improve discoverability for Facebook-hosted content, and get more users “thinking of the platform as a video source.” This could pave the way for bigger changes down the line.
What This Means for Businesses
Should brands currently hosting videos on YouTube make the move to Facebook? According to SocialBakers, many think the answer is yes. In 2014, a survey of 180,000 Facebook video posts across 20,000 Facebook pages found that, by the end of the year, “Facebook posts [had] completely overtaken YouTube posts.” This was a big shift: In the first month of the year, YouTube posts were strongly in the lead, with over 50,000 more YouTube posts than Facebook posts. By December, the tables had turned, with brands, companies, and celebrities posting 20,000 more videos on Facebook than YouTube.
The same survey also found that “in terms of interactions, it’s really no contest. In January 2014, Facebook was getting just over half of all video interactions. In December, Facebook videos received more than 80% of all video interactions.” These endorsements are particularly telling—not only are brands posting more Facebook videos, but viewers are engaging with them more.
Facebook’s autoplay strategy might play a role in this increased engagement. According to Contently, “after only one quarter with the feature in place, Facebook witnessed a 134 percent increase in native video plays and a 58 percent increase in engagement.” Especially for brands willing to take the time and spend the money to create eye-catching content, autoplay is a surefire way to up engagement with video content and increase exposure. Companies can also use Facebook’s call-to-action feature to direct viewers to a particular landing page and capitalize on the attention.
These numbers are impressive. But brands shouldn’t necessarily react by leaving YouTube in the dust. YouTube is still incredibly important for video discoverability; their search functionality is far and beyond anything Facebook, which is still at its core a social network based on curation, offers. Plus, as MarketingLand notes, there’s no way to direct people to a brand’s “Facebook Video” page as you can a YouTube page, or a self-hosted page (users have to find the Video tab for themselves on FB). Right now, the best strategy for brands might be to publish different videos on each different networks, with different objectives. Timothy Blotz argues that “longer format videos are ideally suited for YouTube whereas Facebook holds the advantage with shorter messaging that’s meant to be perishable–in other words, needs to be seen now. In this case, Facebook is ideal for news videos and brands running time sensitive marketing promotions.”
The moral of the story? Right now, video dominance is YouTube’s to lose. But Facebook is fast advancing. Brands should do their best to be active in both places, and watch out for further developments down the line.