As social video becomes of more prominence in online video buys and of increasing interest to brands in all verticals, it seems helpful to have a full look at the current landscape of social video, its players, buying tactics, strategies, results from social video campaigns, as well as what's on the horizon for social video.

The Age of Social Video: Overview

What is a Social Video Campaign?

First, let’s define what social video is. A social video campaign is one in which paid media is used to instigate earned media en masse around a video asset. Unlike other video buys that simply distribute videos in traditional ad units, social video campaigns usually leverage native ad formats and social platforms like YouTube to change the user's immediate perception from "just another ad" to "content I've discovered".

On that note, social video campaigns are usually focused around more content driven than ad driven videos. These usually are in the form of short/long form branded assets, which usually attempt to be humorous, but can also include web series, public service announcements, political ads, how-to's and other forms of branded content. Occasionally, social video campaigns will be used to try and make a standard repurposed television asset go "viral", which works to varying degrees. Indeed the most successful social video campaigns use the initial paid media burst (AKA video seeding) to elevate their videos in front of their audiences in the social sphere from which point the quality of that video content carries it to holy land of staggering amounts of earned media and critical acclaim.

Social Video vs. Viral Video

It's also important to note the difference between "viral videos" and "social videos".

  1. A viral video is an asset that is uploaded to the Internet and, without any paid media distribution of that asset, sees significant viewership.
  2. A social video is an asset, usually produced by a brand to promote itself or its products, that is uploaded to the internet and uses paid media distribution to kick start its viewership in hopes to have it rise in the social sphere and amass significant viewership and engagement.

A video of a cat slipping off the kitchen countertop that garners 30,000 views is a viral video. An Old Spice video that garners 15MM views is a social video.

Social Video Campaign Buying Tactics

Move Over Viral, Weve Entered the Age of Social Video incentive carrots 200x146 There are a few main buying tactics that all of these companies use to fuel their campaigns. The foremost is the use of social rewarded platforms (incentivized platforms). This fact was a bit of a dirty little secret about a year ago because the vendors weren't necessarily forthcoming about the use of this inventory when selling social video campaigns to their clients. As advertisers began to shift from the "give me as many views as humanly possible" mindset and became more concerned with the mechanics of these campaigns and engagement beyond views, social video vendors were forced to begin outlining where they were actually buying their inventory. This is not to say that social rewarded inventory is not valuable, quite the opposite actually, but rather it was perceived as such since the vendors were not forthcoming about their use of it.

Social rewarded inventory has as many pros as it does cons, some of which are that targeting is much more granular than in other types of inventory as well as it being a fantastic inventory source to target moms and, best of all, it's very cost effective. The hesitancy around social rewarded views from the brand's perspective is simply that the brand is not infatuated with the idea of incentivizing a user to watch their video. On top of that, if social rewarded campaigns are setup poorly the users can turn on the brand in their comments on the video being promoted.

Beyond social rewarded inventory, most social video companies use display buys to drive viewership. This can either be in the form of placing a buy on a non-owned & operated network or leveraging a display network built out in blogs that the company has partnerships with. As any media buyer can imagine, this is a much less cost effective way to buy than social rewarded views since display is bought on a CPM and social rewarded on a CPV/CV.

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The last method which some companies use to drive audiences is by gaining editorial or "native" placements on contextually relevant sites (think a placement on Gizmodo for a new cell phone video) and then placing media buys on social networks and other CPC inventory sources to direct them to that placement to consume that video content.

Paid Media Strategy & Desired Results

So now that we've touched on the different buying tactics of social video companies, what's the point of it all? As mentioned earlier in the article, the point of these paid media buys across different inventory sources is to instigate critical mass around a video asset in such a manner so that video begins to rise in the YouTube charts.

Move Over Viral, Weve Entered the Age of Social Video youtube charts 300x253

YouTube Charts -

The YouTube charts are comprised of videos that YouTube's algorithms determine are trending much in the way that websites are ranked in Google's organic search based on relevance to the search keywords. Once a video rises into the YouTube charts it has the opportunity for users who are browsing those charts to discover that video for themselves, click to watch, and share that video, all organically. If a social video campaign is ran well and the video is engaging, the video will rise to the top ten in its respective YouTube chart, which will then get that video placed organically on the homepage of YouTube.

Homepage placement on YouTube means that your video can potentially see around 5MM+ unique organic impressions per day that it's on the homepage (YT has about 155MM uniques/mo). Along with the SEO in YouTube, the video asset will also receive SEO within Google search for keywords related to the video content as well as being syndicated out to all mobile devices that have the YouTube app built in (iOS, Android).

All of these organic placements across the YouTube/Google platform are what drives the high amounts of earned media for the video assets and is the seed for users to begin sharing to their other social platforms like Facebook, Twitter, etc.

What's Next for Social Video?

So there you have it, social video, but what's next?

Although social video campaigns are much more social than running video campaigns through traditional display and preroll buys, they are still limited in the aspect that they are using paid media to distribute the video assets themselves. Therein lies the problem. It's the paid distribution tactics used to launch social video campaigns which keep them from being truly social. So how do we, as an industry, tackle this issue and take social video to the next level and deliver truly social video campaigns?

Move Over Viral, Weve Entered the Age of Social Video influencers 200x150 Some leading brands and vendors are recognizing that by leveraging influential users on social platforms to engage with their brand they're able to spark real discussions and engagement around the brand that paid media simply cannot deliver.

It's important to note that these types of influencer based campaigns may not garner the millions upon millions of views that brands have been drunk on over the past year or two, but rather the high levels of true engagement with the brand is worth much more than paying for those millions of often empty views. This is not to say that social video does not have its place in the online video ecosystem, but rather that it's our duty as an industry to incessantly pursue new ways to deliver content to our audiences in increasingly authentic ways so that they are eager to engage and evangelize it.

One thing is for sure, the days of pushing traditional video advertising down consumers' throats are gone.

  • Kare Anderson

    Fascinating article here by Nic De Castro that I found via Captimo, reinforcing my view that video will be at the center of disruptive, consumer-serving businesses, entertainment, education, causes and our social lives in 2013. I cited an example re Sir Richard Branson's son, Sam and his smart collaboration in my last Forbes column... and the related tools are getting invented at an ever faster rate, some that even non-geeks like me can enjoy using like Sphericam which has a kickstarter campaign underway right now, touted at Tech Crunch

  • Cal

    Its my opinion that: For clarity, of the classification of verbiage here, on Social vs Viral..

    What we are all failing to see is that the Emperor is not wearing any clothes. It appears that all Social Media is now geared to enter the business world. We first start out with: "Create A Relationship" to garner trust, no selling of product or services, only ideas , then we move on to state, that trust will allow you to "Conduct Business". Lets define the objectives here first then we can label them correctly.

    Money must and will transfer somewhere in this chain of events. From the provider of the platform (FB,Twitter,Google,..) or through marketing or advertising, even to include memberships and POS (Point of Sale) events.

    • Grant Crowell

      I disagree with that. While much of social media is money-driven, most activity and around social media is not tied to any such financial transactions. It's based on personal communication, collaboration, and community. That's what we really need to value as truly "social."

  • jimmfox

    Interesting post Nic. Not really sure however, if your suggested labelling adds clarity or confusion.

    The common interpretation of a 'viral' video (up until your post...) is a video that spreads slowly at first then very rapidly (through social networks)... that's about it. Many successful commercial 'viral' videos have benefited from some form of seeding efforts. So you're saying that these aren't really viral videos, they are social videos... OK.

    "Social' video would normally (when I say 'normally' I mean by me...) be interpreted as any video that is primarily spread through social channels - 'Numa Numa', 'Will-it-blend' or otherwise. You're saying that 'social' videos are not defined by the networks they spread through (social vs broadcast as an example) but rather by the fact that their spread is initiated by some form of paid promotion / seeding / pr/ etc.... OK.

    I read the differentiation in your definitions then to be one of intent - viral is non-commercial and social has commercial intent. That labelling is actually counter-intuitive IMHO.

    I absolutely agree that there is misinterpretation in the labelling of videos today. I.e. calling a video 'viral' doesn't make it viral any more than calling it 'awesome' makes it awesome. Same holds true for the 'social' label. All videos are social if they spread through social networks but all videos don't necessarily spread virally.

    So while I applaud your effort at trying to add clarity to labelling I'm not sure if this post really achieved that.

    • Nic De Castro

      Very insightful, Jim, thanks for the comment! I agree with the labeling being counterintuitive, but I think that is inherent with how social platforms are changing the way we're advertising. I don't actually believe that there is a dichotomous relationship here per se, however as I mentioned in my reply to Tim below, I'm trying to push some normalization in the way that we speak to marketers about social video.

  • Michael Schaefer

    Curious to know your thoughts on the impact of interactive video in all this.

    • Nic De Castro

      I think your example is of a great piece of tech overlay that simply shortens the conversion funnel for audiences to actually buy product or take other actions (we are marketers after all.) This is a great side dish to the main course of the actual video content itself, which ideally is created by someone who knows that audience intimately (aka an influencer).

  • Dave Holland

    Thanks Nic - really interesting concepts -would be good to see some case studies if have time.

    • Nic De Castro

      Thank you for reading, Dave! Absolutely, feel free to shoot me a note- [email protected]

  • Tim Schmoyer

    I'm not sure I agree with either of those definitions of social vs viral video and thus some of the content that comes thereafter. Viral isn't about views as much as it's about sharing that surrounds a video. And a "social video" doesn't have to be backed with paid promotion. In fact, it doesn't even have to be an ad at all.

    • Grant Crowell

      I would offer this; "viral" is commonly accepted as the state which a video registers a very large amount of views, which either all or a significant enough part of those views coming from "shares." There are many viral videos that started off as paid promotion/ads, which found a new audience through shares. That being said, you're right, a viral video does not require any advertising or other paid promotion.

      Here's the industry problem: There are many companies that would like to provide that service under the pretenses that "going viral" is the end-game and will naturally lead to the desired business result -- both wrong! The same can be said for those who think that as long as a video has a certain number of shares, that will qualify it as a successful "social video." My position is that we need to have a higher standard of engagement if we really want to give some value to the term "social video" beyond just shares. It needs to be about the quality of engagement in a proper context to both the consumer and the business model, and all other stakeholders in the mix.

    • Nic De Castro

      Thanks for the comment, Tim (ps- big fan!). I think what we can see from the activity here is that there is still quite a bit up in the air in regards to how to define the space. What I do like about the model that I have set forth in this article is that is it fairly cut and dry: social video = paid support of a video asset; viral video = unpaid support of a video asset that sees fairly significant viewership/shares (even this is a little ambiguous). I believe it is also perspective. I am a VP who built a company that works with all of the largest agencies and brands and have to make this message digestible for my audience so that they can then buy and measure it. My issue with your comment, although I don't necessarily disagree with it, is that if you were to discuss viral in those terms and then refuse to label social video as I have, you have lost your audience in a mire of ambiguity.

      • Tim Schmoyer

        Thanks for the response, Nic. My comment wasn't really meant to be a fully thought-out explanation/defense/objection/definition or anything. Just that I would define them very differently than you have. No hard feelings. :)

      • Grant Crowell

        By that standard, paying for sex shouldn't be called "prostitution," but a "social engagement!" (Don't get me started on the "viral" part.)

        Sorry, but I think basing social on how much money is being thrown at it is COMPLETELY missing the point, and makes the word "social" come across as phony. There are many brands that will pay a shitload of money to have their television ad repurposed and promoted on YouTube, but all the money they have won't make it any more social than that solo business person who actually takes the time to personally engage with their audience and help them out (which is exactly what Tim does.)

        Even though I completely disagree with both of Nic's definitions (sorry Nic), I applaud him for his being truly "social" on here with is thoughtful perspective and very considerate responses -- it's always great to have a healthy debate.

        Screw Viral, Tube Responsibly!

  • Grant Crowell

    It's interesting how digital advertisers view "social" in terms of quantity, while relationship marketers view "social" in terms of quality. The first group is built largely around mass-attention and awareness, and the second group is built around much smaller audiences for cultivating deeper engagement. The first group also speaks of video as content, while the second group speaks of it more as part of conversations (or a catalyst thereof). Digital advertisers and their creative teams are excellent at "seeding" video; and I believe they stand to do a much better job with their campaigns by working with Community teams (be them client-driven or another agency, or even just the communities that are already online.)

    • Nic De Castro

      Thanks for the comment, Grant. I completely agree with your analysis and have built our business to service both sides. I believe that the future of online video advertising lies in the approach that relationship marketers are taking. We're finding that when you tie the two strategies together, Paid Social Video for awareness and Organic Social Video for meaningful engagement, you have a more holistic social video campaign than ever before.

      • Grant Crowell

        You're very welcome, and thank you as well, Nic. You're right, it is a moving target with how YouTube and other social networks are enhancing their connectivity. I think the key is to have all groups talking with each other and know what they're doing, so they can be very responsive to the chatter that comes both before and after you seed your video content. When you think about it, social is also about customer service and caring for others -- something that can tend to get lost with those suffering from a "Viral Video Mentality." (Again, good job!)

    • Mark Robertson

      Amen Grant... Well stated

  • Nic De Castro

    UPDATE: Due to the ever changing YouTube environment, with updates as recently as a few days ago, some of the charting and other aspects of social video strategies must also evolve and adapt.