I’ve had to spend more time getting acquainted with Premium Video Ads on Facebook lately. You know how it is: Everyone wants to know more about “the new new thing.” Facebook started testing Premium Video Ads a year ago to help advertisers drive branding objectives in other people’s News Feed, not to give its users “an easier way to watch videos shared by friends.”
At the time, an anonymous post in Facebook for Business said, “Without having to click or tap play, videos come to life in News Feed and start playing without sound.” That’s like a French mime dropping by uninvited at a German beer garden. People might notice, but no one is going to engage him in a friendly conversation. Then, in March 2014, Facebook introduced these ads on Facebook with a select group of advertisers.
Auto-play Facebook Videos Ads: Intrusive and Unwelcome
Premium Video Ads were designed for advertisers “who want to reach a large audience with high-quality sight, sound and motion.” Each 15-second video ad would start playing without sound as it appeared on screen and stop if people scrolled past. If people tapped the video, it would expand into a full-screen view and sound would start. People begin seeing these new ads over the following months. And they were about as welcome as a Scottish bagpiper at an English pub. (Yes, I know Scotland voted “No” to independence, but I’ll defend my choice of metaphor anywhere south of Hadrian’s Wall.)
Now, in May 2014, I admit that I was encouraged when Facebook announced that new video metrics in Page Insights and Ads Reporting were “coming soon.” But I’m an online video marketer. People like me get excited to see information like video views, unique video views, the average duration of the video view, and audience retention. But expecting normal Facebook users to embrace new metrics that are designed to help us learn what’s resonating with people and determine how to more effectively create and promote our videos on Facebook is like expecting New York Yankees fans to hug Boston Red Sox fans as they watch the Baltimore Orioles lose to the Kansas City Royals. Ain’t gonna happen.
Social Video is for Sharing, Not For Controlling Us
I’m telling you all this because, well, I’m a columnist. Besides, it provides some context for a couple of other things that internet marketers and video content producers will want to get their arms around.
Back on April 25, 2014, Gary Turk, a British filmmaker and spoken word performer, published “Look Up” to YouTube. According to the video’s description, it’s “a spoken word film for an online generation.” The video has more than 47 million views and, according to the Viral Video Chart, has almost 1.5 million shares, including close to 1.4 million on Facebook.
Turk’s “Look Up” is a lesson taught to us through a love story, in a world where we continue to find ways to make it easier for us to connect with one another, but always results in us spending more time alone. He says, “I don't want you to stop using social media or smartphones. It's about finding a balance. It's about making sure you are awake, alive and living life in the moment; instead of living life through a screen.”
Then, on Sept. 29, 2014, Richard Williams, better known by his stage name Prince EA, published “Can We Auto-Correct Humanity?” Prince EA is an American rapper, music video director, and rights activist from St Louis, Missouri. His video already has more than 5 million views and almost 160,000 shares, including more than 152,000 on Facebook. (In fact, I “discovered” the video this morning because my oldest son had shared it on Facebook last night.)
Prince EA explains why he refuses to let technology control him. In the video’s description, he says, “You need not delete your social networks or destroy your cell phones, the message is simple, be balanced, be mindful, be present, be here. :)”
I would argue that both artists are the proverbial canaries in the coal mine. There’s been a mood swing and Facebook is now being called “anti-social.” How does this tie back to Facebook’s roll out of Premium Video Ads? Well, as everyone on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean understand, it was done to help Facebook make more money, not to give its users “an easier way to watch videos shared by friends.”
Does This Matter to Online Video Marketers Like Us?
Well, check out the chart below. Compete PRO has just released its latest data and YouTube has inched back ahead of Facebook again. In September 2014, YouTube.com had 166,897,135 unique visitors and Facebook.com had 166,886,745. If this horse race were over, that would be a photo finish. But the horse race isn’t over.
Nevertheless, it appears that Premium Video Ads on Facebook haven’t made the social network more friends. Artists aren’t telling us to “stop using social media,” but they are urging us to have a more “balanced” relationship with Facebook. Meanwhile, a very large number of people are still visiting YouTube.com and sharing YouTube videos on Facebook and Twitter, and embedding them in blogs.
So, here’s the “net net” on the new new thing: Premium Video Ads on Facebook aren’t the “game changer” that some had predicted. They’re an incremental opportunity that you may want to explore, but you shouldn’t expect Facebook users to go wild when they see them. They understand that it’s not personal; it’s business.