Facebook video usage has skyrocketed over the past year, which makes it particularly attractive for publishers given what seems to be ever-shrinking organic reach with other types of posts.
According to figures recently released by the social network, Facebook users are seeing nearly 4 times more video in their feeds compared to one year ago. That’s a steady 1 billion video views every day for the network. Crucially, chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg said during a an earnings call last month that over 65 percent of videos are watched on mobile devices.
As online video continues to rise in importance for the modern media company, I spoke to a handful of top publishers to collect some best practices for using video on Facebook, and to better understand what might be at risk.
The Economist: Marketing the brand with video
“For us it’s about reach and informing people that The Economist doesn’t just write about finance and economics all the time.”
Before posting videos to Facebook, The Economist had the fairly standard practice amongst news outlets of publishing video on its own website and monetising through pre-roll advertising. Last summer however, Tom Standage, deputy editor and head of digital strategy, decided that wasn’t “a viable long-term video strategy”.
After effectively doubling the publication’s video views by posting video content to YouTube, Standage started experimenting with uploading videos via the native Facebook player, which had “a much greater impact” on the number of views. He says:
“We are using this observation that if you post videos with a native player you can get millions of views as the basis of a new video strategy which we are still developing. For us it’s about reach and informing people that The Economist doesn’t just write about finance and economics all the time.”
The Economist’s most successful video on Facebook was a 4 minute-long animated graphic with voice-over about demographics, what Standage calls a “live chart”. The publication has had over 800,000 views on Facebook alone of that video.
Standage says short video works best, and particularly “explainers”, a format that has become very popular recently. He specified:
“Pretty much anything we make is less than 10 minutes and nearly all we make is less than three minutes.”
The Economist currently produces two to three videos a week, and everything gets posted to its own website, Facebook, and YouTube. It is also currently exploring Twitter’s recently launched native video player.
The Financial Times: Understanding the tradeoffs
“Facebook is a very important brand marketing and editorial channel for publishers, but there is currently no route to monetising this inventory.”
According to Kayode Josiah, the FT’s business development manager for video, The Financial Times selects video specifically for social sharing, which does not constitute a large amount of its total video production.
When experimenting with Facebook video as a marketing tool, publishers’ objectives tend to fall into one of two camps, which Josiah highlighted in an email to me: on one hand you have “’views’, ‘content marketing’ and ‘brand awareness’ and on the other ‘advertising’, ‘revenue’, and ‘route to subscription’.”
And this is a crucial point about Facebook’s native player; there is currently no way for publishers to place advertising on their videos when uploading them to Facebook directly. To monetise video views on Facebook, a publisher must upload through its own player or an external network like YouTube and share that link to Facebook. However, this strategy seems to result in fewer views, due to Facebook’s apparent prioritisation of videos uploaded through its own native player, as noted by Standage and others.
Josiah points out that Facebook has been smart to provide publishers with the analytics dashboard and rich quality data about the performance of their videos:
“This is especially important to help us understand the reach and engagement of our audience with FT content. Facebook is a very important brand marketing and editorial channel for publishers but there is currently no route to monetising this inventory.”
The FT has also found explainer videos work well on Facebook, as well as technology pieces and reportage about the economies of certain markets, particularly Asia.
AJ + – Strategies for Facebook versus YouTube
“Not all views are equal.”
At AJ+, Al Jazeera’s global news operation aimed at millennials (between the ages of 18 and 34), executive producer David Cohn has taken a very experimental approach to Facebook video. One thing he’s sure of:
“The first 10 seconds have to have very strong visuals and have to start to tell the story without sound.”
Cohn says AJ+ sees slightly higher retention on YouTube than Facebook, but pointed out that it might be due to the way Facebook counts a view (3 seconds of autoplay) versus YouTube, “which takes a little more commitment (doesn’t auto-play)”. The question for Cohn becomes, which viewer is more valuable in terms of their intent and commitment to viewing the content, because as he put it, “not all views are equal”.
Another significant difference Cohn notes is in how content is discovered on Facebook versus YouTube:
“YouTube is driven by search whereas Facebook is driven by the obvious (social networking, friends, etc). So the same content may get different headline/text around it in each space to help its searchability or shareablility.”
In terms of types of video, AJ+ has three styles for Facebook: one minute videos about news of the day, three to five minute videos that dive a little deeper with context on important topics, and 10-15 minute short web documentaries. The news operation’s most successful video, The best State of the Union memes, is just over one minute long, and has just over one million views.
L’Obs: Marketing video with shorter videos
“You have to create a real frustration in the viewer”
While The Economist and FT have found success on Facebook with explainer videos, France’s third largest news website, L’OBS, has a new format of 10 second “teasers” that its team is very excited about.
Aurélien Viers, head of digital news development at L’OBS, told me the key is:
“To create a real frustration in the viewer. They have to be eager to click and discover what’s next.”
The teasers, like this five second one, show only a glimpse of a full video, and are designed to entice viewers to click through and watch the full piece on the L’OBS site.
Viers said L’OBS uses the Facebook native player exclusively for these teasers, and has been experimenting with the “call to action” feature Facebook offers, which allows publishers to display a link at the end of the video.
While very satisfied in term of impressions, reach, and engagement, Viers says he’s been a bit disappointed by the conversion rates from the call to action feature. He chalks this up to a design issue on Facebook’s part, as only the first portion of a URL shows up and it can seem like the link simply points to the homepage of the website, instead of the full video which is being teased through the short Facebook clip.
To date, L’OBS’ most successful video on Facebook is only 37s long and showed some of the first amateur footage of the Charlie Hebdo attack, which racked up over 1.3 million views.
It’s worth noting that something like The Economist’s global demographic data, when presented creatively, racked up around 800,000 views, nearly as much of an audience on Facebook as a major international breaking news story or AJ+’s meme video that was primed for shareability.
It’s a time for experimenting, intelligently
Both the numbers released by Facebook, and the statements of its executives, indicate a meteoric rise of video appearing in Facebook users’ feeds. Zuckerberg himself even let on that “video is a very big priority” during last year’s Q3 earnings call. His next sentence? “News is a very big priority”.
Facebook is so keen on video that the social network has even begun courting top YouTube talent. Earlier this month, YouTube’s most popular news channel, The Young Turks, released the first episode of “Final Judgment”, a news show created especially for its Facebook audience and conceived jointly with the social network.
As publishers continue to experiment with different video formats on Facebook, it’s important they do so deliberately, understanding who they are creating video for, and what their objectives are for that audience.
Is the aim to drive monetisation, spread a brand message, or as David Cohn put it, is it:
“All in service of being native to the platform itself – treating the experience of users there as best we can”.
Garrett Goodman is European Director of Business Development for Wochit, a video creation platform for news publishers.