Brands

Facebook and Twitter’s Native Video Plans Are About to Transform Content Marketing in a Big Way

By Dillon Baker January 26th, 2015

Digital video is going native, and it’s important we all pay attention to the details.

While YouTube has long been king of the online video space, social media empires Facebook and Twitter are making big pushes to carve out their own slices of the fastgrowing video advertising market. For content marketers using the platforms—and really, who isn’t?—the rise of native video players on social networks is going to significantly change the way content marketers create and distribute video content.

With cable channels migrating online while Hulu, Amazon, and Netflix continue to flex their attention-hogging muscle, digital video is becoming an increasingly crowded space. Take a look at Wired‘s chart below, which outlines the websites with the most average time spent online. Video-intensive sites like YouTube, Netflix, and, yes, Facebook, dominate the race to capture the web’s most precious resource: user attention.

If Facebook and Twitter spent the last year beginning to take over the publishing world, video appears to be the next big step in their plans for media domination. Instead of simply hosting and distributing referral links and driving traffic to outside domains, social networks want to stop being middlemen and host video content natively on their own platforms—and given the amount of user attention video generates, it’s easy to see why.

This shift is going to raise the stakes in the content marketing world over the next year as the video space becomes more competitive and complex.

In the short term, content marketers need to understand the technical details of changing native video features on social media in order to take full advantage of the considerable traffic these networks drive. And long-term, as Facebook and Twitter gain momentum into the video space, their success will likely have huge implications for the future of marketing, media, and content. Let’s take a closer look.

Facebook, YouTube, and the “shift to video”

Facebook has been quickly and quietly building their new video empire over the past year, adding auto-play, view counts, and better mobile functions to their native video player. Most recently, they announced their acquisition of QuickFire Networks, which could lead to higher quality videos at a much lower bandwidth cost.

The network has already been quite successful in the initial stages of their so-called “shift to video,” citing mind-blowing numbers like an average of 1 billion views per day on video content since June 2014.

Some of their early success can be attributed to one-off phenomena like the Ice Bucket Challenge, much of which was shared organically through the network’s easy-to-use video creator. But Facebook’s implementation of auto-play on its native videos cannot be overlooked. Anyone who has used Facebook in the last few months has probably seen their feed filled with auto-play videos, which automatically begin to play (sans sound) as you scroll down.

On the surface, Facebook claims auto-play is meant to increase engagement, and indeed it has. It also conveniently has the side effect of making embedded players from other sites (which don’t have auto-play) seem obsolete. 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—YouTube and others, meanwhile, saw none of the benefits.

They’ve also made sure to minimize the effectiveness of YouTube. Just look at a comparison of the Facebook video player (top) and embedded YouTube video (below). 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.

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.

Indeed, as Mashable reports, YouTube videos on Facebook have been shared less and less and received less engagement, while Facebook’s native video stats have surged ahead.

Wilson Cleveland, founder and executive producer of Unboxd, a company that creates branded video series, has seen Facebook’s challenge to YouTube firsthand. “Facebook has become proactively inhospitable toward YouTube in order to compete,” he says. “Facebook loves chest-thumping its video victories, but they’ve deflated a few footballs to do it.”

However, Facebook has been able to strong-arm YouTube because both creators and viewers are responding to the functionality of its video player and easy-to-use targeting features.

“I’ve had a very positive experience with Facebook’s native player,” Cleveland adds. “The targeting functionality is much simpler, effective, and more intuitive than YouTube or AdWords.”

But even with all of its success so far, Facebook isn’t done yet. Their recent blog post “What the Shift to Video Means for Creators” suggests an even more aggressive effort is coming to supplant YouTube and other streaming video players.

At first glance, the post appears relatively innocuous. There are no big announcements, no explanations of some fundamental shift in the way Facebook hosts videos—just a few guidelines for brands and “content creators” using Facebook video. But once you consider all the implications of Facebook publicly telling content creators what to do, the post suddenly becomes a much bigger deal. Put simply, the message seems to be: Use Facebook’s native video player for posting content or risk being left out in the cold.

Content marketers need to listen up.

The post makes sure the reader understands just how powerful Facebook video has become, outlining some particularly juicy nuggets such as “more than 50 percent of people who come back to Facebook every day in the U.S. watch at least one video daily.” Hello, engagement.

Then, they dive into the importance of having short, visually appealing videos that take advantage of auto-play. This is something brands and content marketers need to be particularly conscious of when posting videos through Facebook’s native player. Auto-play provides a great opportunity to catch peoples’ attention, and as a result, those first few seconds are crucial.

The post then delivers perhaps its most important and aggressive note, telling content creators to post “raw” videos that “no one else will have.” The last line is particularly telling since it diverts from the “tips and tricks” vibe of the rest of the article. Posting content only on Facebook limits the potential relationships brands can build with their audiences, unless there is some sort of huge algorithmic advantage given to exclusive content or a lucrative deal to be had (as was the case when Facebook partnered with the NFL and Verizon).

If the push for exclusivity sounds like yet another challenge to YouTube, well, you wouldn’t be mistaken. In fact, Facebook has been aggressively wooing YouTube stars to post exclusively on the platform—though any revenue sharing details haven’t been undisclosed.

As Wilson says: “Until Facebook figures out video monetization—which I’m certain it will if it hasn’t already, YouTube creators have zero incentive to publish exclusively or window their content on Facebook.”

Without a monetization system in place, Facebook’s aggressive stance is only hurting YouTube stars dependent on pre-roll ads (which don’t play on Facebook) and views. For brands hoping to capitalize on YouTube stars’ amazing reach among teens, it’s a battle worth monitoring.

For now though, content marketers without any concerns of monetizing their videos should accept Facebook’s invitation to post through their native video player—assuming that they haven’t already—since it’s been proven these videos drive greater Facebook traffic.

Just how far Facebook will go in trying to consolidate digital video onto their platform remains to be seen—all we can say is that they’ve been wildly successful so far.

Twitter’s new native player

Facebook isn’t the only social network getting into the native-video game. Twitter is, too.

Compared to Facebook, Twitter has been a bit slower in the uptake of native video. The platform spent much of 2014 experimenting with brands to create premium video content, but is now, reportedly, finally poised to launch their own native player with unique benefits for content creators and advertisers.

Twitter’s tool will feature auto-play, except that, unlike Facebook, the service will let users create their own previews. For example, a brand can only use the first few seconds at the beginning of a video for the auto-play feature on Facebook, but on Twitter, the six-second auto-play teasers can come from the beginning, the middle, or the end of a video. That six-second limit to the auto-play makes sense for Twitter, as it aligns with the five- to six-second model of their other video service: Vine.

This customizable feature is perhaps the most interesting twist to Twitter’s native player, since it will allow content creators to be more flexible when structuring their videos.

Creating that all-important curiosity gap by teasing the viewer with the promise of something dramatic, funny, outrageous, and so on, will also be easier with customization in place. One lingering issue is if, and more likely when, Facebook will adopt the feature—assuming it proves to be successful.

In terms of monetizing video, Twitter will reportedly use a pay-to-play model similar to YouTube’s TrueView system. The pay-to-play model is also an interesting challenge to Facebook’s system since it only charges advertisers when users accept the invitation of the six-second teaser and click on a video. For advertisers, it’s much more financially efficient.

For now, Twitter is apparently going to establish different rules for brands and regular users. Brands will be able to create video content that runs up to 10 minutes, while users can only publish videos up to 30 seconds. It’s an odd decision that may get in the way of Twitter’s reputation for quick-hitting updates. One question worth asking: Will users accustomed to Vines and 30-second videos even bother to watch a 10-minute branded clip?

Whatever the case may be, Twitter’s eventual roll-out of their video player should be watched with a careful eye by any content marketer hoping to reach an audience through the platform.

Update (1/27): Twitter will officially begin to roll out their native video player starting today. The player appears to have launched without autoplay, despite speculation to the contrary. No explanation has been given.

The changing face of video and media

Some people, such as Awl columnist John Hermann, see these moves by Facebook and Twitter as part of a larger plan to fortify the content world into a “walled garden” of sorts, in which big social networks (plus Google) are the barons of distribution, while publishers are their content-creating serfs.

Derek Dodge, director of digital programming for Discovery Channel, summed up the changing perceptions on social media in a recent Variety article: “[This shift] changed the way we think about using Facebook. In the past we saw it as a marketing platform—now it’s more of a pure media platform.”

BuzzFeed, which always seems to be on the cutting edge of these trends, has already created its own team dedicated solely to creating content that lives natively on these platforms: BuzzFeed Distributed. They’ve also allocated significant funding and energy to build BuzzFeed Motion Pictures, which will produce video of all different lengths, formats, and platforms.

As Mashable points out, BuzzFeed has already stopped all YouTube posts to Facebook and completely embraced the platform’s native player. In turn, their engagement numbers increased dramatically. Don’t be surprised when they do the same for Twitter and see similar results.

All of this movement seems to be heating up the war between publishers and social media networks outlined in David Carr’s October article for The New York Times, in which publishers, dependent on places like Facebook and Twitter to distribute their content, are becoming increasingly marginalized by networks forcing them to play by new rules. Instead of homepages and independent websites having autonomy, Carr fears Facebook is pushing for a “wholesale transfer of content” in which much of media world is hosted on social media platforms.

A big motivation underlying this process likely comes from the advertising revenue that digital video has been swiping from TV. TV ad spend is still king, for now, but Facebook seems determined to shift that spending online, which has been shown to supplement and sometimes even surpass the ROI of traditional TV campaigns.

Overall, the multiple conflicts related to native video (between tech giants, between TV and digital video, and between publishers and social media) should be front and center in the minds of content marketers. Watch closely, because how these conflicts play out could change the way brands use video for the foreseeable future.

Image by Weng Lei
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