Why I Changed My Mind on Facebook Native Video

I have biases like everyone else.

Working at Machinima a number of years ago and being a part of the explosion of YouTube MCNs (you are welcome Maker and Fullscreen) has colored my view of digital video. Though, over the years the goals of digital videos hasn’t changed much – drive views and engagement, and at a high level increase awareness, consideration and purchase intent.

For some time my view has been to use YouTube as your hub for your videos and then embed them across Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, LinkedIn, etc. There were great reasons to take that approach and shun something like Facebook’s native video player:

  • YouTube is the “Scoreboard” for advertisers and the arbiter of success.
  • It is difficult to find and embed individual videos on Facebook for digital PR. Bloggers many times write about individual campaigns or videos and then simply embed the YouTube URL. Facebook privacy and log-in settings make this difficult and there aren’t simple video hub destinations/URLs on Facebook.
  • Videos have a longer tail than other pieces of content. Once the video is posted on Facebook, it quickly disappears (minus paid promotion) into the News Feed ether and the videos are hard to find at a later point. Videos live forever and are easily discovered on YouTube.
  • To that end, brands miss out on the added views from Video SEO from Google/YouTube and “Trending Videos” and other traffic drivers within YouTube.
  • Subscribers tend to watch more videos than non-subscribers while additionally providing a baseline of organic views for future videos. If you upload natively you miss out on a chance to build that subscriber base on YouTube.
  • You are unable to annotate out to another video or domain and continue the story.
  • User initiated video is more consumer friendly than auto-play.

The last two bolded points are now less an issue that before.

Annotations don’t work on mobile and with 40% of YouTube’s global views coming from mobile devices combined with annotations not always enabled for all publishers when embedded as well as needing to be whitelisted to show up during paid media, a great tactic from a few years ago is no longer as compelling.

And in terms of auto-play videos on YouTube, two big campaigns have trojan-horsed them into mainstream acceptance. The first were the “10 Year Anniversary” personalized videos that were so popular in February 2014. It was the first large scale usage of video on the platform, and arguably the first widespread test of what consumer’s reaction and feedback would be to feed-based video. I do believe that had there been huge pushback from consumers, videos might not have been become a common feature so quickly.

Keep in mind also that Facebook presented the concept of auto-play videos in the News Feed to brands and agencies a year prior than that. At that point, the pitch to brands was in a fragmented digital marketplace “every day is the Super Bowl on Facebook” and the ability for your video to be in every person’s feed for one day came with a price tag of $1-$2 million. I’m speculating, but it would seem that the feedback that Facebook received caused them to hold off on rolling out the product, and my additional guess was they waited to first make them commonplace to Facebook users. If Facebook had just tossed a few auto-play videos from advertisers into the global feed of everyone my posit at the time was that there would be a instant and violent reaction directed towards both Facebook and the brands involved.

And maybe there still would have been if they rolled them out right after the “10 Year” videos. But something even bigger took place: the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge that became a phenomenon a few months ago. Not only were people now sharing these videos, the common consumer (not brand) were both creating and sharing these videos on Facebook. That this penetration and acceptance was on the back of a great cause from close friends (and celebrities of all types) matters not. Great content has always been the keystone of effective social media.

The result was that a large number of Facebook users both understood the mechanics of auto-play videos and accepted them in their newsfeed.  And on the heels of that is the push Facebook is rolling out further improvements to video analytics as well as making a concerted PR push around the benefits of Facebook video vs. YouTube video. The “every day is a Super Bowl” paid video ads are surely to follow.

And they pulled one product lever that helped to really help with direct comparisons: embedded YouTube videos with Facebook posts now look worse than native Facebook videos on both desktop and mobile. That fact alone has caused engagement to be higher for the Facebook native videos vs. YouTube embeds. The data says it is so and that’s something savvy marketers cannot easily ignore.

And so my view has shifted as well, not just because of the engagement increases for Facebook but because Twitter and Tumblr are both rolling out similar native video capabilities.

I still feel that YouTube should be the hub for your videos for all the factors listed, mainly discoverability and PR, but I’ve changed my mind in terms of native social platform videos in general.

As mentioned, ultimately, your goals are to get both views and engagement. And videos uploaded within their rich sharing environments combined with the fact that all platforms are making their natively uploaded videos more visually appealing means that you will get more engagement in total if you upload videos separately to each.


And with Twitter and Tumblr following suit and with Instagram and Vine with their own video formats it’s hard to argue which way the wind is blowing.

And when we as marketers talk about creating authentic assets for each platform this falls into that category. Sure, it’s still the same file being uploaded – but it’s being uploaded natively vs. being embedded.

It sucks from a reporting standpoint. And a PR standpoint. And a Video SEO standpoint. And an overall consolidation of views standpoint.

But ultimately, the best thing to do is to get the most visibility for your videos. That is what matters.

I’ve always disliked stubborn people not open to change, especially in an industry as dynamic as digital marketing. So with the winds of change blowing wild and free, I freely, without shame, change my tune.

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