YouTube vs Facebook Video: The battle for big numbers

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By Jake Doran

Ever since Facebook introduced its own native video hosting, marketers have been keen to predict a battle of the titans between the incumbent social media behemoth and the current reigning champ of online video, YouTube. Should marketers be worried? Should we be changing our video strategy?

Across agencies and brands, media budgets and creative energy have shifted towards Facebook video, supported by recent growth in native video views - especially since the introduction of auto-play in the news feed.

In fact, it was reported last year that Facebook had out-performed YouTube for overall desktop video views for the first time, with about a billion more views than YouTube in August 2014.

So it’s easy to understand this shift towards Facebook when marketers want to see some big numbers on their videos. Because that’s what it’s all about, right? Big Numbers.

Facebook knows this and has done a lot to stack the cards in its favour. Over the last 18 months, Facebook has massively up-weighted the reach of Facebook video posts. In fact, video posts achieve almost twice the organic reach of any other post type (photos, links or statuses), pretty much making use of native video a foregone conclusion for marketers.

chart-fb-video-01

What’s in a number?

Facebook also moves the goalposts in terms of how it counts views. That little number underneath a video counting total views is measured very differently from the view counter on YouTube.

>  Facebook counts a view as anyone having watched a video for more than 3 seconds.

>  YouTube put a view at “around” 30 seconds.

You don’t need me to tell you which is more appealing to a marketer chasing those Big Numbers...

So Facebook wins, right?

Well, sort of. The point is that it shouldn’t come down to an either Facebook or YouTube decision. We should instead be thinking about the user behaviour on these channels and the fundamental differences between the two.

YouTube is, above all else, a search engine. As such, users go there with the express intent of finding a video to watch and then sitting and watching that video. It’s an active user behaviour.

Facebook, however, is almost the opposite - it’s passive. Facebook brings the videos to you, through its curated newsfeed. Its key objective when serving content to you is to distract; hence the auto-playing feature. Any post in a newsfeed on Facebook has to contend with dozens of other posts and catch the attention of a user who has a very quick-scrolling thumb.

These differences in behaviour and function of the platform also has a massive effect on the half-life of videos. Facebook receives half of its views on the first day of being published and the rest of its views in the days following that. This makes sense - Facebook is a pretty ephemeral platform, with posts disappearing off the bottom of a news feed pretty quickly.

Compare that to YouTube with its search functionality, related videos, channel subscriptions and embeds. It’s built for the long tail. Videos that were posted five years ago are still receiving a good amount of views and videos tend only to get 20% of its views in the first day with the other 80% coming in the following months.

So what should you use?

Looking at the user behaviour, features of the platforms and lifetime of videos, we can come to a pretty straightforward video strategy.

Facebook is all about grabbing attention and short-term engagement. So bear the following in mind when creating content for it:

>  Videos views only last a couple of days.
>  Shorter videos that work in isolation perform better on the platform.
>  Don’t try and do a programmatic video series on there.
>  Don’t try and post a 20-minute long behind-the-scenes documentary. People aren’t in the right frame of mind to settle in and watch it.
>  Do post short form video that work without sound.
>  Do use big title cards in the first three seconds to grab users’ attention and let them know if the video will appeal to them.
>  Do think about the possibilities of not treating it like a traditional video at all - Facebook video can be used in place of gifs or cinemagraphs.

For YouTube, you want to be thinking about:

>  Longer videos.
>  Programmatic series.
>  Building up subscribers.
>  Using playlists.
>  Having a well organised channel.

Doing the above will make it easier to create videos in a series and to prompt users to keep checking back for the next video. It’s probably the channel that you want to use for any campaign that relies heavily on video.

Of course, the two platforms can work pretty well together too. If you’ve got a series of campaign videos hosted on YouTube, racking up long tail views, why not edit the funniest, most interesting segments into a 30 second video to use on Facebook? People who like what they see can then click the Facebook ‘Watch more’ button and go through to the YouTube experience. Also, the short, big burst of views that Facebook supplies is also great for launching campaigns, before handing the reigns over to YouTube.

What now?

Yes, Facebook video is a powerful new tool in your content marketing shed, but you shouldn’t let it replace your YouTube strategy. Instead, think about developing a multi-channel approach to get the best out of either platform.

Of course, all of the above is entirely useless if you’re making something that no one wants to watch. Think, “Is this interesting to someone outside the advertising industry?”

If you have to ask yourself how you can get people to share the video, you’ve already failed. Getting people to share your content because you’ve incentivised it with a prize, baked it into the campaign mechanic or hidden it behind a wall will help with those Big Numbers, but doesn’t mean that you’ve cut through in any meaningful way. Make it good, make it interesting, make it funny and put it in the right place.