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Facebook Has Been Inflating Video Views For Two Years… And We Aren’t Surprised

We’ve all been there: scrolling through our Facebook news feed and triggering a video to autoplay. We pause for a moment - let’s say three seconds - and then move on. According to Facebook’s metrics, that pause counts as a video view because they define a view as a minimum of three seconds. But we know that three seconds hardly counts as actual consumption of content. That “view” is unknowingly triggered when you look up to check the score, answer your spouse’s question or reach the end of the Target checkout line.

Since Facebook rolled out video ads and heavily pushed advertisers to prioritize video over other ad products, we’ve been referring to what we call “the three-second rule” - ensure your content is so engaging that it inspires users to stop and watch for more than the pause described in the situation above. We’ve also been advising our clients to ignore that video metric and instead look at more meaningful data - 30-second views, video engagements and average duration of video viewed.

Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal exposed more flaws with Facebook’s video metrics. For the past two years, they have been calculating the average duration of video viewed by ONLY looking at views of three-seconds or more, inflating that metric and completely disregarding any view shorter than three seconds. For advertisers who have spent sizable investments with Facebook video ads, this comes as an unwelcome surprise.

But I'd like to challenge that surprise a bit. If, as an advertiser, you have been creating content that garners less than three seconds of viewing time (or, frankly, less than 30 seconds of viewing time), it's time to reevaluate your approach to creating social video content. In Internet-speak: you're doing it wrong.

We don't want Facebook users to only catch a hot second of our content. We want them to settle in and watch as much as possible. We want to create content that draws in users the same way those Buzzfeed-produced Tasty videos do with their no-frills cooking demonstrations.

So before getting completely up in arms about Facebook’s flawed metrics, let’s look at best practices for creating video content that people actually want while taking advantage of autoplay.

  1. Capture a user’s attention quickly. Don't linger on your logo or a title card right out of the gate. Jump right in with your most visually-enticing content.
  2. Optimize content for no sound. Most videos are consumed with the sound turned off. Who wants to be that guy watching a video on the subway with the sound on? No one. So it’s crucial that visual cues, text, and subtitles tell the story. The audio should be the supporting character while the other elements take the lead.
  3. Build for mobile feed first. While it’s much easier to leverage existing video content and throw it on Facebook, video optimized for mobile feed takes the previous two points into consideration. Optimizing for vertical viewing by framing the content to be 1:1 vs. the standard 16x9 will take up more mobile real estate and let your content shine.

Yes, Facebook messed up. Yes, they should be held accountable, but that doesn’t mean you should count video out all together. There are a number of other precautions advertisers can take to ensure their videos are viewed and measured accurately. Video distribution platforms now allow advertisers to run in a brand safe environment and buy only on a cost per completed view to ensure you only pay when a user engages. MMGY also partners with third party verification tools to ensure our videos are verified for completion and viewability rates.

By 2017, video content will make up more than 74 percent of Internet traffic. By being smart about video, how content is created and optimized by channel as well as looking at measurement that matters, advertisers can still be successful with video on and off Facebook. 

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