Are Facebook’s Recent Changes to Videos Affecting Its User Experience?

Opinion: In the past, Facebook has prioritized user experience above all else, but the latest changes reveal a shift in the social giant’s model

Facebook just changed things up. Here’s what you need to know.

In the past, Facebook has prioritized user experience above all else, but the latest changes reveal a shift in the social giant’s model.

One update allows videos on Facebook to play with automatic sound by default, which could be beneficial for advertisers, if users stick around to watch.

While major brands are interested in more options to incorporate sound into video ads, the move is a fascinating choice for Facebook, as it can also be seen as a massive step backward in UX. Auto-play sound-on videos is frequently near the top of ad formats most detested by users.

At Dose, we see that 79 percent of videos are viewed without sound across Facebook and other platforms and more than 60 percent of all video interaction is seen on mobile. Users value convenience, choices and privacy, which includes choosing how, where and when they watch videos on social.

The mid-roll ad update is another shift away from user needs, but this time to appease publishers. The 45 percent/55 percent revenue-splitting ads allow publishers to reap the benefits of highly shared videos by inserting ads mid-way through.

While these may not be as significant of a turn-off as YouTube’s pre-roll ads, it’s likely to lead to increased drop-off rates among viewers. This may be one reason why Facebook is testing another new feature that asks users to finish watching videos they started in their News Feed and then abandoned.

If you don’t caption your videos, you’re lighting money on fire

At Dose, we’ve been captioning our videos for years because it has a huge impact on views, shares and overall interaction. It is an essential part of the equation when it comes to optimizing content for social. Countless hours of testing content across audiences tell us that viewers will opt to turn the sound on if they want it—and most of the time, they don’t. The key for producing effective content on social will remain the same: create, test and optimize the content, and then distribute. Don’t create and pray.

It’s likely that Facebook is changing its attitude toward sound to appease brands. Many brands don’t caption their videos, and performance suffers. Facebook found that 76 percent of video ads need sound to be understood, and advertisers took note. The challenge is that this doesn’t account for videos that are truly optimized, properly captioned and designed especially for social.

The first three seconds is like the ‘headline’ of the video

If they don’t get hooked, they won’t watch the rest, just like if you write a headline that doesn’t inspire someone to click, they’ll never read the article.

The mistake brands often make is assuming that social ads are just short versions of traditional ads. We would never repurpose a radio ad for television, and it’s equally ludicrous to roll out TV commercials on social. Social videos should be short, hook the viewer within the bumper (first three seconds of the video) and eliminate establishing shots (too slow). B-roll in the first few seconds causes big drop-off in completion rates.

If this works on Facebook, other platforms are likely to follow

Facebook is a major trendsetter with features like these, so if the changes stick, other platforms may follow. An example is the latest addition of Stories within the platform—the social network first duplicated the Snapchat feature and added it to Facebook-owned Instagram.

At just under 2 billion monthly active users, Facebook has a much larger user base than Instagram or Snapchat. If the feature catches on, it will likely hurt Snapchat, given the UX is closely tied to its own Stories.

With a bit of user backlash in response to the addition of the new updates, it’s unlikely that other social platforms will jump on the bandwagon of mid-roll ads and forced sound on just yet. Nonetheless, if brands respond positively with larger ad spends and publishers fall in line, I expect Snapchat, Twitter and, of course, Instagram to take notice.

Just the beginning

Facebook has been ramping up efforts to win online video, and this is only the tip of the iceberg. In 2017 and beyond, digital publishers and brands will see more updates to video formats and advertising changes on Facebook.

Emerson Spartz is CEO of Dose, one of the world’s fastest-growing digital publishers, with a monthly audience of 50 million.

Image courtesy of STUDIOGRANDOUEST/iStock.