Video delivers reliably powerful engagement. But that doesn’t mean corporates should be shooting from the hip...

There are issues with the video engagement story line that dominates digital marketing. Yes, the numbers are compelling, and there are a gazillion of them. By any possible metric, video outperforms all other content on the socials and across the net in general. Nonetheless, there are reasons to be cautious about some of the assumptions within the broad video as engagement king narrative.

Today’s Internet is like a perpetual content rush hour where none of the cars know – or care – where they’re going. We’re all scrolling at speed, flashing through a million things per second. And, just as in vehicular traffic, our eyes, ears and other sensory input nodes are weighing up a lot of images and perceptions our brains will never even know about, let alone make a decision on.

All of which is to say, video views can never just be counted without considering their context.

Problems of time and authenticity

On Facebook and Instagram a user only has to pause on a video for three seconds for this to be classified as a ‘view’. This brevity hints at a cycle of self interest between social media platforms, media agencies and their clients where everyone benefits by not thinking too deeply about the validity of the view classification.

The big question is how many video views are authentic in the sense that the viewer cares in some intellectual or emotional way about the content. The best way to assess this is to look at the other types of engagement taking place around the video. How times has it been shared? How many comments has it generated? Are they zombie comments, spurred on by competitions and such, or are users actually so moved by the video’s content that they want to offer their thoughts on it?

Claiming a video has been successful without presenting its view figures within the context of these engagement factors is effectively misleading (lying, in other words) by omission. Agencies who report video views without this information are… well, I’ll leave you to fill in the blank.

Even the value of sustained focus is difficult to assess

To stretch the traffic metaphor, consider those digital outdoor billboards that play videos. There are more and more of them popping up in Joburg, and while they certainly catch my physiological attention, my recall of the adverts themselves is zero. Ironically, I know the physical installations well because they’re an unusual pockmark on a landscape of static images, and also because they feel dangerous. (I have no evidence for it, but my gut says massive videos playing over and alongside fast-moving highways could cause accidents by distracting drivers’ attention.) As far as the actual content these installations play goes, however, zip.

I think a similar paradigm could apply to online videos, and especially corporate productions. It’s just much easier for me to imagine a slack-jawed, distracted user accidentally stopping on a corporate video for three seconds than to picture some random social media person eagerly digging into yet more content about a brand’s values and passion for their sector.

Ultimately, my general sense is that for many B2B, industrial and corporate brands social media videos end up as little more than an indulgent muddle. Thinly veiled self promotion is simply not popular out there in the world, no matter how many views your agency tells you you’re getting. There’s also the possibility that a statistically significant number of views of corporate videos could actually be rubber necking at the scene of the crash. I’m sure I’m not the only one, in other words, to play through a full corporate video for the dark joy of watching a hapless company leader brutalise the thing.

Think, then shoot

From my perspective, all brands should ask themselves three questions before they create a social media video, namely:

1) What are we adding to the world with this offering?

2) Who will benefit from the contribution we are making?

3) Would they be able to describe this benefit to a stranger?

If the answers to any of the above are unclear it’s odds-on that your production will only result in more stuff on top of the digital landfill. If so, maybe do mankind a favour and give the concept a rethink - starting with some research as to what kind of videos your community actually wants to watch.


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