How silent storytelling is being ushered in by Facebook’s autoplay videos

A lot of the time when you’re on the computer it’s either during work or later at night when everyone’s going to sleep–so getting blasted by a loud autoplaying video on a website is certainly an annoying experience. However, when the default volume setting is mute (and users are given a choice to activate the sound), videos become less of an annoyance and more of an eye catcher.

Thanks to the meteoric rise of Facebook video autoplay, brands are seeking new ways to think about how to grab users in seconds in a soundless environment, where Facebook counts just three seconds as a video view. Brands that can make the first few seconds count will presumably entice users to linger on the video content and even tap for sound.

The Rise of Autoplay

It’s not a new invention–autoplay videos have been around for a few years, but Facebook’s adoption of the feature back in 2013 cemented the autoplay revolution. For users, autoplay makes absorbing video content easy–videos start automatically playing as a user scrolls through their news feed, and because the sound is muted, the disruption is minimal. Jumping on the autoplay bandwagon are other networks like Instagram, Twitter and Tumblr, with Yahoo following suit.

“Every client I know of that is creating content is at least finishing out a Facebook version,” said Rye Clifton, director of experience at ad agency GSD&M. “This isn’t to say that people have started gaming the medium like Geico’s unskippable five-second YouTube spots, but we’re thinking about how silent video works on Facebook, Instagram, Vine, and in animated GIFs—all require a subtle difference in storytelling.”

The Silent Treatment

Brands are tackling the sound issue in creative ways, embedding themselves into actual TV programming with less reliance on the standard commercial formatting.

A good example of this comes from Hotels.com where they’ve addressed the no-sound issue head-on with a spot that incorporates text subtitles plus a sign language interpreter.

The Upside

In an era of autoplay video content marketing, it’s not enough to simply upload a TV commercial to Facebook, because the format might not be eye-catching enough in Facebook’s scroll-to-play environment. But video content marketing efforts specific to these platforms pay off. Native Facebook video ads have higher interaction rates than videos on other platforms, according to Greg Manago at MindshareContent+ and Entertainment in Adweek.

If Facebook does one day supplant YouTube when it comes to video dominance, brands that move quickly to address the Facebook video autoplay environment will be ahead of the curve.

And the Downside

With many of the big social networks introducing autoplay videos on the heals of Facebook, this feature will likely be a big boost to their bottom line–but also a big drain to some users’ data plans and battery life. Apple has made the decision to disable the automatic playing of video on iOS devices. And luckily, both Facebook and Twitter have made it easy for mobile users to disable or limit auto-play.

Another problem can be content. Because sites have set video to play automatically by default, many people saw the video of the murder of the two Virginia journalists without choosing to when it was shared into their feeds.


Facebook, Google, Microsoft and others have already worked together with government and regulators to prevent people being exposed to illegal, extreme content, using both automatic and manual techniques to identify footage

The fact is that autoplay is here to stay and for video content marketers, silence could very well prove to be golden.

Daniel is an Art Director and Graphic Designer with over a decade of experience in advertising and marketing in the Greater Toronto Area.

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