The rise of silent storytelling from Facebook’s autoplay videos

When you’re on the computer, either at work or later at night, visiting websites that blast loud autoplay videos when you forget your volume setting can prove to be quite annoying.

However, when the default volume setting for autoplay videos is set to mute—giving users the option to activate sound—they become less intrusive and more of an engagement for the user. And thanks to the meteoric rise of autoplay videos by social networks like Facebook, brands are having to find new ways to grab users attention in a soundless environment.

This is made especially difficult when Facebook counts a mere three seconds as a video view. Thus, brands that can make the first few seconds count will presumably entice users to linger on the video content, possibly even tapping it for sound.

The rise of autoplay videos

Though not a new invention, autoplay videos have been around for a few years. But Facebook’s adoption of the feature back in 2013 has help cement the autoplay revolution. For users, autoplay makes absorbing video content easy; videos start playing automatically as a user scrolls through their news feed. And since the sound is muted, the disruption is minimal and users can go about multitasking.

Jumping on the autoplay video bandwagon are other networks like Instagram (which is owned by Facebook), 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 of autoplay videos 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 the spot below that incorporates text subtitles, plus a sign language interpreter.

The upside and the down to autoplay

In an era of video content marketing, it’s not enough to simply upload a TV commercial to social media; the format might not be eye-catching enough, especially in Facebook’s scroll-to-play environment.

But marketing efforts specific to these platforms does pay off. A recent study showed that native Facebook video ads have higher interaction rates than videos on other platforms. And because Facebook’s nature of social sharing, native videos are shared more than YouTube links. Should Facebook one day supplant YouTube in video dominance, brands that move quickly will be ahead of the curve.

Yet, with many of the top social networks already introducing autoplay videos, this feature will likely be a big boost to marketers’ bottom line—and a big drain to some users’ data plans and battery life. Companies like Apple have already made the decision to disable the autoplay videos on its iOS devices. Luckily for both Facebook and Twitter mobile users, however, they’ve made it easy to disable or limit autoplay.

Another downside to autoplay vides can be the content. If you’re following a news page, for example, some content might be disturbing if you choose to watch. And since most social networks have videos set to play automatically by default, many users saw the video of the murder of the two Virginia journalists without choosing to when it was displayed in their feeds.

Autoplay videos
News reporter Alison Parker and photojournalist Adam Ward, killed while conducting an interview

Afterwards, companies such as Facebook, Google, Microsoft and others worked together with government and regulators to prevent people being exposed to illegal, extreme content, using both automatic and manual techniques to identify footage.

Regardless, the fact is that autoplay videos are here to stay. And with the right mix of content and sophisticated targeting, autoplay videos could prove that silence is golden for both brands and consumers.

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