Social Media Marketing | Can You Hear Me Now?

Social Media Marketing | Producing videos for social media marketing platforms is more complicated than taking office-wide Starbucks orders.

A year ago brands and publishers were wrestling with whether and how to make vertical and square versions of the horizontal videos they had traditionally produced and posted to YouTube and, more recently, Facebook. And that was just visual formatting. Now they have to consider not only how people may view a video but whether they’ll listen to it.

Until about a month ago, the dilemma seemed to be getting easier. Facebook had been telling brands and publishers to create videos that could be watched with or without sound, and some publishers were putting out stats backing up Facebook’s point. LittleThings and Mic told Digiday that 85% of their Facebook video views happened without sound, and Render Media CEO Vic Belonogoff told me that his food site Cooking Panda sees 80% of its Facebook videos watched without sound. Given Facebook’s dominant position, some brands and publishers took that to mean that socially distributed mobile videos in general needed to be audio-optional.

But it turns out that mobile doesn’t always equate to silent cinema. In early June Snapchat announced that two-thirds of the videos posted to its mobile app are viewed with the sound on. That stat “totally took me aback,” said Gloria DeCoste, head of digital strategy at Nestle USA.

“Snapchat’s report that two-thirds of its videos are viewed with the sound on is definitely somewhat alarming and runs against that narrative that Facebook has been telling the brand community. But all in all they’re two different platforms that perform two entirely different functions,” said Tim Staples, CEO of production studio Shareability.

Instead of disproving Facebook’s audio-optional prodding, Snapchat’s stat seems to have reinforced the idea that brands and publishers must be producing many different versions of their videos.


But producing one version of a video that can be watched without sound and another where the sound is important isn’t as easy as cropping a vertical video from a horizontal clip. Sure, brands and creators can try to pack a bigger punch within the first five seconds of a video to entice people to turn the sound on. And they can add captions or visuals to their videos if they don’t want their muted viewers to miss anything important. But there’s a big difference between watching a video set in Times Square and being able to hear the bustling bodies versus reading the words “[street noise]” on the screen.

And it’s causing video makers to rethink how they had been taught to tell a story. Many of them have been trained on the importance of sound, the way it can be used to set a scene or communicate a feeling that can’t be captured as well or alone visually. A graduate of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, Manago said film students are taught the importance of sound on the first day of class. “They want you to be thinking about how to tell a story with sound before you tell a story with visuals,” he said.

Brands and creators alike are still in the process of unearthing the value in audio-optional video, beyond standing a better shot of being watched by Facebook’s audience. But the sound on or off dilemma has reinforced one valuable insight. Brands and creators need to be more mindful than ever of the audience who will be watching — and maybe hearing — their videos. Just as brands can’t assume a video audience is an auditory one, they also can’t assume a mobile video audience is *not* an auditory one because Facebook says so. Or that it is because Snapchat says so.

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Written by The MediaBeast