Wednesday, April 27th, 2016 | 9 min read
Ten years ago, the alternative rock band OK Go had an amazing idea for a music video. They were going to choreograph an elaborate, synchronized dance done entirely on treadmills and shot in one take. Once they pulled it off, the video took YouTube—just a year old at the time—by storm.
Since then, the band has experimented with a variety of creatively-choreographed music videos, like this one featuring a complex Rube Goldberg Machine, and this one with optical illusions. But none has made its mark quite like that first treadmill video—until this year. And it didn’t happen on YouTube. It happened on Facebook.
Shot entirely in zero gravity without any special effects, the music video for “Upside Down & Inside Out” debuted on Mark Zuckerberg’s social network this February, reaching 50 million views in less than two months.
This isn’t a lone case. Five-hundred million people now collectively watch 100 million hours of Facebook video every day.
How exactly did that happen, when not too long ago, Facebook had no native video capabilities to speak of? It happened rather quickly; within just a couple of years, Facebook introduced autoplay, new metrics, and key features—becoming the place brands had to be if they wanted to produce video content.
Facebook first launched autoplay native videos in late 2013, when a group of engineers thought the News Feed wasn’t dynamic enough and needed more motion. They took inspiration from Harry Potter’s fictional Daily Prophet newspaper, which contained pictures that came to life as you read. These engineers wanted Facebook video to do the same (sans magic, of course).
Less than a year later, in what many consider to be a watershed moment for Facebook video, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge hit the Internet. Facebook user after Facebook user—including celebrities, politicians, and Zuckerberg himself—uploaded short videos of themselves pouring ice water over their heads for charity. They then challenged friends to do the same, snowballing the challenge into a Facebook phenomenon. As Fortune reported, more than 440 million viewers watched these videos a total of 10 billion times.
It wasn’t long before publishers caught onto the success of Facebook video. Major media outlets like Complex, BuzzFeed, and Mic started experimenting with the medium and seeing impressive results. For instance, BuzzFeed saw its video views on Facebook grow 80-fold in just one year, reaching more than 500 million by April 2015.
A few other key components contributed to these skyrocketing numbers. For one, Facebook counts a video view at just three seconds, while YouTube counts views after 30 seconds. That’s sure to have made Facebook’s view counts differ from YouTube’s. Facebook videos are also mute by default; users have to elect to turn the sound on. This made it easier for people to view videos in public or in succession without being overwhelmed by autoplaying audio.
Still, here’s the biggest kicker: Facebook tweaked its algorithm to favor its own native videos. What exactly does that mean? Well, it means that Facebook started to track its videos by views and engagement, placing those with the biggest numbers at the top of your News Feed.
The platform also started to show more videos to people who demonstrated an interest in watching. Most recently, Facebook also launched its live video platform, Facebook Live, which could be the future of television.
Put all of these ingredients in a pot, mix them, and you’ve got a recipe for Facebook video’s rapid rise to power. And as CNN reported, “The number of videos that an individual person posts to the site grew 94% in the United States and 75% globally, between 2013 and 2015.” By the end of 2015, Facebook videos were collectively bringing in eight billion views a day.
Naturally, those numbers were music to brands’ ears.
Almost overnight, Facebook became the place to be for brands that wanted to publish video. The platform already has a built-in social audience of over 1.5 billion users. But most importantly, it has a built-in social audience of your users (if your brand already uses Facebook, of course). All you have to do is make video that will engage them.
Facebook also has some of the most advanced ad targeting and campaign analytics available in the social space. As Erin Griffith wrote for Fortune:“No other media outlet knows the full name, hometown, marital status, exercise habits, political opinions, and favorite movies, musicians, cars, retailers, restaurants, airlines, and electronics brands of hundreds of millions of people. This enables the site to deliver the targeted audiences brands crave.”
Billions of users, hyper-focused targeting, and super-specific data? Sounds like a marketer’s dream.
Let’s check out how a couple of brands have already taken advantage of these Facebook video features.
Last September, Facebook first released 360-degree videos, which allow users to drag the video image from side to side and get the full panoramic experience. While the social network partnered with brands like GoPro, Discovery, and Vice for the launch, NASA took things to a different level—that is, to an entirely different planet.
This January, NASA’s Curiosity Mars Rover published a 360-degree video inviting Facebook users to explore the surface of Mars. It not only offers a glimpse at the cool work NASA is doing on the Red Planet, but it also lets people experience a bit of the cosmic excitement for themselves.
According to the Tech Times, NASA created the video by compiling images taken by the Mars Hand Lens Imager camera, which is attached to the rover’s arm.
In just two months, NASA’s video amassed over one million views and 26,000 shares. Of course, it didn’t hurt that Zuckerberg shared the content on his own official page.
Remember all of that granular data mentioned above? Yeah, Lexus got really excited about that.
To promote its NX model, the automaker created 1,000—yes, 1,000—unique, 30-second videos, each tailored for a specific demographic across Facebook. Using the platform’s ad-targeting tools, the company was able to distribute each video to the most relevant groups of users. Talk about personalization!
“Each video is designed to promote the virtues of the Lexus NX by comparing it to objects directly relevant to consumers’ tastes,” Jack Marshall wrote for The Wall Street Journal. “If a user is deemed by Facebook to be an avid traveler, for example, the ad might follow a travel-related theme.”
While we haven’t heard word yet about the results, Lexus expected the ads to be displayed five-to-six million times in about two months.
As Facebook director of media products, Fidji Simo, told Fortune: Advertisers “are realizing that video doesn’t need to be this, like, super-blast thing. You can have all of the reach you care about in a targeted way.”
“A year or two from now, we think Facebook will be mostly video.” That’s what Facebook ad product lead, Ted Zagat, said last September. Given the rapid growth of the medium, it won’t be too surprising if he’s right.
Within just the past few months, Facebook has announced a slew of new video features, which could give brands and publishers exciting ways to rake in those views. These include daily metric reports, capabilities for live video, and a “dedicated place” where users can watch videos recommended to them. Facebook is also slowly building momentum with its Anthology branded-video program, which is set to partner brands with publishers to create video content.
It’s tough to say for sure what the future of online video will look like. Twitter’s live-streaming app, Periscope, is going strong; Snapchat is adding new video features left and right; and YouTube is owned by Google, making it the optimal place for searchable video. As it stands, however, Facebook is poised to dominate the social video space. The platform might even poach some ad dollars from TV as marketers catch onto the many benefits of Facebook video.
Still, if Facebook video’s quick rise to fame can teach us anything, it’s that brands have to stay vigilant in the ever-changing video landscape—and maybe keep an eye on OK Go.