Ever one to seek out brevity, I think I've finally come up with a pithy way to sum up the last few years of digital marketing in a single sentence. Here goes. The world goes mobile; mobile is fast dominated by video; Facebook sees both trends coming and jumps in first; Facebook takes over the world. Ok, maybe taking over the entire world is a bit much, but with each passing day it's becoming harder to argue with the notion that Facebook is on a clear path to dominate the digital marketing world.
A World Gone Mobile Video
As the world shifts from desktop to mobile, video is clearly gaining ascendency as the preferred means of consuming online content. Indeed, statistics taken from Cisco's most recent Visual Networking Index forecast point to the continued growth of mobile-initiated video consumption in coming years:
- It would take an individual over 5 million years to watch the amount of video that will cross global IP networks each month in 2018. Every second, nearly a million minutes of video content will cross the network by 2018.
- Globally, IP video traffic will be 79% of all consumer Internet traffic in 2018, up from 66% in 2013. This percentage does not include video exchanged through peer-to-peer (P2P) filesharing. The sum of all forms of video (TV, video on demand, Internet, and P2P) will be in the range of 80 to 90% of global consumer traffic by 2018.
- Globally, mobile data traffic will increase 11-fold between 2013 and 2018. Mobile data traffic will grow at a CAGR of 61% between 2013 and 2018, reaching 15.9 exabytes per month by 2018.
And With it Facebook
In a parallel (though not coincidental) trend, Facebook, that lovable and largest social network on the planet, is fast morphing into a decidedly mobile-first and video-driven platform. Significantly, neither Facebook nor its hoodie-wearing founder is reticent to point out this fact. In a January 2015 media release/blog post, Facebook reported that the number of video posts per person had increased 75% globally and 94% in the US during the past year. Not surprisingly, this had the effect of changing the composition of its News Feed over the same period, with the amount of video posted from people and brands increasing 360% year-over-year. CEO Zuckerberg confirmed this trend by noting how in the next five years, "most of [the social network] will be video."
What's the net effect? From June 2014 through September of 2015, Facebook reported an average of more than 1 billion video views per day; in January of 2015 this number shot up to 3 million videos per day; in April of 2015 it rose again to over 4 million per day. Talk about a hockey stick increase.... What's more, a significant proportion of these video views, 75% according to Facebook's COO Sheryl Sandberg, are happening on mobile. And let us not forget that Facebook also owns Instagram, where, Facebook is happy to relate, more than 300 million people around the world post more than 70 million photos and videos each day.
Though each is impressive on its own merit, all of these statistics seem to culminate in one really amazing figure: adults in the US spend 1 out of every 5 (20%) of their mobile minutes on Facebook and Instagram.
No wonder Zuck always seems to have a smirk on his face.
A few years ago, if you would've asked me to name the tech giant that would use mobile and video to dominate the digital marketing world I'd have tossed a coin between Apple and Google. Apple had tons of cash and the iPhone, and Google had the two largest search engines on the planet, with the 2nd one being YouTube, the world's largest video platform.
Facebook Takes Back its News Feed
Fast forward to the present, and all of this is still true, but things are clearly trending Facebook's way. In December of 2014, for the first time ever, Facebook Page owners uploaded more videos directly to Facebook than they did via sharing from YouTube videos, according to data from social media tracking firm Socialbakers.
This dramatic shift was largely driven by two things: 1) Facebook's adjustment of its News Feed algorithm in June of 2014, which allowed the social network to serve up more relevant video content to users who were more likely to watch a video, and 2) the introduction of a nifty piece of video tech known as auto-play, which Facebook rolled out in early 2015 and which enables videos to instantly begin playing as the user scrolls past. In a shrewd move, Facebook made this feature operable not only for video ads in users' News Feed, but also for both user-generated and user-shared videos. This helped drive a steady increase in engagement with native Facebook videos throughout 2014, as the following graph clearly shows:
Image Credit: SocialBakers via Business Insider
Then in August 2014 came the news from comScore that, on the strength of its auto-play videos, Facebook had overtaken YouTube in the total number of videos viewed on desktop in the US:
Image Credit: comScore via Beet.TV
To be fair, Google still leads Facebook in videos viewed on mobile devices. But with more than 4 billion video views every day and rising, 75% of which are happening on mobile, one can't help but wonder how long this will remain the case.
Facebook Gobbles Up the Publishing World with Instant Articles
The rollout of its Instant Articles feature this week represents the latest and perhaps greatest example of how Facebook is using mobile video to take over the world, and thereby also provides a resounding exclamation point to the thesis of this post.
But first, some background. Instant Articles is a working partnership with some of the leading publishers in the online and offline world; first round partners include The New York Times, National Geographic, BuzzFeed, NBC, The Atlantic, The Guardian, BBC News, Spiegel and Bild.
According to Facebook, Instant Articles is a win-win for publishers and end users alike, allowing publishers to embed fast, interactive articles within Facebook users' News Feeds. Here's how Facebook describes the benefit to the end user:
As more people get their news on mobile devices, we want to make the experience faster and richer on Facebook. People share a lot of articles on Facebook, particularly on our mobile app. To date, however, these stories take an average of eight seconds to load, by far the slowest single content type on Facebook. Instant Articles makes the reading experience as much as ten times faster than standard mobile web articles.
Sounds great for end users, but what's in it for the publishers? Don't worry, Facebook's got them covered too:
We designed Instant Articles to give publishers control over their stories, brand experience and monetization opportunities. Publishers can sell ads in their articles and keep the revenue, or they can choose to use Facebook's Audience Network to monetize unsold inventory. Publishers will also have the ability to track data and traffic through comScore and other analytics tools.
Sounds like a pretty good deal all round.
If you're wondering what's in it for Facebook, the social network seems to be playing coy, positioning Instant Articles as a kind of disinterested public service:
"Fundamentally, this is a tool that enables publishers to provide a better experience for their readers on Facebook" said Facebook Chief Product Officer Chris Cox. "Instant Articles lets them deliver fast, interactive articles while maintaining control of their content and business models."
Not surprisingly, there has been much hand wringing in and around the publishing world in recent days over what many see as the almost embarrassing over readiness of such venerable institutions as the New York Times and National Geographic to so quickly join ranks with what many consider as the epitome of new media (I even read one blogger go as far as to paint the Facebook publishing partners as modern day Judas Iscariots or Neville Chamberlains merely trying to save themselves and therefore stave off potential ruin).
Whatever your position on the merits of the partnership, make no mistake, whether or not Facebook makes a nickel off of the ad revenue splits with these particular publishers (and they will), the true genius of Instant Articles is that it gives individual Facebook users yet another reason to interact with the site throughout the day, to keep their eyeballs glued to endless streams of auto-played video content flowing from their News Feed seemingly without end.
In an article published in Fast Company aptly titled "How Facebook Just Became the World's Largest Publisher," author Mark Wilson cogently summarizes how Instant Articles is at once both a risk for publishers and a victory for Facebook:
As for publishers, they already get about 25% of their referral traffic from Facebook. Instant Articles will only make the industry more dependent on the social network for ad revenue. But what will happen if every news organization and magazine buys into the platform, and then Facebook decides that the Atlantic or the New York Times can't sell its own ads? Instant Articles will allow Facebook to own the publishing industry without ever buying it.
Only a tech titan the likes of Facebook could figure out a way to own an entire industry without ever having to buy it. Just another example of how Facebook is using mobile video to take over the world, one auto play at a time.
END NOTE: In my zeal to explore how Facebook is using mobile video to take over the world, I've run out of space to offer any insight as to how businesses can take advantage. Fortunately for me (and you) someone else has already done so. Brad Jefferson, CEO of Animoto, recently wrote an interesting piece in Mashable outlining various reasons why businesses are turning to Facebook for online video marketing. It's worth a read for anyone looking to up their Facebook video marketing game.