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When users page through their Facebook feeds, rarely do they hear sound, unless they actively click to start the latest funny cat video. For advertisers, this tendency suggests that the expanding market of Facebook advertising will continue to be challenging, especially as the metrics used to measure advertising exposure shift and adjust to reflect the types of reach that advertising can achieve in social media contexts.

lo-res_222048700-sIn working to expand the advertising content on its site, Facebook actively encourages advertisers to revise their marketing communications to ensure they are comprehensible without sound. For example, it recommends using title cards and captions; it even provides an auto-captioning tool for companies that agree to advertise through the site.

But creating yet another version of an advertisement for Facebook, in addition to the versions already developed for traditional marketing channels (e.g., print, television, billboards), demands more time, money, and effort from advertisers. They are only willing to devote such resources if they have some guarantee that the advertising will reach their intended audience and have the intended effects.

Facebook had long provided statistics that suggested such successful outcomes, including measures that implied that site users spent substantial time watching videos. Recent evidence forced the company to apologize for its erroneous measures though, and the real data remain unclear. For example, Facebook estimates that half of the 500 million people who watch videos on its site do so with the sound on, but an independent advertising agency cited a study it conducted that showed that 94 percent of users have the sound off while watching content on Facebook.

Nor are these questions unique to Facebook, though as the leading social media source, it attracts the most attention. Twitter creates similar sound-less difficulties. But YouTube promotes its distinct promise for sound, in that nearly all users of that site have the sound blaring when they visit. Thus, advertisers would not need to adjust their advertising to overcome the deficit caused by a lack of sound. Furthermore, YouTube touts its own analytics that show that advertising recall is three times greater when viewers are exposed to both visuals and sound, compared with visuals alone. Snapchat similarly highlights the benefits of advertising through its functions by noting that two-thirds of users keep the sound on when scrolling through the featured pictures.

Finally, another metric creates challenges as well. In traditional channels, viewership requires that people sit through all or most of a 30-second television spot or register the information on a billboard. For social media though, defining advertising success might require different notions. According to one consultancy, if social media users focus on an advertising video for at least 3 seconds, it can be counted as a page view. For advertisers, such brief access to their target market might seem insufficient though, and until the social media sites can prove otherwise, they might remain unwilling to create new communications for marketing through social media.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Should brands adjust their marketing communications to match each specific social media channel? Defend both sides of this argument.
  2. Do you visit Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, YouTube, or other social media sites with the sound on or off? Do your habits differ across different sites? Why?

Source: Sapna Maheshwari and Katie Benner, “Making Video Ads that Work on Facebook’s Silent Screen,” The New York Times, September 23, 2016