Brands Give Facebook Video Content the Silent Treatment
Marketing Video Marketing

Why Silent Facebook Video Is So Popular

6 Minute Read

Brands are getting the hang of Facebook’s soundless video environment—kind of.

Facebook users now watch over 100 million hours of video on the platform each day, Facebook says, and most of those views are soundless. Publishers report that a staggering 85 percent of Facebook video views happen without sound, according to Digiday.

In this sound-free, autoplay environment, brands and publishers are clamoring to find new ways to communicate without audio while capturing user attention. These days, Facebook News Feeds are cluttered with short videos with snappy text overlays or captions that narrate the action, no sound required.

But not all companies are keeping up with the trend. Facebook says that in one study of ads, 41 percent of videos were essentially meaningless because their message could not be conveyed without sound.

Of course brands need to tailor their videos to fit a sound-free video world, but there are also pitfalls in defaulting to the caption option. As more and more companies jump on the text overlay bandwagon, their videos will cease to stand out. Given these challenges, how can brands deliver amazing content as soundless video evolves?

The Rise of Silent Video

Silent video isn’t unique to Facebook. Instagram and Twitter also utilize muted videos that play automatically as a users scroll through their feed. Users have to opt-in for sound, typically by clicking or tapping the video.

Interestingly, people tend to prefer watching video without sound—particularly branded content. That’s in part because loud ads are extremely disruptive. Facebook found that because mobile video ads play loudly when people least expect it, 80 percent of people react negatively toward both the platform and advertiser.

In other words, brands need to create video for audiences that may watch, but won’t listen—that is, if you can get their attention in the first place. Brands have only an instant to persuade users to linger as they scroll through their feed. In fact, Facebook says 47 percent of a video campaign’s value is delivered in the first three seconds, according to research with Nielsen. Up to 74 percent of the value is realized in the first 10 seconds.

chart of Facebok video ad impact

“With people’s growing control over what content they watch and for how long, the faster you communicate your message in a video ad and capture viewers’ attention, the better,” the company said in a blog post.

Silent Techniques

Brands are tinkering with silent videos in unique ways, as we’ve previously noted on the Content Standard. Capitol One featured Jennifer Garner front-and-center in a no-sound oriented ad from early 2015. In the spot, Garner mimes to viewers to turn up the volume to hear the message.

But if Facebook’s research reveals anything, it’s that users don’t want to be bothered with sound, period. The best branded videos need to be fully understood without sound at all—and not necessarily try to entice users to turn up the volume.

Text overlays offer one solution. News publishers have used the technique to tell quick, visual stories. British news outlet Channel 4 News has mastered the medium. Every Facebook video it posts features a text overlay with either a headline or a short summary sentence. Quotes are also captioned, enabling the viewer to understand the entire news story without a second of sound, like this report on the Brexit aftermath.

Publishers like Tasty have broken through the sound barrier with ridiculously popular video demonstrations of recipes. The bright video content is extremely pared-down—nothing but the cook’s hands and the ingredients—and sped up to attract the eye. Text is similarly simple. Viewers might see the name of the recipe along with the occasional ingredient cue, but no elongated instructions. Instead, viewers can click on the recipe link for additional info.

Facebook is hoping to help publishers with a few data-tested features of its own. The company found that video ads with captions increase view time by about 12 percent, so the company is adding a tool to allow advertisers to add video captions automatically, instead of uploading their own. Advertisers then will have the ability to review, edit, and save the automated captions to their ad.

Captions would have greatly helped a native ad from advocacy group Voices of Meningitis. Without sound, the ad—which played silently as I scrolled through my News Feed—could have been referencing about anything. Without sound, the video doesn’t impart any information.

Text and captions are well and good, but brands also need to rethink how they craft film for a silent context. The original silent films featured stories that could be told well—or perhaps were even best told—through visuals. Actors needed to be able to emote without words, whether through facial expressions or physically with their bodies. Charlie Chaplin knew how to maximize the potential of silent film with the perfect blend of humorous physicality and innate expressivity

The old silent films also required viewers to tap into their imagination and guess what actors were feeling and thinking. Today’s silent video makers can also tap into that sense of curiosity and mystery on Facebook with copy that piques user interest. Red Bull does a good job of this with video posts that include an imagination-stirring prompt and action-packed videos. In one post, viewers read “First one to the ferry wins” as a video plays of a car racing a skier in a snowy mountain setting.

The Last Sound Bastion: Snapchat

One notable exception to the silent social media video trend is upstart Snapchat. On that platform, ads do better with attention-grabbing sound, Adweek reported.

“It’s also important to note that the nature of Snapchat, in terms of user-experience, plays into the prominence of sound on the platform,” Brian Nguyen of ad agency Droga5 told the magazine. “Users on Snapchat simply expect sound whereas on Facebook they don’t.”

As always, content has to work for the platform. Instead of captions, Snapchat content might include sound, but also stickers or drawings to match the way people use the service. And on Snapchat, vertical video works best—meaning that even if brands get to play with sound, they still have to change their way of envisioning video.

Of course, not every Snapchat user will want to watch ads with sound. That’s why some brands are sticking with soundless video even on sound-friendly Snapchat to capture the widest net of users, Adweek noted.

With video becoming ubiquitous across social networks, expect to see more experimentation with captions, text overlays, and visuals aimed at capturing attention in an instant. Those features will help brands convey meaning in an audio-free world, but simply slapping on a caption isn’t enough. The best sound-free brands will master pared-down storytelling and eye-catching visuals from the first second the video starts playing.

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Krystal Overmyer is a freelance journalist specializing in digital marketing trends. Her experience spans over a decade in journalism, public relations, and digital communications.

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